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Fiscal Cliff Countdown: 22 Days; Cowboys' Brent Out on Bail; Pacquiao Knocked Out by Marquez; National Menorah Lit in Washington

Aired December 10, 2012 - 05:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Dramatic victory amid a devastating loss. The Dallas Cowboys rally even as a teammate stands accused in the death of another.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A little known risk of going over the fiscal cliff -- the safety of the food we all eat.

BERMAN: And two men who took a beating. the inside scoop on Mitt Romney's prefight pep talk with boxer, Manny Paquiao.

SAMBOLIN: Really? It was a prep talk?

BERMAN: You know, I'm not sure Romney is the one -- the guy you want to see before a big fight.


BERMAN But, hey, it actually happened. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

The lines of communication are officially open in the fight over the fiscal cliff. In 22 days, we go over that edge. That's when sweeping tax hikes and spending cuts kick in, unless, a deal gets done. And after 23 days without uttering a word to each other face-to-face, that is, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner sat down at the White House yesterday, and they talked.

So let's bring in White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She is live in Washington. So Congress is scheduled to break for the holidays later this week. Where do we go from here? How are these talks?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know. That's the thing. We know that they spoke. In fact, it's somewhat remarkable that both the White House and Speaker Boehner's office put out statements simply saying that the two men had spoken, that the lines of communication are open, and they were the same verbatim.

That's something you can kind of look at as some progress, perhaps, or certainly it's promising might be the better way to put it, because there's coordination there. They seem to be talking in good faith, trying to keep, I guess, their cards very close to the vest. And that is something that maybe is seen as promising.

But again, there's no word on actual progress on the fact that they're closer to a deal. And officially at this point, House Republicans are still unwilling to bend to the President's demand that those income tax rates for wealthier Americans increase. That said, there is a growing number of Republicans who are saying, you know what? Let's cave on the President's demand. Let's not go all the way up to the rate he wants, but let's do something.

Listen to Senator Bob Corker.


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 two percent increase that he's talking about, the rate increase on the top two percent. And all of a sudden, the shift goes back to entitlements.


KEILAR: So he's saying increase tax rates, maybe a little, not the full amount that the White House wants so that Republicans can get in the game, talking about entitlement reform, reforming Medicare and Social Security. This came, Zoraida, after the White House signaled on Friday through Joe Biden that while they will not cave on their demand for those rates to go up, perhaps, just by how much that may be negotiable.

SAMBOLIN: But there are still some infighting amongst Republicans on that very same issue.

KEILAR: Oh, sure.


KEILAR: Sure. There is a lot of in-fighting, and the thing is, you listen to Senator Corker there. Yes, he's a Republican, and yes, there are a number of Republicans in the Senate who seem to be of one mind with him on this, but the issue is you don't have high profile Republicans in the House who are saying the same thing, and that is who the President is bargaining with, obviously, at this point since he's talking to Speaker Boehner.

And that to -- he has to win over some votes there. So that's why you sort of look at this going. It's great that they're talking, but we don't know that there's really officially any movement.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. At the end of the day, who's going to jump onboard? Brianna Keilar live in Washington for us, thank you.

BERMAN: It's 33 minutes after the hour right now. Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent is out of jail now.


BERMAN (voice-over): Investigators believe he was driving drunk when his Mercedes flipped and caught fire early Saturday morning. Brent was released Sunday on $500,000 bond. He's now facing charges of intoxicated manslaughter in a Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas.

The 25-year-old Cowboys' practice quad linebacker, Jerry Brown Jr., died in this crash. And just as Brent was getting out of jail, his teammates were pulling off an emotional last second 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. And here's what the Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett, said.


JASON GARRETT, DALLAS COWBOYS COACH: We lost a 25-year-old young man who had his whole life in front of him. A teammate, a friend. And it's a real tragedy. I think everyone in our organization who knew him is completely numb and has been numb for the last couple days.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The United States and some of its allies in Europe are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles. That is according to a senior U.S. official and several senior diplomats. The training is taking place in Turkey and Jordan. And we are told some of the contractors are on the ground in Syria monitoring suspected chemical weapons sites.

BERMAN: The North Koreans are holding off launching a long range rocket, so far. Earlier this month, the North Korean government announced a 13-day window for a possible launch. That window opens today. They're claiming it's a peaceful bid to advance their space program, but the U.S. sees it as something more sinister and is threatening sanctions if this launch takes place.

SAMBOLIN: Hugo Chavez is heading back to Cuba. He will be undergoing cancer surgery there. This is the third time. The Venezuelan president naming his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as his choice to take over that country if surgery doesn't go so well. The 58-year-old Chavez is scheduled to be sworn in for a new six-year term next month.

BERMAN: The Internet anti-virus pioneer, John McAfee, says he wants to go back to the United States, not back to Belize. Authorities in Belize say they want to question him about the murder of his neighbor. Speaking from an immigration detention center in Guatemala City, McAfee took to the web to explain why he's fighting extradition to Belize.


JOHN MCAFEE, INTERNET ANTIVIRUS PIONEER: It is believed that Belize is not a corrupt government, that it does not lie, that it would not execute people without the judicial process, that is extra-judicial murders or executions could not occur, that Belize is not a corrupt government. This is untrue. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: McAfee's bid for asylum in Guatemala was rejected last week, but a judge granted a stay of deportation.

SAMBOLIN: Juan Manuel Marquez settling the score and silencing his critics with one vicious right hook knocking Manny Pacquiao out cold in the sixth round of their rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Saturday. This was the fourth time the fighters met in the ring.

The first time Marquez won, even though he claimed victory in each of the previous three fights. And the result puts a super fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather and even more doubt it makes it a little less super as well.

BERMAN: To oppress (ph) this strangest twist in this fight, it just went 12 rounds with the President, but look who was spotted ringside at the Manny Pacquiao fight. Yes, that is Mitt and Ann Romney. Now, Mitt Romney visited Pacquiao before the fight in his dressing room, and this is what he reportedly said. He said, "Hello, Manny. I ran for president. I lost." How is that for a pep talk?


BERMAN: Now, you know, Pacquiao, himself, is a politician. He serves as a congressman in his native Philippines. I mean, I can't believe that pep talk before the fight.

SAMBOLIN: We don't have a picture of Romney when that happened, when --


BERMAN (on-camera): The knockout?

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Yes. The knockout happened. Do we have that?

BERMAN: We don't have that picture, but everyone --

SAMBOLIN: If you look at Mitt Romney and then you look at Ann Romney, he is -- he reacts. She's, you know, calm, cool, and collected. I don't know that I could sat in the front row and not reacted --

BERMAN: It was an incredible fight.

SAMBOLIN: Are you surprised, because you were just sitting down with Pacquiao not too long ago.

BERMAN: I can't say I'm shocked. I have to say that over the last year or two, it's been fairly obvious that Pacquiao was lost a step. I talked to his trainer, Freddie Roach, and Pacquiao a couple weeks ago, and they both sort of admit that he's not the fighter he was a few years ago. What's fascinating now is that Manny Pacquiao told me two weeks ago he only had one or two fights left in him. So now the question is, will he fight again?

SAMBOLIN: And didn't he predict a knockout, that he was going to deliver the knockout?

BERMAN: He was going for it. He felt to win this fight. He had to knock out Marquez. And you know, the judges had him ahead on points. If Pacquaio had knocked Marquez down once, this was a brutal boxing match. I mean, these guys were just pounding each other, pounding each other. Someone was going to go down. It was Pacquaio who went down first.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Pretty remarkable.

Thirty-seven minutes past the hour. You know about the tax hikes and the spending cuts that will kick in when we reach that fiscal cliff, but you might not know what could happen to the food we eat. We're going to take a look coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 41 minutes past the hour. While we wait to see if Washington can hammer out a deal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, plans are under way in case they do not. Agencies, including the ones that regulate our food, are looking at their bottom lines.

Emily Schmidt reports that has some families wondering what the cuts could mean to them.


EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Preparing for the holidays at Paul and Tressa Bennett's house is a reminder of something else just around the corner, a fiscal cliff deadline that is personal here.

TRESSA BENNETT, MOTHER: I just can't imagine funding being cut at this point. It would be tragic.

SCHMIDT: Tressa is worried mandatory budget cuts would hurt food safety inspection. That's mattered to her since her twins were born in 1999.

BENNETT: Cloe (ph) was in the hospital for two weeks, Luke for three.

SCHMIDT: She and her babies got listeria poisoning from meat she ate while pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control has contaminated food sickens about 48 million people a year, 3,000 people die. So the FDA and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service are charged with protecting the food supply.

An 8.2 percent budget cut translates to a combined $157 million. There's no word exactly what cuts would mean to inspector staffing.

CHRIS WALDROP, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA: Both FDA and USDA are already stretched pretty thin when it comes to the inspection activities in the food safety work they do. They really need an increased resources and not fewer resources.

DEAN CLANCY, FREEDOMWORKS: Agencies always say they're stretched.

SCHMIDT: Dean Clancy is with FreedomWorks, an organization that promotes smaller government, and he says the cuts leave nothing to fear.

CLANCY: Arguing that getting spending under control and dangerous public health and safety is a really irresponsible scare tactic, especially when you realize that these aren't real cuts. These are reductions from anticipated increases in spending.

WALDROP: Cut the budget for the work that these agencies do, it's going to significantly impact them today. It's going to significantly impact them tomorrow.

BENNETT: You made that one, didn't you?

SCHMIDT: Tressa Bennett and her kids are now healthy and food safety advocates.

BENNETT: Remember, we all have to eat.

SCHMIDT: And they say, nobody should have to fear what they eat.

(on-camera) A company that tracks food recalls says there were 414 last quarter, the highest level in at least two years. Most of the recalls came from worries about food-borne illness.

Emily Schmidt, CNN, Washington.

SAMBOLIN: I want to bring you into the conversation, Christine, because this is something that you have been warning us about for very long time, that things are going to change, and things that we don't necessarily think about, and this is a big issue.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And you take this and you multiply it across all the agencies that are the government, you know, charged for trying to protect you and already with a big globalized food system, you hear consumer groups say over and over again, we're not catching -- we're the safest food in the world in this country and we're not catching everything, right?

And we've got just such an amazing diverse way that we're moving food around the country. And now, you're talking about big cutbacks. the problem with fiscal cliff, it's not as if it's five years out or three years out where there's planning. This is something that's happening very quickly and very indiscriminately. The kinds of budget cuts you're talking about 8.5 percent for all of these agencies.

Agencies won't say exactly how they're going to cut, but they've been told, last week they were told by the office of management budget in the White House, they were told, identify your cuts and get ready because we're close. We're almost there.

BERMAN: Twenty-two days.

ROMANS: Twenty-two days. SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. Forty-four minutes after the hour right now, and they haven't seen snow like this in at least a couple of years. Coming up, Minnesota is slammed by a whopper of a storm.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us anytime on your desktop, your mobile phone, just go to


BERMAN: It is 48 minutes after the hour. We want to bring you up to speed on all the top stories. Christine Romans is here with that.

ROMANS: And good morning again.


ROMANS (voice-over): There's movement in the fight over the fiscal cliff. House speaker, John Boehner, and the President sitting down for an unscheduled meeting at the White House yesterday. No details about their discussion were released, but both sides say the lines of communication remain open with just 22 days left before tax hikes and spending cuts take hold.

Opponents of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi aren't letting up. They're calling for new nationwide protests after Morsi refused to delay a vote on a new constitution set for Saturday. Morsi's decision to withdraw the decree giving himself sweeping powers wasn't enough to appease his critics.

ROMANS: Sunday night football. The Detroit Lions continuing their futility in Green Bay. Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers running for a 27-yard touchdown. Yes, that's the longest in his career.

It was Green Bay's 27-20 victory over Detroit. Packers now have an NFL record 22-game winning streak at home against the Lions and can clinch the NFC north next weekend with a win over Chicago. But that would require a win over Chicago. And you got two Bears fans right here.

All right. It's Hanukkah -- time to light the Menorah. That's what they did in Washington Sunday. the National Hanukkah Menorah was illuminated during a ceremony outside the White House. The 30-foot high Menorah stands adjacent to the White House Christmas tree as he's done for more than 20 years. Rabbi Levi Shemtov presided over that ceremony. Twenty years. That's quite a streak.


SAMBOLIN: Very nice. Thank you.

ROMANS (on-camera): Yes. SAMBOLIN: Forty-nine minutes past the hour. People waking up in Minnesota right now have a little work to do, I would say so. There's as much as 17 inches of snow waiting to be shoveled outside. In some parts of the state, it sure looks pretty, doesn't it? Meteorologist Alexandra Steele is in for Rob Marciano. Let it snow.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. A snow on Hanukkah, right? We got to love that. Actually, you know, this is their livelihood there, and it's been such a poultry few years, biggest snow in Minneapolis in two years, and certainly, it's February 2011 when they had this. Last year in Minneapolis, for the entire season, they only had 22 inches, and their biggest snow was four. So it's kind of been paltry.

So finally, we're bringing it on. Maplewood, Minnesota picking up 14.7. That's about 14 miles east of Minneapolis, Eau Claire, 12 inches. So you certainly get the picture. So maybe this certainly will mean that we're going to see pretty snow. We have -- cold air is in place. That arctic air moved in with the moisture, and we got all that snow.

But you can see what happened. Here's the radar. All the snow is gone. Dry air has worked in there. Arctic air is there. So right now, Minneapolis, it feels like three. But farther east where that moisture is, you can see, look at this big front with all this rain and severe weather. So we've got snow, severe weather and record heat potentially from New York down to Washington and Florida.

So here's what's happening in the northeast. Albany right now, it's 40. So snow for you. Here in the northeast, it's really only Northern Maine that's going to get maybe eight to ten inches of snow. Farther south along the front, Tennessee, one to two inches of rain potentially for you. And that's where kind of the greatest convection is.

So there is the threat for severe weather. And look at all those lightning strikes. We actually had a tornado warning already this morning. It expired two minutes before 5:00. Record heat, believe it or not today, New York City could get to 60, 61, JFK, 57. The old record just one degree north of that. Washington, potentially 66 record, Pensacola, Florida, but it's a quick hitter.

One day warmth then that big front we were watching moves in and cools you of dramatically. Temperatures tomorrow about 10 to 15 degrees colder than today. There's the severe weather potentially Birmingham, Atlanta, and major dense fog out there this morning, guys. So traveling with the rain, the severe weather, the snow, you can only imagine Washington down to Atlanta the trouble in the air today. So kind of bank on a really long commute whether you're driving or flying.

BERMAN: She had snow on Hanukkah. You know, "I'm Dreaming of a White Hanukkah" is one of my favorite holiday songs.


BERMAN: So thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: I was trying to get him to sing this morning, but he refuses to.

BERMAN: Not on the TV. I have to cut back.


STEELE: None of us are good.

BERMAN: Thanks, Alexandra.


BERMAN: In a packed hour straight ahead on EARLY START, including the most trusted advisors of some of the most powerful men in the world. We take a look at the dogs of war, how canines helped FDR patent (ph) an Eisenhower win World War II and how dogs like Bo Obama still have a special place in America.

The author of "Dogs of War," Kathleen Kinsolving, is here. She'll tell us which dog actually had a military rank.

SAMBOLIN: Did you really call him Bo Obama?

BERMAN: That's his name.


SAMBOLIN: All right. And fire in the sky. A fireball streaking across the Texas sky has people buzzing and NASA explaining that.

But first, "Gangnam Style" goes to Washington. Psy shakes hands with President Obama after he is forced to apologize for some hateful anti- American lyrics from years ago.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Fifty-six minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman. This is Zoraida Sambolin. You're taking a look at a top CNN trends on the Internet this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Right. After taking a lot of heat for a hateful rap against U.S. soldiers, the Korean pop star, Psy, the man with the viral hit "Gangman Style," the most watched video in YouTube history, was spotted shaking hands with President Obama over the weekend. He performed at a White House charity event which raises money for children's national medical centers.

Psy apologized after a video surfaced of him taking part in a protest concert against the United States. It was a decade ago in which he rapped about slowly and painfully killing U.S. military members and their families.

BERMAN: All right. So this is reassuring. The U.S. government now is trying to settle nerves about the world possibly coming to an end in a couple weeks. The government official Web site published a blog post titled, "Scary rumors about the world ending in 2012 are just rumors."

This says many of these rumors involve the Mayan calendar ending in 2012. It won't. A comic causing catastrophic effects definitely not, a hidden planet sneaking up and colliding with us, no, and no, and many, many others. So the world will not end on December 21st, 2012 or any day in 2012.

SAMBOLIN: How do you know?

BERMAN: Because the government tells me so.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, OK. All right.

BERMAN: So you have to come to work.

SAMBOLIN: Trust the government.

BERMAN: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: Late night laughs, now "SNL" taking a leap off the fiscal cliff. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In order to get the support of the speaker, I agree there will be no tax increases. I repeat, zero tax increases. Now, why would I do that? I mean, I won the election.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had the leverage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why give in? Well, simply put, I felt sorry for this man.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier this week, I found my way into the Congressional cafeteria and what do I see? John Boehner sitting by himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All alone. Not a single member of his party willing to share a seat (ph). He didn't even have any milk to drink because, well, tell them why, John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took my milk and threw it in the garbage.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so devastated for them. I'm really feeling for them.

BERMAN (voice-over): Breaking radio silence. Two deejays talk about the family of the nurse who took her own life after getting duped by their prank call.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Top secret rescue mission. An American saved from captivity in Afghanistan but at a heavy price.

BERMAN: So look who's talking. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner finally get together a little more than three weeks before we hit the fiscal cliff.


BERMAN (on-camera): Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.