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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Mexican Singer Reportedly Killed in Plane Crash; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Cory Booker

Aired December 10, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, behind closed doors. President Obama and House Speaker Boehner meet in a surprise closed door session trying to hammer out a fiscal cliff deal. Any signs of progress?

Plus, what makes a person black? My new documentary sparks lots of conversations about the color of your skin and how that defines who you are. We'll take a look at "WHO IS BLACK IN AMERICA?"

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You may start feeling less pain at the pump. Why gas prices are crashing and how long will it last? Just ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": A Mexican-American singer, a superstar, dies in a plane crash. Now, her fans in mourning. We'll have the details, straight ahead.

O'BRIEN: A packed two hours for you. Newark Mayor Cory Booker will join us, Angela Davis will join us as well. Gold medal Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas has written a new book. California Congressman Judy Chu is with us. Congress members Connie and Mary Bono Mack, the Macks join us for politics to the max, and singer Adam Lambert is our guest. It's Monday, December 10th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

Wow, that's an ominous little graphic right there. Yes that is because the fiscal cliff is what we're talking about this morning. That's the starting point. President Obama and the House Speaker speaking face to face for the first time in more than three weeks. The two men, who stand between millions of Americans and the fiscal cliff, sat down and had a conversation. It is a critical development 22 days away from the cliff, which literally means severe tax hikes and spending cuts unless the two can find a way to compromise. Nobody is saying much, but a spokesperson said this, "The lines of communication remain open." And that's music to the ears of Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff and of the Bowles- Simpson deficit reduction duo, who said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERSKINE BOWLES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You know, they have started to tango now, and any time have you two guys in there tangoing, have you a chance to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, live in Washington, D.C. this morning. So it doesn't sound like very much. But I guess we're making a lot out of it, a first step. Any indication where it goes next?

BRIANNA KEILAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We don't know where it goes next. They are saying the lines of communication are open. We're expecting the White House and the speaker's office. They are going to continue talking. We don't know when the meeting, the next meeting will be between president Obama and the speaker this is something certainly promising, because they haven't spoken in person for a few weeks. They haven't spoken one-on-one since the election.

So this is something that could be promising, but house Republicans are still publicly saying they don't want to capitulate to the White House's demand that income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans increase.

That said, listen to what a growing number of Republicans, including Senator Bob Corker, are saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: A growing group of folks are looking at this and realizing 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. You go in and give the president the two percent increase that it's talking about, the rate increase on the top two percent, and all of a sudden, the shift goes back to entitlements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, it seems Soledad, that the growing talk here is among Republicans saying budge on giving the rate increase to the top 2 percent, the wealthiest Americans. Maybe not go up as much as the White House wants, but give them the increase so we can move on to entitlements, talk about Social Security and Medicare. That is a senator, and president Obama's major obstacle is dealing with house Republicans.

O'BRIEN: If they do nothing, everybody's rates go up anyway.

KEILAR: That's exactly right and there is growing international pressure. We heard from the head of the IMF saying, if you go this route no, growth in the U.S., there is starting to be pressure not from within the U.S., but from outsides. And the president heads to Michigan today trying to put pressure from inside the U.S. as he tries to raise awareness of and really push Republicans from outside Washington to increase tax rates.

O'BRIEN: Brianna Keilar for this morning, thank you, Brianna.

In just a few moments we'll talk with Newark Mayor Cory Booker about the cliff negotiations. Authorities in Mexico have found the wreckage of a small plane they believe was carrying popular American Banda singer Jenni Rivera and six other people. There were no survivors on the plane crash. The plane took off from Monterrey, Mexico and were heading to an airport near Mexico City. The wreckage is in Nuevo Leon. Rafael Romo has more for us. He's from Atlanta this morning. Rafael, good morning.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: SOLEDAD, good morning. Jenni Rivera was an incredible entertainer. And she won two Billboard Music awards and sold more than 50 million records in a career that spanned just over a decade. But not only that, she was also an incredible businesswoman. She owned several companies, including the company that created and marketed her own music, a fragrance, jeans factory and also a company that manufactured and sold some of her products. So she's very well known by Mexican Americans in the United States and just as popular in Mexico. And you can imagine this morning, Soledad, many are mourning her loss.

O'BRIEN: That's so true. The kind of music she sings, it's called Banda music what is that?

ROMO: It's a regional Mexican music, heavy on brass. It talks about the life of common, regular people. And it was appealing to Mexican immigrants, especially in the state of California where she was born, Soledad. So incredibly popular and she was known as the diva of Banda. She popularized that genre of Mexican music.

O'BRIEN: Sad story. Thank you, Rafael. Appreciate it.

Other stories making news, John Berman is back from vacation. Welcome back.

BERMAN: Great to be back. Thanks, Soledad. We may learn as early as today, the identity of an elite Navy SEAL rescuing an American doctor held hostage in Afghanistan. We know the SEAL was a member of SEAL team 6, the same group that took down Osama bin Laden. We do not know if he was part of that raid. Dr. Joseph's family issued a statement offering thanks and condolences to the fallen service member's family.

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 apparently committed suicide. The D.J.'s are also talking and saying they came up with the idea as a team and expected to be hung up on. They also say they are stunned by the nurse's death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There isn't a minute that goes by that we don't think about her family and what they are going through. And the thought we may have played a part in that is gut wrenching.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Jacintha Saldanha was duped into believing that the queen was on the phone to speak to the duchess. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are said to be deeply saddened about Saldanha's death. Dallas Cowboy's player Josh Brent is now free on a $500,000 bond. Police say the nose tackle was driving drunk when his Mercedes flipped and caught fire early Sunday morning. Practice squad Cowboy Jerry Brown Jr. died in that crash. Just as Brent was getting out of jail his teammates were playing in Cincinnati, where the Cowboys pulled off an emotional victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Right to work opponents expected to start converging on Michigan's capital today, but the protest is expected to swell to thousands tomorrow when the Senate's House and Senate are trying to hammer out a final version which would make Michigan, a state with a big union heritage, the 24th right to work state. Alison Kosik is in the capital of Lansing, Michigan, with the latest. Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. All quiet with the Michigan state capital behind me. Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign this bill tomorrow. You can expect thousands of demonstrations descend on the state capital building between now and tomorrow.

If this law passes it would essentially ban contracts that require workers to join a union, to pay union dues. Those in favor of the bill say what it would do is help the economy by saving jobs, bringing more work to Michigan, even raising salaries by not forcing union dues on workers. But those against the bill say that those benefits that they have now, those jobs that they have now, could take a major hit. Obviously it has huge political implications and we'll be watching to see how the action unfolds.

BERMAN: Allison Kosik in Lansing, Michigan, where we expect huge protests over the next few days.

Elsewhere, after taking a lot of heat for a hateful rap against U.S. soldiers, Psy, with the hit "Gangnam Style" was spotted shaking hands with President Obama over the weekend. Psy performed at a White House charity event, and apologized after a video surfaced of him taking part in a protest concert against the U.S. that happened a decade ago. At that concert he rapped about slowly and painfully killing U.S. military members and their families. Now a decade later he's a star and people are going through all that video.

O'BRIEN: What's the lyrics on that, interesting.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could have a challenger when his term is up. We'll talk about Cory Booker about the growing buzz surrounding his political future.

And she is America's golden girl. Gabby Douglas will join us later this hour. Will tell us how she almost quit right before the Olympics, frustrated, wanted to give up her sport and go work at chick-fil-a. Hopefully she'll bring her mom in. Her mom has been a big help in her life. We'll talk about that.

Businesswise, what's happening?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: FedEx trucks will fill the streets today, gearing up for the year's biggest shipping day when they will get your gifts, so many of them, this will be a record day for them. Will you get your gifts on time? You will if you are shipping by today. You are watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. FedEx bracing for its busiest day ever. The company expecting to handle 19 million packages today, more than 200 packages per second. The reason? Internet sales are booming and driving holiday shipping volume up by 10 percent over last year.

Gas prices tumbled 46 cents over the past two months according to the Lundberg Survey. The publisher of that survey says that refining problems being resolved at the same time seasonal demand is shrinking. Today's national average price for a gallon of regular, $3.34.

U.S. stock futures are down after closing mixed on Friday. European stocks down after Super Mario Monte announced an early resignation as Italian prime minister. And Japan is now technically in a recession. Soledad, you have some dour moods around the world this morning.

O'BRIEN: I know that will affect us early. Christine, thank you.

Just 22 days until we fall over the fiscal cliff. Although some people have described it more as a gentle slide. There are reports of progress that might avoid disaster. The White House confirms that the speaker, John Boehner, and President Obama met at the White House yesterday. Both released statements basically they wouldn't say anything, but that "The lines of communication remain open." Can we hope for a deal any time soon? Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Nice to have you with us.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER, (D) NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Very nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: Not part of the fiscal cliff discussions, apparently down to the two of them. What happens to your city if we go over the fiscal cliff?

BOOKER: It's a real challenge for people all over my state, frankly. There are a lot of families in this tough economic time, seeing them having $2,000 or more on average of expenses of not enjoying tax cuts, will make a real impact. And people barely making mortgage payments, falling behind on car payments this will be a difficult thing. And that will have a multiplier effect. People who don't have extra money to spend hurt the stores that that would be shopping in, the food they would be buying, so on and so forth.

So this is a time we can't have a government that is, especially Republicans, holding hostage all of this country, 98 percent of our country.

O'BRIEN: It's a negotiation. So I wouldn't -- I get are you a democrat. So you will blame it on Republicans.

BOOKER: Democrat, Republican, we saw the last time what happened we had a conflict like this around the debt ceiling debate. This debate ground on and unfortunately consumer confidence dipped, the economy was hurt. Credit was downgraded.

O'BRIEN: How likely it is we will have a deal?

BOOKER: I am really hoping after seeing what happened last time, I really hope we learned a lesson from this. Washington's inaction, people holding folks hostage over issues to me that are -- that are -- we shouldn't be debating about, extending tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans will really hurt people. And these aren't folks making 250, half a million a year. These are people making $30,000 a year where this will really hurt their families.

O'BRIEN: Senator Bob Corker said this over the weekend. It seems like he is ready to acquiesce a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORKER: 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 think actually it has merit where you go and get the president the 2 percent increase. It's a much less of a tax increase than he's been talking about the focus then shifts to entitlements and that maybe puts us in a place where we can actually do something that really saves this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He is a Republican and he is laying out, listen, we could do a deal on the tack thing, we don't have a lot of leverage. But the worry is, what about the entitlements, spending, that's what they are concerned about. What spending cuts do Democrats need to put on the table that actually make a difference?

BOOKER: First of all, you are absolutely right. It's good to see many Republicans going back now on pledges that they made often decades ago. This is ridiculous. We won't get out of this only by spending cuts. There has to be a balanced approach to how we're doing it. But it will have to be a balance between raising revenue and a balance between making cuts, simply that.

This is something Congress will work out. I wish that many more Americans actually had seats at the table. But we know this. Social security, they have to do a balance sheet analysis. We can't spend more money than you are taking in. Some of these entitlements, we have to make ways to make them solvent and strong again.

O'BRIEN: Timothy Geithner said farm bill subsidies are on the table. If, in fact that is on the table, the bulk of your food stamps program is under the umbrella of the farm Bill. In fact, it's almost 70 percent of the farm bill, which is kind of interesting, right? It brings us back to what your experiment war over the last week, the SNAP challenge, living off food stamps.

BOOKER: If you look at the president's plan, a very balanced approach, calls for infrastructure investment that will give us long- term economic return, because if you think you will solve our problem -- if we wanted to go on a diet and we do it by cutting out a pound of flesh it will hurt the body as a hole.

And so actually food stamps an area you get a long-term economic benefit, especially if you think of the children, the families who have children, a large percentage of people receiving so-called food stamps in the snap challenge. Giving them a chance to go to school with a nutritionally good foundation is important.

There are two bills, one that makes cuts in the program. It's very difficult, very challenging. You have senators like Senator Stabenow saying we'll do innovative things, with access like to fresh and healthy foods. We want to protect recipients. And the president is saying he won't make cuts with the House bill. The house Bill makes deep cuts, hurting the 46 million American who's are receiving this benefit right now. I can tell you from very personal experience, it ain't that much money.

O'BRIEN: You did it for a week, and it's a supplement.

BOOKER: It is a supplement. But veterans are on the SNAP program, children on SNAP, disabled folks on SNAP program, even a small percentage of military families are on snap. It's something they rely heavily on it. A large percentage of Americans who rely on SNAP, it pulls them above the poverty line.

O'BRIEN: Are you going to run for governor?

BOOKER: I have not made a decision. That was a Magic Johnson, a no- look pass. A great move. You know this is the next week to two weeks --

O'BRIEN: The polling shows Christie way ahead.

BOOKER: The polling showed George Bush way ahead. You look at head- to-head matches, it doesn't put him that far over 50 percent. So we think that any Democrat -- Christie is vulnerable, and I think as it should be, because there are a lot of issues on the state he's not falling in line from women's issues, environmental issues, a balanced way. I will consider United States Senate as well. I am trying to make the decision based on where I can make the most difference in the city I love and the state I love and the nation I pledged my life to.

O'BRIEN: That was a long maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

BOOKER: You are too good of a friend for me -- I'm not going to give you political -- now we're politicians.

O'BRIEN: Words, words, words, words, maybe. All right, I know you will let me know.

BOOKER: I will definitely let you know. O'BRIEN: We have to take a break. Still ahead, how about Hillary Clinton? Will they run for the White House in four years? Never too early to hop on a story is what I say. Even the GOP says she will be formidable if she does, even Republicans say that. Newt Gingrich said that. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Our team this morning, Congressman Joseph Crowley is a Democrat from New York representing Bronx and Queens. Margaret Hoover is back, CNN political contributor and big crush of my son Jackson who is in love with her. And Ron Brownstein is the editorial director of the "National Journal." Not a big crush of Jackson on you. Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Newt Gingrich. He says the secretary of state Hillary Clinton would be a formidable candidate if she in fact decides to run for the presidency in 2016. Gingrich was on "Meet the Press" and said the GOP wouldn't be able to compete if she was the nominee. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If their competitor in '16 is Hillary Clinton, supported by Bill Clinton and presumably still relatively popular president Barack Obama, trying to win that will truly be the super bowl. And the Republican Party today is incapable of competing at that level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's a strong statement, but not entirely inaccurate. She will be a formidable candidate if the economy is improving and they get a budget deal. Look, three times in a row, very rare, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, last time it happened. Nothing is given, but given the demography, her appeal would be formidable.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The Republican Party in four years, hopefully more competitive. Governors are getting their stripes. Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, reframing the Republican party. Is it possible there could be a new Republican party in four years? I certainly hope so. We'll see.

REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY, (D) NEW YORK: I have been waiting for this all along. Newt Gingrich, saying Hillary Clinton formidable, my god.

O'BRIEN: I believe hell has frozen over and cats and dogs now getting together.

CROWLEY: I want Hillary to run. I'm excited.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead, on STARTING POINT, we'll talk about my documentary that aired last night. What it means to be black in America. My new doc looked at racial identity, controversial and complicated conversations around that. That's coming up next.

And President Obama and John Boehner, if they reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, maybe it has nothing to do with politics. According to "SNL," the president just feels really, really bad for the speaker. A clip of that, pretty funny. That's straight ahead.

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