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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Navy SEAL Member Killed During Rescue Mission; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Reps. Mary Bono and Connie Mack; Your Taxes in 2013; Adam Lambert Host VH1 Divas

Aired December 10, 2012 - 08:30   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. You're watching STARTING POINT. In just a few moments, we're going to be talking with Florida Congressman Connie Mack, California Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack, about the fiscal cliff, the plans after Congress, and much more.

First though, we want to update you on a story about SEAL Team Six. A member was killed during a daring rescue mission, trying to free an American doctor who've been abducted in Afghanistan. Our Pentagon correspondent is Barbara Starr, and she's been following some of those developments. What do we know, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Soledad. A risky mission to rescue an American hostage in Afghanistan, Dr. Dilip Joseph is free, but one U.S. Navy SEAL lost his life in this mission over the weekend. We don't know the man's name yet. It hasn't been publicly released. A member of SEAL Team Six, known inside the Navy as the Warfare Development Group, the same unit that rescued (sic) Osama bin Laden. We don't know if he was on that mission.

But Dr. Joseph's family issuing a statement saying, quote, "We want to extend our deepest condolences to the family of the American sailor who died during Dilip's rescue. We could not be more grateful for that soldier's heroism and the bravery of all involved in the mission to bring Dilip home."

A good moment to remember, Soledad, as 305 American service members so far this year have lost their lives in the war in Afghanistan, and tragically in the last six weeks or so, three U.S. Navy SEALs, all in very different combat missions.

O'BRIEN: What do we know about how he died? Do we know any details?

STARR: The Navy is going to possibly release some of that information later today. One official telling me it was small arms fire, which suggests there was a firefight to rescue this American citizen. Hostage rescue missions the most dangerous work possibly and the most risky that Special Forces engage in.

O'BRIEN: I can imagine. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon this week. Thank you, Barbara.

STARR: Sure.

O'BRIEN: John Berman has a look at other stories making news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Good morning, Soledad. The North Koreans are holding off launching a long range rocket for now but extending a launch window -- they say this is over technical problems. That according to North Korea state news. Earlier this month the North Korean government announced a 13-day window for a possible launch. That window opened today. It is now a 20-day window that closes December 29th. North Korea claims it's a peaceful bid to advance their space program, but, as you can imagine, the U.S. views it as something more sinister and is threatening sanctions if this launch takes place.

At least one top Democrat isn't sweating Ambassador Susan Rice's chances if she's nominated to be the next secretary of state. Here's what Senate Majority whip Dick Durbin said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: I think in the end some of the criticisms against her have been unwarranted, many have gone too far. There's a basic feeling of fairness. She's an extraordinary person. She's certainly well-educated and has really served our nation well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Rice has faced strong opposition from many Republican lawmakers who have criticized her handling of the September attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in Libya, which killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Encouraging developments in the fight against leukemia -- this is happening at the University of Pennsylvania where doctors are using gene therapy to eradicate certain types of blood cancers. This is done using the patient's immune system T-cells to personalize treatments. And in the first 10 cases involving terminally ill patients, three of them are now free of the disease. The findings considered very preliminary are already being presented by Penn's research team.

Secondary assault charges filed against two University of Colorado Boulder students accused of bringing marijuana laced brownies to class. Five classmates and their unsuspecting professor were sickened when they ate the brownies. The two students are behind bars and facing possible jail time. Last month Colorado voters approved the recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

So since Friday morning, people in Houston have been talking about a strange fireball seen streaking through the morning sky. Was it falling space junction, or maybe a UFO? Probably not. NASA's Bill Cooke says it was a meteor, most likely a fragment from an asteroid belt. While Cook says it was not associated with the Geminid meteor showers, which are expected to peak on December 13th and 14th, as "The X-Files" say, the truth is out there, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And it's a meteor rushing toward earth.

BERMAN: Near earth.

O'BRIEN: I feel better about that.

We thought that politics would have ended maybe with the election season. But no, that was not to be. We've got the looming fiscal cliff, unrest overseas in Egypt and Syria. Lots to talk about with politics to the Macks. Get it? That's my new title for our segment here.

Wrapping up their time in office is husband and wife team Congressman Connie Mack of Florida and Congressman Mary Bono Mack of California. Nice to have you with us.

Let's start with a clip. Senator Bob Corker on Sunday seemed to be setting a conciliatory tone between Republicans saying, yes, maybe in fact these tax hikes for the wealthy will go through. Let's play a little bit of what he said first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: There is a growing group of folks that 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, where you go ahead and give the president the two percent increase that he's talking about. It's actually much lesser tax increase than what he's been talking about. The focus then shifts to entitlements, and maybe that puts us in a place where we actually can do something that really saves this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So it sounds like maybe the tax cuts that we've been talking about. What do you think is going to happen here?

REP. MARY BONO MACK, (R) CALIFORNIA: I think stay tuned. I think day after day you're going to see how the negotiations are going and how people are beginning to change their rhetoric. For a while now I've said pretty much what he has said too, and what I said last week is that for political leaders who are leading the negotiations, they know that there is a hard deadline pretty much, if you will, and people are going to start changing the rhetoric as time moves on and getting closer to the cliff or the deadline.

So I think you're going to see more and more people have the realistic approach to the answer. We probably disagree.

O'BRIEN: It's like, "Finish up, honey. I'm going to completely contradict you."

MARY BONO MACK: I sense that body language from afar.

O'BRIEN: It's going to happen anyway, right? REP. CONNIE MACK, (R) FLORIDA: Well, I mean, that's what -- I know that's what a lot of people say, but there are people like me who just don't believe that raising taxes is a good idea any time, that if you raise taxes, you're going to slow economic growth, and what we really need, if you want to grow this economy, if you want more dollars coming into the federal government, you do that by creating more taxpayers and creating more jobs and getting people back to work.

O'BRIEN: There's a new poll out --

CONNIE MACK: And real quick, I'm sorry. But nobody's asking the question about, or asking what are we going to cut?

MARY BONO MACK: I have been asking that all day.

O'BRIEN: She's been asking everybody. Now you have to answer that.

(CROSSTALK)

CONNIE MACK: Thank you, dear. Well, I am the only one that has a plan in Congress to balance the budget in five years. We take 1 percent of spending across the board, one percent. That's one penny out of everything.

O'BRIEN: Military?

CONNIE MACK: Everything.

O'BRIEN: Food stamps?

CONNIE MACK: Everything, one percent across the board. That's one penny out of every federal dollar. The Bill says we leave it up to the Congress to decide where those cuts come from, but if the government fails, if the Congress and the president fail to act, then it's one penny out of every federal dollar. Everybody is watching today has had to take more than one penny out of every dollar of their home budget, has had to take more than one penny out of every dollar of their business budget, and we're about to have to do more than that.

O'BRIEN: The polling says -- this is a Politico/George Washington University poll. Raising taxes on incomes over $250,000, 60 percent favor that. Raising retirement age for Social Security, 64 percent oppose that. And the same poll, 75 percent of Americans want across the board spending cuts, but they don't want cuts to individual entitlements. It just seems to contradictory. If this is your household budget.

CONNIE MACK: It is, and this is where leadership comes in. This is where we need the president, we need Speaker Boehner to come together to provide leadership. Leadership doesn't mean you're going to get 100 percent of the votes. Leadership means that you take a position that you think is good for the country. You put it out there, and you try to get the votes for it. That's what we're waiting to see from the president and from Speaker Boehner. O'BRIEN: You're both leaving Congress. You and I have spoken many times about prescription drug problems really, especially for families who suffer with abuse of prescription drugs. What do you do next? Are you going to continue that work?

MARY BONO MACK: You know I am, Soledad. Thank you for the question. When I lost my re-election, this is one of the issues that has sort of tugged at my heart that I don't want to be irrelevant on a very important fight that we're fighting in this country, and that is this epidemic of prescription drug abuse, most certainly in our youth. And there's not a family in America that hasn't been touched by this.

So as Connie and I move to the future, I really hope to stay involved on this front. Be a member of Congress and fighting that fight, but I'll be fighting that elsewhere in other ways.

O'BRIEN: That would be a great documentary. Those are riveting stories. We've talked a lot about that. It's heartbreaking. What are you going to do?

CONNIE MACK: She's been a real leader on those issues, and it's exciting to see her continue that work. I don't know what I'm going to co. I spent the last eight years, the last six as the chairman of the western hemisphere subcommittee. So Latin America is very important to me. I can see myself staying involved in the issues of Latin America and how we bring strong democracies to Latin America and continue to stand up against thugocrats like Hugo Chavez.

O'BRIEN: Do you guys have like relaxed Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners? Your family runs the range politically.

MARY BONO MACK: Completely. We do actually.

O'BRIEN: No politics. We don't talk politics.

MARY BONO MACK: No. You get to a certain point, and then you talk about the weather. When you know that there's a point --

O'BRIEN: How about those Giants?

MARY BONO MACK: Exactly.

CONNIE MACK: She's got a picture. We cooked a turkey this year, and she was last night showing some friends this picture of me checking the turkey that wasn't flattering. Thank you, dear.

O'BRIEN: But the turkey was delicious. So that's all that mattered.

CONNIE MACK: That's all that matters.

O'BRIEN: Politics to the Macks. It's nice to have you both with us this morning. We appreciate it. Open invitation whenever you want to come on and talk about your issues. We certainly appreciate it. And I'm telling you, that's a good documentary, prescription drugs. We should do it. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, imagine instead of paying a flat rate college tuition, you had to pay according to what you decided to major in. Florida is considering that plan. Is it fair?

And a celebration of women in music features Miley Cyrus, Jordan Sparks, many more. "American Idol" alum Adam Lambert is hosting the VH1 "Divas" show this year. That's coming up on STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDNET: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. Quick market check for you. European stock futures are down after closing mixed on Friday. European stocks are the tone for the week here. They're down after super Mario Monti announced an early resignation as Italian prime minister. And Japan is now technically in a recession. Japan is the world's third largest economy.

The fiscal cliff for payroll processors is not 22 days away. It's four days away. December 14, to be exact. Millions of small businesses do their own payroll, and they're preparing now for the paychecks for the first week of January. Right now they have no idea how much to hold back for Social Security taxes and the expiring Bush tax cuts. The American Payroll Association urging Congress to make a deal on the cliff, saying, quote, "A delay in legislation beyond December 14th doesn't give all businesses enough time to update and test their payroll systems for early January paychecks."

And in today's smart is the new rich, should you pay tuition based on which major you choose? The governor of Florida Rick Scott considering it. A task force appointed by Governor Scott wants students to per sue so called STEM majors, to pay less at state universities than students in the less demand majors like history, philosophy, or English. The idea is to steer students to fields there's the most need. Liberal arts professors, no surprise, complain the STEM push could hurt small liberal arts programs already suffering from budget cuts.

Florida is still looking to reform education of state and to attract this higher paying careers to the Florida economy and. And frankly, your college major does greatly affect how much money you're going to make. According to the census data, engineering majors earn $3.5 million over a 40-year career, more than the median earnings for all majors, $2.4 million. Those education majors, Soledad, are in the least, $1.8 million.

O'BRIEN: Right, so they should pay less in tuition.

ROMANS: So they want a freeze --

O'BRIEN: Right?

ROMANS: -- so the proposal is to freeze tuition for those in demand majors for the next three years. So you go in a freshman, you're going to have the same tuition three years in a row. But if you're an English major, maybe not. Your tuition still keeps going up. RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": You know here's one component of a bigger thing that the higher education, the accountability revolutions over the last 30 years in K-12 is coming to higher education.

ROMANS: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: There's more student debt now and credit card debt. If your parents graduated from college, you're now five times more likely to graduate than someone whose parents were not.

The whole system is really kind of a little bit off the rail in terms of the cost benefit ratio and this is I think one of many aspects we're going to see of increasing pressure on schools to deliver more results for the dollars they get.

ROMANS: And Florida is also pushing to have a $10,000 four-year community college degree.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

ROMANS: So there -- what used to be community colleges there. They want to make them four-year schools, 28 of them I they have. A $10,000 degree.

O'BRIEN: Tiny percent of people graduate from community college.

BROWNSTEIN: And the completion rates are just completely unacceptable really, and schools are going to have to figure out how to do better.

O'BRIEN: Yes well I don't think what the Governor is considering is a good idea.

REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: It's a reverse incentive actually.

O'BRIEN: It's kind of weird, right?

All right, still ahead, pop star Adam Lambert is going to join us. He's helping the world -- the music world's new generation of female stars to celebrate legends like Whitney Houston and Donna Summer. He's hosting the new VH1 "Divas Special". He's here to talk about it.

You're watching STARTING POINT. Let's chat with him coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: That's Adam Lambert who shot to fame on "American Idol". He is hosting this Sunday's VH1 "Divas Special". This year, the line up includes Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Jordin Sparks. It's dedicated to dance music. And Adam is here to talk more about it.

You guys were actually on hiatus for a while, right? You started in '98 and went to 2004 and then took a break for a little bit and then from 2009 until now, it's continued on with kind of a younger list of divas. What's it like behind the scenes? Because you know like the part of being a diva is like you're difficult. You're a diva. ADAM LAMBERT, SINGER: Well, I mean, I think that's one way of interpreting.

O'BRIEN: Be honest -- the rehearsals.

LAMBERT: We -- we haven't had rehearsals yet. Now it's been a lot of e-mailing back and forth and phone calls, a lot of ideas. I'm not working with any divas. Everybody seems like they're on a team and everybody is really getting off.

CROWLEY: I'm available.

LAMBERT: You -- can you teach me how to be a diva.

CROWLEY: I'm certainly available.

LAMBERT: I'm taking notes.

CROWLEY: I was kind of hoping I'd be one myself.

O'BRIEN: These are up and coming. Upcoming and coming stars.

Remember the first divas?

LAMBERT: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Which was great, and they were like all on the stage, and they were trying to out-sing each other.

LAMBERT: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And it was, I think it was Aretha and Celine Dion. And who else was on?

LAMBERT: Mariah was up there.

O'BRIEN: Mariah was on there.

LAMBERT: Carole King was playing the piano.

O'BRIEN: Right and every single time there's one would try to top the next because they're divas.

LAMBERT: Yes and Gloria Estefan was there.

O'BRIEN: And Gloria Estefan was there.

LAMBERT: And she was actually funny because if I remember it correctly she was -- she was kind of what was like OK, girls, go for it. I'm not going to sing --

O'BRIEN: I don't need to be part of this. What will you -- you're focusing on a couple of things, right. You're going to honor --

LAMBERT: We're honoring Donna Summer and Whitney Houston. And they left us this year, and they are icons, both music industry and especially dance music. I mean their music is part of our -- our party culture, you know weddings and bar mitzvahs and school dances, you've heard all these songs. So we're going to be doing tributes to both of them. Lots of young singers in the show this year.

I'm kind of the big brother, I think, actually. And yes, we're going to be doing --

BROWNSTEIN: Are you OK with that?

LAMBERT: The big brother part or the young divas?

BROWNSTEIN: The big brother.

LAMBERT: Yes, I don't know them all that well. I've met them in passing. So we'll see what it's like.

CROWLEY: How do you break in to be a diva? I mean, is it something that just happens? And like you know you're a diva?

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: I need to know these things, I need to know these things.

BROWNSTEIN: It may not last forever.

CROWLEY: I need to know these things.

LAMBERT: I mean, I don't exactly know how you earn the title diva, but I think you have to be fierce in your talent. I think that's kind of the first priority. And then I don't know -- I think the whole negative connotation, I think we're going to try to prove it wrong this year. I think it's a positive thing.

O'BRIEN: I love it. I think that's awesome.

BROWNSTEIN: Diva is not a four-letter word.

LAMBERT: And we're also changing that diva can be a guy too. We're proving that this year. That's what we're doing.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. Can we talk about "American Idol"?

LAMBERT: Let's talk about it.

O'BRIEN: What's going on with "American Idol"? I was thinking the other day I don't even really know the contestants anymore. I just know about the Nicki Minaj/Mariah battle, and someone's got a gun.

LAMBERT: Well, the show hasn't started yet. So I think when it starts -- when it airs this year. I think we'll get to meet the contestants and hopefully the reality style drama won't take away from the contestants' experience.

CROWLEY: I think Phil Phillips certainly -- was it Phil Phillips?

LAMBERT: Yes, Phil Phillips did great this year.

CROWLEY: From the first show, I watched the early show with my children. I recognized right away I thought the guy was great. And he turned out to win.

O'BRIEN: You're like a pop culture fiend, Congressman.

CROWLEY: "Call Me Maybe." I know these things.

O'BRIEN: You're going to be touring with Queen?

LAMBERT: No, I did that already. This already happened. I did three shows in the U.K. and three shows in Eastern Europe. It was incredible. It was such an honor and to be on stage with Brian Mann, Roger Taylor, like rock royalty. It was kind of intimidating. The first show especially we were in the Ukraine, and it was 250,000 people. I had to take a big deep breath and just push through.

O'BRIEN: So what's that look like when you're performing to a quarter million people?

LAMBERT: It's bizarre. It's surreal, yes.

O'BRIEN: You focus on one person in the audience and sing to them.

LAMBERT: I tried not to. I tried to just kind of like turn my focus inside and to the boys.

CROWLEY: You did "Radio Gaga"?

LAMBERT: We did "Radio Gaga" with the claps.

CROWLEY: Great song.

BROWNSTEIN: And you did some work for the gay marriage initiative in Maryland. Are you excited or nervous that the Supreme Court is hearing the case on Proposition 8 in California?

LAMBERT: I'm excited. I think progress is the name of the game. I think as long as we continue to try to push forward, things will change. Slow and steady, you know.

O'BRIEN: We're excited. "Divas" airs on Sunday on VH1.

LAMBERT: "Divas" airs this Sunday on VH1. Some of the people that are going to be there -- you want to know.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I know Miley Cyrus, Jordin Sparks --

LAMBERT: I have to advertise, that's my job.

O'BRIEN: Jordin Sparks. Demi Lovato, Ciera, Kelly Rowland. So nice.

LAMBERT: It's going to be quite a show.

CROWLEY: Joe Crowley O'BRIEN: So proudly weigh-in, it's not going to work Congressman. Focus on the fiscal cliff, he'll do the divas. It's all good.

Nice to have you with us. Absolutely pleasure.

LAMBERT: Nice to see you, yes. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And it's time for "End Point". Do you want to kick it off for us?

BROWNSTEIN: I would. When I was watching that piece about the school in the Rockaways that was flooded. I was thinking that during the campaign, Mitt Romney mocked President Obama for saying he wanted his presidency to be a time when the rise in the ocean began to slow. It doesn't seem quite so funny now after Hurricane Sandy and the question of whether we're able to deal with this problem over the next coming years.

O'BRIEN: I think we should do more reporting on this whole global warming thing. I'm really interested in seeing. Like what are the realities, and what is just a bad storm that has nothing to do with global warming?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the ocean, the rise of the ocean is real.

O'BRIEN: Right. All right. Margaret.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I keep going back to Gabrielle Douglas. She was such an inspirational interview. She is a great role model for young women. And it was fantastic to hear her talk about her book. And you know it -- 2016. It's never too early to talk 2016, but I don't mean politics.

(CROSSTALK)

Uf1: Gabby Douglas.

CROWLEY: I just want to tail on what Ron said. Rockaway Beach, although not part of my district, is where my mother is from, and my aunt is still living with us because of the devastation in there.

I thought that was a moving story. I think more members of Congress need to come up and see just what happened here in the Tristate -- in Quad-State region and really get a sense of what really took place because it was really devastating. People are still really grappling with day to day life.

O'BRIEN: And the pictures don't ever really reflect how bad it is, I don't think.

CROWLEY: It was (INAUDIBLE) to me when I was growing up.

O'BRIEN; Right, right, right.

Tomorrow on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to director Ed Burns, we're going to talk to actor Frankie Muniz, we're going to talk to Congressman member Steve Israel, Jeff Sessions. Javier Palimares, he's the president and CEO of United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel will be guest as well. That's our wind-up for tomorrow.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Ted Rowlands begins right now. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. Hey Ted.