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Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Congressman Steve Israel; Bob Costas Defends Comments on Gun Culture in NFL

Aired December 11, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, bracing for protests. Thousands of union workers battling over Michigan's right to work bill. Will the governor reconsider the controversial measure?

And President Obama and House Speaker Boehner are mum on their closed- door fiscal cliff negotiations. So, is that silence a sign that a deal could be near?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: New world order. China's economy growing at an enormous rate, And in just a few years, it's going to surpass the U.S. What that means, coming up.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Dozens of homes damaged as tornadoes tear through the south, ripping off roofs, scattering trees. We will have the latest. There may be more to come. We're on storm watch, straight ahead.

O'BRIEN: Lots to talk about this morning. Over the next two hours, we're going to be talking with Congressman Steve Israel, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Michigan Congressman Sandy Levin. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is with us. Businessman Javier Palomarez, director and actor Ed Burns, actor Frankie Muniz, and musician Chuck Leavell.

It's Tuesday, December 11th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, they're angry, united. We are bracing for protests in Michigan as the state is poised to become the most unionized right to work state. As many as 10,000 unionized workers expected at the state capitol to voice their disapproval of the measure. Some of them are teachers. In fact at least two Detroit area school districts shut down for the day as hundreds of teachers plan to join the protest. Even President Obama brought it up during a trip to a Daimler truck factory in Redford, Michigan. This is what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These so-called right to work law, they don't have to do with economics, everything to do with politics.


OBAMA: What they are really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.



O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik is with us from Lansing, Michigan. What's the latest on the protests?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Protesters starting to gather behind me, signs in hand, even the inflatable, a common theme when you see unions protest, the rats. Thousands are hoping their voices will be heard when the final votes taken on legislation, that right to work legislation that if it's passed would mean that workers would not be required to pay union dues. They wouldn't be required to join a union which would be a huge hit to not only unions here in Michigan, but also across the country because Michigan really has been the birthplace of the organized labor movement and it really would be a hit to the movement.

So what's happening today inside the chambers? The state and house approving, finalizing their votes if those measures pass, that Bill will go to the Governor Rick Snyder's desk and he is expected to sign it.

O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik, thank you.

Big story in Washington, D.C., no news at all. Silence about the fiscal cliff. The president and the house speaker John boehner holding closed door meetings to work out a deal or try to. There are 21 days and counting away from tax hikes and spending cuts going into effect. And Congress breaks for Christmas on Friday. Here is where things stand.

The president was hitting the road to sell his tax plan to -- at a truck plant to workers in Michigan yesterday. Speaker Boehner, his aides conducted behind the scenes fiscal cliff talks with the White House. And on Capitol Hill for a single day, all was quiet. That's always bad news if you are a political reporter, right? Shannon Travis is live in Washington, D.C. There are some people who say well, let's read into the silence, because that's all we're getting and it's good news. Do you feel that way?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be potentially good news. There is this notion of not negotiating through the media, right, Soledad. The stakes are high, puts pressure on both sides. So in that sense, as much as we would love to know what's going on in these discussions, it might be good to take some of the pressure off.

I'm going to read a statement from house speaker John Boehner's press secretary, quote, "Discussions with the White House are taking place, but we have no detail to share about the substances of those conversations. The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the balanced approach he promised the American people." Now, obviously, the president is saying he is waiting as well, Soledad. He's waiting for Republicans to identify how exactly they plan to specifically make up the $800 billion in revenue they are offering. And the president yesterday took to Michigan, basically standing firm on his commitment that no deal for him could pass muster unless it raises tax rates on the wealthiest. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: So we're reading into the silence this morning.

TRAVIS: The tea leaves.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Shannon, appreciate it. In a few minutes, talking about all of this, Congressman Steve Israel. He's our guest straight ahead.

And John Berman has a look at other stories making news. good morning.

BERMAN: A deafening silence out of was this morning.

Overnight, three crew members killed in the crash of a medical chopper in north central Illinois. They were on the way to a hospital when their chopper went down. Pilot Andy Olson and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis were on board.

We now know the identity of the Navy SEAL killed during the daring rescue of an American doctor from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Petty officer first class Nicholas Check was described as hardworking and enthusiastic. He joined the Navy in 2002 after graduating from high school and entered the SEALs program the very next year. Officer Check received a bronze star and several other awards during his 10- year career, clearly a hero.

New violence this morning in Cairo, Egypt. A government official reports at least nine people were wounded when someone fired bird shot pellets were shot into Tahrir Square. Both supporter and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi are holding rallies today, all leading up to Saturday's vote on a new constitution.

The longest sitting entertainment in the country is in the hospital this morning. Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye is at Walter Reed hospital. He has recently been seen using oxygen on the floor of the Senate. He served in World War II and won the Medal of Honor. He also witnessed the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and will mark 50 years in the Senate on January 3rd. We hope he is recovering nicely.

Parts of the country could see more rough weather, this one in Volusia county, Florida, two others in Louisiana and Alabama. Reports as many as a dozen total. Most of the south saw bad weather from rain to heavy winds. Alexandra Steele tracking weather for us this morning. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you. There are 13 reports of tornadoes thus far, over 47 damage reports. And you can see here, this was the line of a storm that moved through with the arctic front, the warm, moist air ahead of it, that colder drier air behind it, and these are showing where you the tornado reports were.

We have had two confirmed thus far, though. Let me take you, and show you where one was. In Baker, Louisiana, an EF-1 tornado, winds there, 90 miles per hour, roofs off homes, even commercial buildings for some of you. Car wash destroyed, widespread damage to trees and power lines. But also, again, tornadoes reported from Louisiana, Mississippi, east of Florida.

To Volusia County, where this funnel cloud, which John showed you earlier, reported. And you can see, incredible pictures from Florida as well. But how uncommon to see this kind of thing in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi? Believe it or not, we have a cool weather tornado season in Dixie Alley, and it's been quiet thus far. Only seven tornadoes touched down from November until now. The 10-year average is 70. So a tenth of what we normally see.

Today, the only threat for tornadoes in south and central Florida, isolated tornadoes, maybe some damaging wind gusts, but that is it around the country. And you can see hail possible. But Florida, everyone on the eastern seaboard will clear out with cooler, drier air moving in. John?

BERMAN: Alexandra Steele, thank you very much this morning.

If you haven't seen this video, take a look right now. A man in Birmingham, Alabama, was being interviewed by a local TV reporter talking about the dangerous weather when this happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had dog, she was in the cage. Oh, my god, oh, my god, oh, my god! You all OK? You all OK? You all right?


BERMAN: The roof of Clinton Thornton's home collapsed due to the soaking rain. We should tell you, no one was hurt luckily when that roof collapsed. I talked to local news reporters who filmed this video, and they say as they were walking through the neighborhood before they shot it, they could hear the creaking sounds from the ceilings and roofs from around the neighborhood because there was so much rain, a lot of ceilings were sagging.

O'BRIEN: How awful and interesting for a photographer to just be --

BERMAN: Quick thinking.

O'BRIEN: Really quick thinking. John, thank you.

Still ahead, Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of not offering up enough cuts. We'll speak with Steve Israel coming up next.

Does the NFL have a gun culture problem? What Bob Costas says, the fire arms issue and what to do about it.

How about business news?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: HSBC paid the largest ever penalty by a back to the U.S. government. What they are accused of in moments. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. Minding your business, three British nationals arrested in the U.K. in connection with the Libor rate fixing scandal. The Libor rate is used to set rates on trillions of dollars worth of loans, including mortgages, credit cards, student loans. Three arrests we're hearing out of the U.K. right now.

U.S. stock futures higher. Fiscal cliff talks, Federal Reserve meeting in Washington, two drivers for investments over the next couple of days. Futures holding in there for now.

Federal and state authorities have reached a record-setting settlement with British banking giant HSBC. Europe's largest lender has agreed to a staggering $1.92 billion to settle a money laundering investigation in the U.S. This is a big fine. HSBC is accused of helping transfer billions formations like Iran doing business with firms linked to terrorism and also enabling Mexican drug cartels to move money illegally through U.S. subsidiaries.

O'BRIEN: Considering that, that sounds low, $2 billion for helping Mexican drug cartels and terrorists out of Iran?

ROMANS: That's pretty big thought,

And Asia ascending, the west in decline -- 350 years of the west rising is now reversing. American intelligence agencies are preparing this report that they do every four years for incoming administration. The world undergoing tectonic shifts comparable to the French revolution and industrial revolution, but happening much faster. By 2030 Asia will see the power it last had in the middle ages and pass North America and Europe combined in terms of power. The report says "The unicorn moment is over and pax Americana, the era of American ascendency is fast winding down."

It's so interesting with what you see in Washington, the squabbling over trying to close just a part of our deficit, and the long view taken by national intelligence agencies, is that the big trends are happening so quickly and in such a big basis, it makes politics small.

BERMAN: We're all going down anyway.

ROMANS: No. It's interesting for me, because technology is going to be a big driver. Middle classes will rise. By 2030 according to the report for the first time ever, most people in the world won't be poor. A majority of people will be out of poverty. So you're seeing kind of a rising tide, but very big changes.

O'BRIEN: For those of us in pax Americana, it's kind of a disturbing report. ROMANS: There is pressure on American middle class and western middle classes because technological advances means people in other parts of the world can do the work much less expensively.

O'BRIEN: Global economy. Christine, thank you.

Negotiators have become very quiet on the fiscal cliff, which is a little odd for them. Not much known specifically about what's happening behind closed doors. We want to get to Congressman Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York. He's chair of the Democratic congressional campaign committee, nice to have you with us again. I'm always worried when there is not a lot of noise out of Washington, D.C., everything quiet. To the point where speaker and the president releasing press releases almost identical. Is this good? Are the talks moving in a positive turn?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL, (D) NEW YORK: Yes, look, nothing is certain, but in this case, I think whispering in the White House is better than finger pointing in the media. It suggests, like in any negotiation, the parties serious, trying to work out acceptable compromise. I think Speaker Boehner has received pressure from own members looking at polls, including a poll that 60 percent of the American people want a balanced deal that does ask the wealthiest to do a little more. They want fundamental debt reduction, spending cuts, which Democrats are prepared to do. So the bottom line is no news may be good news.

O'BRIEN: We know the tax issue has been debated a lot and expected that the Bush tax cuts in some way, shape, or form will expire for the wealthiest two percent of the country. But I want to talk about savings and this is where often very hard to dig into facts and details. Here is what the "Washington Post" is reporting, "Savings for health and retirement programs, necessary to sell tax hikes to GOP lawmakers. Obama's proposed $350 billion in health of savings and Boehner has suggested a $60 billion from health programs, and an additional $200 billion from using a stingier measure of inflation, reducing cost of living increases for Social Security recipients." How do you think this is going it go over?

ISRAEL: First of all, remember, we already passed and effectuated into law nearly $1 trillion in savings in the budget last year. That ought to count toward this deal. That is a done deal. We passed it last year in the budget control act.

Moving forward, the president has put nearly 350 billion in savings in entitlement reform on the table. What I fundamentally disagree with in terms of the Republican proposal is they want to do it out of benefits side. What you are talking about is it called chain CPI. That is an immediate and drastic hit to Social Security benefits for seniors, now, today.

We have always said we will negotiate strengthening Medicare and Social Security, improving it, reforming it. But we will not negotiate the end of Medicare and Social Security. We will talk with the Republicans to see if we can find the kinds of reforms that will keep these programs solvent and structurally healthy, but not ask seniors the first to sacrifice the most, which is the Republican playbook up to now.

O'BRIEN: "The Washington Post" said this, "As weeks of pain go by," and I feel like we've been in the middle of the pain a little bit, "now political pressure might grow so heavy, that whatever mix of tax increases and tax cuts and spending that he wishes." The headline is Obama must learn to negotiate. Do you think that's true? That basically if you get closer and closer to the deadline, that the president can do whatever he wants? He holds the cards.

ISRAEL: I don't think that's true. The president has never wavered from what he said from when the Republicans first brought us to the cliff, the first debate for the debt ceiling. He wants a plan big, bold, balanced. We were ready to sign on the dotted line for a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan a year ago. The problem was, it was a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy and the Republicans wouldn't give us a nickel of tax increases on the wealthy.

I think the president in a much stronger position now after this election. He campaigned relentlessly on the notion to ask the wealthiest to pay more. He is in a better place. At the end of the day, we understand there has to be a compromise. I think the $250,000 figure is too low. I'm not willing to tell all of my constituents that earn below $250,000 that their taxes are going to go up, because I held out for a deal for those that make $400,000. Let's do the $250,000. We're going back to Washington today. Everybody gets a tax cut up to $250,000 --


ISRAEL: Actually, there's a discharge petition --


ISRAEL: There is a discharge petition on the floor. We all agree taxes should go up on people up to 250. I wouldn't bet on it, fair enough.


O'BRIEN: Timothy Geithner said, when he was listed details of the $600 billion, he said a couple of examples. Limit farm subsidies, which he says could save a significant amount of money. And the farm subsidies would limit payments to farmers, and crop insurance would be cut. Do you support all of that?

ISRAEL: Yes. I personally do support it. We need to reform the crop subsidy program. In too many cases, these mega agricultural firms are quieting subsidized to not grow crops. It just doesn't make sense.

This is another problem I have with Republicans. They say we have to to reform Medicare and cut benefits, and yet oil companies, for example, are getting $40 billion in subsidies. We're about to replace Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer of oil. These oil companies are doing exceedingly well. Why do we have to give them $40 billion in subsidies and at the same time telling seniors we'll have a more stingy calculation of benefits? I think all of these subsidies ought to be on the table. Subsidies, we ought to make investments in growing the middle class, not rewarding special interests.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Steve Israel joining us this morning. Nice to have you, sir. Appreciate it.

ISRAEL: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, is the NFL at a crossroads? We'll tell you what sportscaster Bob Costas says about the league's gun and concussion problem coming up next.

And our STARTING POINT team is heading in to join us. We're back after a short break.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back. Our team this morning, Bob Shrum is back. You must have had a good time.

BOB SHRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You asked me back.


O'BRIEN: And Nan Hayworth is back, congresswoman, Republican from New York, Ryan Lizza is back, too, reporter for the "New Yorker." Let's talk a little bit about comments by Bob Costas. He admits his remarks may have been "imperfect in the aftermath of that terrible suicide/murder" involving the Chiefs player Jovan Belcher. He has no regrets though, about what he said, because he thinks the NFL has a crisis on its hands.


BOB COSTAS, SPORTSCASTER: It's at a crossroads, because there is an issue of the fundamental nature of the game. It's so popular and profitable. But it takes a tremendous toll on those who play it, not just body, but mind and emotions.


O'BRIEN: According to a report on NBC's "Football Night in America," seven NFL players have turned in their weapons since the Belcher murder/suicide. He said he didn't trust himself with his own firearm. It's interesting, the backlash that he got.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: His real point was about the gun culture. His real point was about NFL players and a culture of violence. That's what I got out of the interview with piers. He was initially attacked by people who were concerned about gun control and the Second Amendment. But he was really commenting on players not being careful with guns.

O'BRIEN: And 75 percent of NFL players have weapons. And in public there's not quite 50 percent of the American public. So there are a number of reasons for that.

SHRUM: The players that have guns at home, I guess Costas said seven or eight times more likely to hurt themselves or somebody else than to protect themselves. There is a deeper problem with the NFL and Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, tried to address it at Harvard in a speech a couple of weeks ago. It goes to the question of how the game is played, concussions, things like that. He even talked and this would be a stunning development, about eliminating kickoffs. That's where the greatest injuries occurred to these guys.

O'BRIEN: That itself was very controversial. We have to take a short break. Still ahead, secrets surrounding the fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington. No one is talking -- secrets. Many say it's a sign of progress. Others say it should be out in the open. Senator Jeff Sessions will weigh in on that next.

This is not your typical shopper. We'll tell you how this well- dressed little monkey ended up in Ikea.

BERMAN: A monkey in a coat.

O'BRIEN: Nice jacket. Looks like a shearling. We're back in just a moment.


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