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Gunman Opens Fire in Crowded Oregon Mall; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Congressman Elijah Cummings

Aired December 12, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, holiday terror. A gunman opens fire in a packed shopping mall, killing two people and himself. We'll hear from a witness who lived through it.

Also, overnight, North Korea launches a long-range rocket, takes the world by surprise and puts international leaders on edge. We'll take a look at what that rocket was carrying and the global implications of that launch in a live report, straight ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: House Republicans give President Obama a counteroffer on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Will it be a compromise the president can agree with?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Flames shoot more than 70 feet in the air as a gas explosion destroys homes in one community. What went wrong? We'll have the story, coming up.

O'BRIEN: Lots to talk about this morning. Our guests include Maryland congressman, Elijah Cummings, former Florida governor, Charlie Crist, and Tennessee congresswoman, Marsha Blackburn.

It's Wednesday. December 12th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Hi, everybody. Holiday shoppers were scrambling for cover at a crowded mall after a gunman opened fire. Police say there were 10,000 people inside the Clackamas town center mall when a man wearing a mask suddenly started firing. Chaos erupted. When it was over, three people dead, including the shooter himself. A young woman has been left wounded. She is fighting for her life right now.


CRAIG ROBERTS, CLACKAMAS COUNTY SHERIFF: The mall is supposed to be a place we can all take our families, feel comfortable that this is a great place, especially at the holiday season like this. And these things aren't supposed to happen.


O'BRIEN: I want to begin with Dan Simon live in Portland. We know, Dan, that the police have identified the shooter, but is there any indication of a motive at this point?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Soledad. Any time there is a shooting like this, that's always the first question. What was the shooter? What was the motive? Was this a random shooting? We don't know the answers to any of the questions.

What we do know is that the shooting happened about 3:30 in the afternoon. A mall full of people, 10,000 people inside the mall, 1.4 million square feet. So you can imagine the challenge for law enforcement, getting here, coming through the mall. We know that the shooter was in the Macy's store at one point jogging through the Macy's store. The shots rang out in the food court area. The Santa actually in that food court area actually ducked for cover. Everybody in the vicinity, there was total pandemonium. Listen to one mall employee who described what was happening.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I work at a kiosk in the middle of the mall, right below the food court. We heard six shots and people scattered like crazy. Everyone left. And people at stores were opening doors for to us get in ushering everybody in there.


SIMON: The mall will remain closed today, obviously not ideal in the middle of this holiday shopping season. You might see all of the cars behind me. That's because when this happened, people just dropped their belongings, a lot of car keys inside, purses, that kind of thing. At some point, the mall will set up a process for people to come in, retrieve belongings.

As for the two people shot and killed, Soledad, authorities have not released their names. They want to talk to their extended families and let them know obviously what happened. We know that we are talking about one adult male and one adult female. There is going to be a news conference at 10:00 local time this morning where hopefully we get more information.

O'BRIEN: They haven't released the identity of the gunman either, right? They know who he is, but not naming him officially, correct?

SIMON: That is correct. They say -- they tentatively identified the gunman. He's somebody they say who is in his early 20s. And really, the question is, what set him off? Was he here to target people individually? Or was this a random thing?

And we should also tell you they did find the weapon. We're talking about a very high-powered rifle. That's all authorities are saying as far as the weapon is concerned.

O'BRIEN: Dan Simon for this morning, thank you for the update. Appreciate it. We're looking forward to the press conference to get more information later this morning.

Major developments to talk about in East Asia. Overnight, North Korea launched a long-range rocket, says it lifted a satellite into orbit. Its immediate neighbors, South Korea and Japan, kind of unnerved by this launch. Even China expressed regret at the move. The Obama administration condemned it as a provocative act and will likely ask the U.N. security council to impose crippling sanctions. The Pentagon following developments closely of course this morning. Chris Lawrence is there for us this morning. What do you know, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Right now, officials say that object that North Korea put into orbit, monitoring it, analyzing it, but they confirm it is in orbit. Why is that important? The same technology you would use to put into orbit is the same technology you use to develop long-range ballistic missiles, the U.S. condemned this act because they are worried about the marriage of North Korea's nuclear weapons with this long-range missile technology.

This is the type of missile that if it was successful, as it appears to be, could reach parts of the United States, Alaska, U.S. military bases in Hawaii. But a U.S. efficiently I spoke with who used to work on North Korea for the Defense Department told me, there are still areas in which North Korea has not made it as far as they would need to in terms of getting an accurate rocket, in terms of getting heat shielding, and essentially in terms of making a nuclear war head signal enough to fit on the end of that missile.

But the real danger is what it may do with this technology in terms of giving it over to other nations.

O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

John Berman has a look at some of the other stories making news. Good morning.

BERMAN: Good morning to you.

The United States officially recognizing Syria's opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. It's just a show of support. It does not mean America will arm rebel forces. President Obama talked about why the decision was made right now.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.


BERMAN: The U.S. joins Britain, France, and Turkey in recognizing the Syrian opposition.

Hugo Chavez is recovering from six hours of surgery in Cuba this morning. The fourth cancer-related operation for the Venezuelan president since the summer of 2011. His vice president tells the people of Venezuela the procedure on Chavez was complex and completed correctly and successfully.

So Michigan, the cradle of the organized labor movement, is now a right to work state. Last night Michigan Governor Rick Snyder kept his word and signed the controversial legislation into law, despite thousands of protesters.


GOV. RICK SNYDER, (R) MICHIGAN: This is an area where obviously people disagree. But I'm confident this is in the best interest of Michiganders. Again, worker choice is important. And secondly this will lead to more and better jobs.


BERMAN: The legislation means public and private sector workers in Michigan won't have to join a union or pay union dues if they choose not to.

A massive gas line explosion jolted people in their homes, saying it felt like a plane crash. The 70-foot wall of fire destroyed four homes near Charleston, West Virginia. A local station reports five other homes were also damaged. This fire was so intense, and you can see it right there, it damaged an interstate. Several people were treated for smoke inhalation.

BERMAN: Ravi Shankar has died. He passed away Tuesday after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery. He was 92 years old and a legend for 50 years. Shankar and George Harrison teamed up for the concert for Bangladesh. His daughter is singer Norah Jones. He did the score for the movie "Gandhi." His music is really recognizable.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, John, appreciate that.

Let's get back to our developing story this morning, that shooting spree inside a mall in Portland, Oregon. Investigators this morning are still trying to figure out the shooter's motives. We want to get to Alexis Winterhalter. Alexis, you had a terrifying day yesterday. How are you doing?

ALEXIS WINTERHALTER, WITNESS TO CLACKAMAS MALL SHOOTING: Hi, there. Yes, I'm still recovering this morning. Still a little shaken up and can't believe this actually happened in the community I've grown up my whole life and the mall I've been to hundreds of times with my friends and family.

O'BRIEN: I bet. Why don't you start by walking me through where you were, and what you heard when you first realized that something was going very, very wrong.

WINTERHALTER: Yes, I was downstairs, more toward the end of the mall, and the shooting happened in the center of the mall upstairs. But I was actually getting my hair done and the girl was blow drying my hair. And we heard a very loud noise like the ceiling was falling through or metal clashing and gunfire going on long enough. We had time to stop and say, what is this noise? And we realized, oh, my gosh. That's a gun. It sounds like a machine gun.

And the receptionist at the hair salon looked out into the mall and saw people scattering and running everywhere, and we realized at that point we need to get out of there because we weren't sure where gunfire was coming from, if it was near to us.

And so we ran out of the back of the hair salon outside and we were hiding behind a dumpster for a few minutes until we decided we were way too close to an exit for comfort and we weren't sure if the shooter would come out of that door any moment. So we decided to go into the parking lot and hiding behind cars for a while until my dad just showed up across the street, and I ran there and picked up by him.

And at that point we still weren't sure what was going on, where the shooter was. But there was a constant stream of sirens, and I was very impressed at how fast I heard --

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you that. How fast -- at the beginning, you heard the gunfire, able to get out pretty quickly. How fast were police on the scene?

WINTERHALTER: When you are in the situation, everything seems in slow motion, so for me it felt like it took a while. But looking back at it, I heard sirens almost instantly. We were behind the dumpsters and I heard the first siren, and when we ran out into the parking lot, I could see multiple police cars coming in, unmarked cars, police cars from around other counties around Clackamas. And I was impressed with how fast and how many of them there were.

O'BRIEN: It must have been a huge relief when you saw your dad show up.


O'BRIEN: What a shock to have it happen as you point out, the mall where you really grew up.

WINTERHALTER: I know. It's crazy and it was really scary because there are so many people I know that work at the mall, that shop at the mall. I wasn't sure who was there, what they were doing, so as I got home and I was able to logon to Facebook and Twitter, I saw my loved ones were OK. And actually one of my very best friends were in Macy's, and the shooter brushed up against her and looked her in the eye and she saw his gun, and I thank god he didn't decide to start shooting any sooner or she would have been one of the ones hit.

O'BRIEN: Alexis Winterhalter joining us, what a terrifying experience. Glad to hear your friends was OK. The gunman took his own life and two other people. A young woman is fighting for her life. We'll continue to update you on the aftermath of the shooting as we continue through the show this morning.

Also ahead, they traded proposals, talked on the phone, and now President Obama sounding more confident about the middle class taxes. Are he and the speaker closer to a deal on the fiscal cliff? We'll talk with Congressman Elijah Cumming about that up next.

And then the Pope takes to Twitter, and here is what he tweeted. He said, "Listen, writing my Sunday morning sermon, going to be a good one, ROFL." Of course he didn't say that, he's the Pope. What's wrong with you, John Berman? We will tell you what the Pope said in his first tweet on his account straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. A live picture this morning of One World Trade Center, where the first section of the spire is about to be put in place. The sections of the spires arrived yesterday. The spire will sit on top of the 104-story skyscraper, and it will make it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. I'm looking forward to seeing those get up. I like watching the progress there.

To Washington now. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have shared their new versions of their plans. Neither has sealed the deal yet. The White House asking for $1.4 trillion in new tax revenues instead of the 1.6 trillion originally demanded. Republicans making a counteroffer, less known about the details of the counteroffer. It's 20 days and counting for 500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, along with the potential, the Congressional Budget Office tells us, for a recession.

Of course, have you Congress going on vacation. That happens in two days. With technically 48 hours to go, let's get to Elijah Cummings. Do you think you will have a deal before you go off on break?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: I do. If you asked me a few days ago, I would have said no.


CUMMINGS: The parties are talking. They are talking, exchange of paper but proposals, but they are meeting. We had the business round table yesterday, major corporations in the country saying, look, revenue, increase in rates, must be a part of this deal. I think all of the things are coming together and we have to see what comes out again. But look at where we were a week or two ago and where we are now. At least folks sitting down truly negotiating, and I think that's a good sign.

O'BRIEN: So on the other side of that, I'll give all of the reasons why you might not have a deal. Harry Reid says we can do things quickly, but not fast enough as far as bill drafting goes. John Boehner said the White House is dragging its feet. Here is what he said. Let's play a chunk.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Where are the president's spending cuts? The longer the White House doesn't move on this the closer we get to the fiscal cliff.


O'BRIEN: So he just said the president is slow walking. The president did an interview with ABC news. What the president said to Barbara Walters.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most important think we can do is make sure middle class taxes do not go up on January 1st. And I'm pretty confident that Republicans wouldn't hold middle class taxes hostage to try to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals.


O'BRIEN: He said he's really fine to go over the fiscal cliff. All of those reasons would be reasons to say maybe we're not close to a deal on that. Do you think he'll get a deal before the end of the year? You are the optimistic one in the relationship here. Or will we get one before you go of for Christmas break?

CUMMINGS: I think we'll have some type of deal. We may not have a complete deal. But this issue of tax cuts for those earning less than 250,000, we will get that done. That is something we all agree on. And there may very well be parts of this that have to be done in 2013.

But, again, we need to look at putting things in motion to get a complete deal done. We have to do it right. As far as tax cuts are concerned for the middle class, we need to extend them and I think we will. That will be a down payment on -- for future negotiations in January.

O'BRIEN: So one of the things that's being floated and details sketchy on it the idea of raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. Barbara Walters again talking to the president. He used words that it's something that has been floated. Would you support the idea?

CUMMINGS: No, I do not support it, because I know that there are so many people who come to a point of they work hard all their lives and get to maybe 55, and they need -- they need -- they are in pretty bad shape. So then they still have to wait until 65 at present to get Medicare. So to wait until 67 I think does a lot of harm.

As a matter of fact, I raised that with Alan Simpson months ago, and one of the things -- he agreed with me, that is a problem. It is a problem when you have people -- some people have very difficult jobs, people that live in my district, in my neighborhood, many of them are not in a position to wait until 67. They may be dead by then.

O'BRIEN: What do you cut, then? I forget who I was talking to the other day. They said everything on the table, but not Social Security, nod Medicare, and listed things not on the table. So what is on the table?

CUMMINGS: Well, we've got to make sure that Medicare is more efficient in providing services and we can find savings there. Again, we've got a situation where we can negotiate drug prices, very important right now. We can't do that on Medicare.

O'BRIEN: But you know as well as I do that won't raise enough money to make a dent in a multi-trillion dollar system.

CUMMINGS: It will make a dent. The other thing we need to look at, find ways to make sure we make the Affordable Care Act, we call it Obama care, work. Mark Zandi was before my committee the other day, and he was very clear that if we can make that work, and it is a wellness type of program, keeping seniors well, it's much cheaper to keep them well than when they are sick, that will save a lot of money and bring down inflationary costs and medical costs in Medicare.

So we have a number of things we can do, but we have to be very careful. As Senator Rockefeller was saying yesterday, we have, Medicaid and Medicare two very important programs and a lot of people, that's all they have that's Medicare and Social Security, that's it. On the one hand, are you saying people say, OK, let's tax those -- the upper earners, but let's take something away from people who have nothing. So that's not a fair exchange. I think we have to be very careful when looking at those programs.

O'BRIEN: You can't just tax upper earners. You maybe everybody give up something at some point.

CUMMINGS: Yes, but it's hard to give up something when you don't have anything, and that's the point. So we've got a -- on the one end, people are trying to survive, say, for example, Medicaid, Medicare. But on the other hand, people making millions and up until this point, not asked to pay one penny more. That's not a fair exchange. And I think our country is better than that. I really do. We lift up those who are down and out.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about the hearing today on human growth hormone and the NFL. With the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell won't be there. And the executive director of the players association won't be there. How much teeth can this hearing have if the two major players don't show up?

CUMMINGS: This is going to be a major hearing. The committee has already met with the partners, and there is not agreement on how to go about testing for these human growth hormones. And so basically what we're doing, bringing in experts from NIH and doping agencies to come in and talk about how to test for them. And number two, we'll have organizations talking about the effects these types of hormones have on our children, and on adult players.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Elijah CUMMINGSs, thank you for joining us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we'll hear from the Federal Reserve about interest rates and the growth of the economy. What kind of toll will it have on the market? Christine Romans has that for us coming up next.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans Minding your Business. U.S. stock futures still higher this morning, indicating markets could open higher again today. Investors expect the Federal Reserve expected to announce more economic stimulus today. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke speaks at 2:15 eastern. The s & p 500 up more than 13 percent so far this year and is now up since the election.

Bank of America, Merrill Lynch predicts oil prices in this country will drop to $50 per barrel. The cause? Difficulty in moving huge amounts of oil from the Bakan oil fields in South Dakota and in Texas. But they don't predict a corresponding drop in gas prices. World oil prices will stay high, and our gas prices will likely track that.

Americans are upbeat about the economy. In a new survey 43 percent of Americans say they are optimistic about 2013 and believe the economy is rebounding. That's nearly twice as many as last year.

BERMAN: Can I ask, the other day, we were talking about the fiscal cliff. And you tell us it will be really, really bad. Why does the market keep going up?

ROMANS: Because everyone thinks they will fix it. In the market, the question, what will the top rate be for the highest earners. Will it be 37 percent? The market says there will be a deal and lower corporate tax rates. If there isn't a deal, after the first of the year you'll see a big stock market sell-off.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk about the 20 days left to the fiscal cliff, straight ahead.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a prominent Republican now officially a Democrat. We'll take a closer look at why former Florida governor Charlie Crist left the GOP behind. He'll join us to talk about that.

And the hit reality show "Storage Wars"-- by the way, I love that show. Is it fake? That is what one star is saying. Say it ain't so. We'll tell you about that in just a moment.