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Terror at the Mall; US Condemns North Korea's Rocket Launch; Interview With Rep. Marsha Blackburn; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

Aired December 12, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, terror at the mall. A shooter opens fire on thousands of holiday shoppers, killing two of them. We'll hear from an eyewitness who was close enough to the gunman to admit "I am the shooter."

A provocative act. North Korea launches a rocket overnight. Is this a cover-up for a ballistic missile program?

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": Close encounter. An asteroid buzzes right between the earth and the moon. The question is: how did it get past astronomers?

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


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Deepak Chopra joining us. He's the author of "Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Your Health, Your Happiness and Your Spiritual Well-Being."

I need to read this. I'm going to maximize my health, my happiness and my spiritual well-being. This is my Christmas present to myself.


O'BRIEN: All of the book.

Margaret Hoover is with us. She's a CNN contributor and former White House appointee to the Bush administration. Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker", CNN contributor. "EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman sticking around with us.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is that terrible shooting among holiday shoppers, some of them literally slaughtered at a suburban Portland mall. It was a very chaotic scene yesterday because there were some 10,000 people who were packed inside the Clackamas County Town Center when the shots rang out. Store workers, shoppers, even a mall Santa all diving for cover, and then, some people racing for the doors.

Brings us right back to Dan Simon. He's live at the scene this morning in Portland. What's the latest? What do we know about this shooter, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you that the sheriff of Clackamas County, Craig Roberts, is saying this morning that he believes that the victims were shot at random, that this was not a targeted attack. He's also saying that it appears at one point his rifle actually jammed which explains why more victims weren't shot.

This happened at 3:30 in the afternoon yesterday, 10,000 people in this mall. The shooter goes through Macy's on the second level. He's headed towards the food court, that's where the shots rang out, pandemonium inside the mall, people ducking for cover at one point. The Santa in the mall taking pictures with children, he ducks for cover.

So it was quite a scene. When it was all over, as you said, three people were shot, two people dead, two adults killed, one male and one female.

The mall behind me is 1.4 million square feet, so big when authorities came they didn't really know what to do. This area is so big that they had to canvas basically the entire mall, that took many, many hours. They weren't quite sure what they were dealing with.

But in the end, we're talking about a single gunman and, of course, he took his own life -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: There was a young woman who has been critically wounded. What's her condition? Do they think she's going to survive?

SIMON: Sounds like she's going to survive. She's been described as being in serious but stable condition, took a shot right in the chest, apparently she has to have a few more surgeries but she's going to survive.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. How awful for her but good news that it looks like she's going to be OK eventually.

Dan Simon for us with an update -- thank you, Dan. Appreciate that.

Ahead, we're going to hear from an eyewitness. First, though, John has got an update on other stories making news today. What do you have?

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. We're following a developing story all morning.

North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket blasted into the skies over East Asia a few hours ago, carrying a satellite that was placed into orbit. Sections of the rocket came down near Japan's southern islands and the Philippines. The United States immediately condemned the launch as a provocative act and it believes it was just cover to test ballistic missile technology.

New this hour: Russia is criticizing President Obama's decision to recognize the Syrian opposition, saying they were surprised by it. The president announced his decision in an interview last night with ABC's Barbara Walters. This does not mean America will be arming the rebel forces. The declaration is intended to be a show of support.

The president also explained why the announcement was made now, after almost two years of war.


BARACK OBAMA, 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.

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's choice is important. And secondly, this will lead to more and better jobs.


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

Hugo Chavez is recovering from six hours of surgery in Cuba this morning. This is 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 but completed successfully and correctly.

Close encounter of the asteroid kind. Two asteroids buzzed Earth, one of them passing inside the moon's orbit. NASA says the 120-foot wide rock came within about 140,000 miles of our planet.

This is the cool part: it caused an eclipse only visible to astronomers. But this is the scary part: no one knew this asteroid was coming until a couple of days ago. Kind of snuck up on us. O'BRIEN: That's a little terrifying.

BERMAN: You know, asteroid that size 120 feet, if it were to hit the Earth, it would cause damage over an area of 800 square miles. That's big.

CHOPRA: Even if you knew in advance, what would you do?

BERMAN: Have you ever seen "Armageddon"?


BERMAN: Come on.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We need Iron Dome for the world.

CHOPRA: All it would do is create mass panic. That's it.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You think it's better not to know?

CHOPRA: Unless you can do something about it, you know?

BERMAN: We're going to go see "Armageddon" together and we'll talk about the possible solutions.

O'BRIEN: Let's get back to our starting point --

CHOPRA: Science fiction.

O'BRIEN: -- which was this deadly shooting in an Oregon mall, the aftermath of that.

Austin Patty was an employee of the Macy's, inside that Clackamas Town Center. He was inside that store when the shooting happened.

Nice to have you with us, Austin. We appreciate your time. Tell me about what you saw. You saw the suspect, right, right before he opened fire. Give me a description of where you saw him and how he looked.

AUSTIN PATTY, MACY'S EMPLOYEE, CLACKAMAS TOWN CENTER: Well as soon as he ran into the mall, the Salvation Army guy I met earlier this week was like, there's a gunman in, so I turn around, as soon as I turn around I see a man, like a tall, slender guy, about average height and he had a mask on, you know, kind of like a Jason hockey mask that he wore in the movie.

And as soon as I saw that he had the bulletproof vest as well as a big assault rifle, like one you would see on a video game. I was like, oh my gosh! And at that point I was in such shock where I kind of just stood there and as I stood there in shock, like time slowed down and everything just got slow.

And after that, all I heard was "I am the shooter" and then shots rang out. Five, six shots and by that time, I hit the floor and just ran out and started telling everyone and anyone I saw, there's a shooting going on, don't go in there. Pack your kids, your family and let's get out of here, you know?

I don't know what could happen. It was scary.

O'BRIEN: There were some people said the weapon was so big they actually thought it was fake because he had that mask on it almost looked like some weird version of a Halloween mask. What was his face like?


O'BRIEN: Was he angry, was he provoked by something? Was he aiming at specific people or was he just opening fire?

PATTY: I just think it was an open fire massacre, just like a mall massacre. I mean, that's the best way to describe it for me. Just -- I don't know what he was going through or what happened. He came in there on a mission, though. He ran in there fast -- I mean, it's just unbelievable.

Like I said before in an interview earlier, I never would have thought that would have happened in Portland, Oregon, and Clackamas at that. I mean, this is a real safe city, since I moved here from Minnesota. You know, just -- I wasn't expecting this at all.

O'BRIEN: When he said "I am the shooter" was he declaring it, was he sort of mumbling it. I mean, was he sort of trying to get attention to himself and everybody to turn around and get a look at him?

PATTY: I think he kind of just declared it, like, I'm here to shoot, basically like I'm going to shoots, no holds barred, nothing. I'm about to just go in here and shoot people. Just -- I mean, I don't --

O'BRIEN: You were able to warn a lot of people by quick thinking and telling everybody to get out of the way. You seem rationally rattled this morning. How are you doing?

PATTY: I'm doing all right. At first when it happened, you know, it happened so fast, and it didn't set in. But I went home with my family that next night or later that evening, and it's set in exactly two weeks before Christmas, someone coming to do this at one of our biggest malls and it's unbelievable, it's crazy. It's just crazy.

O'BRIEN: Austin Patty, Macy's employee -- he was there and saw the shooter -- thanks, Austin, for your time this morning. I know it's a tough thing to talk about. We appreciate you giving us some more insight on it.

PATTY: Thank you very much for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a little movement on the fiscal cliff with new proposals on the table from both sides. We're going to talk about that.

Some conservatives say they think Boehner should step away from the negotiating table. We're going to talk to Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn about that.

And a viewer writes to a black female meteorologist, just says she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. I'm not sure if she's a cancer patient. But still, it's not something myself I think looks good on TV. So she responded on Facebook very nicely, said something like at the end, "Have a nice day." It got her fired. We'll talk about her story, when we return, in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Seeing some actual movement this morning in talks to avoid the fiscal cliff, both sides exchanging new offers. The White House lowering its demand for new tax revenues from $1.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion. Republicans made a counteroffer, not many details about that counteroffer are known.

We want to get to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. She's a Republican from the state of Tennessee.

Nice to have you with us. Always great to see new the morning. Thanks for talking with us.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So you know, are you feeling like there's actually going to be a deal? And that maybe, what, something like 48 hours before you guys are -- you go on break. I mean, is it going to be that soon?

BLACKBURN: Well, Soledad, I have to tell you, we in the House have passed bills that deal with the tax extenders, deal with sequestration, all of this has been over in the Senate waiting for action for months. So we know that our constituents are frustrated. We're a little bit frustrated, too. And we are hopeful that the president will come forward, talk about some spending cuts, you know

Everyone says, look at Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, they both say you have to deal with the spending. And we're hopeful that we're going to get some action on that issue.

O'BRIEN: But technically, he doesn't, I mean, right? What's going to happen because of the expiration that would eventually raise taxes on the middle class, I think, especially for Republicans who look sort of, certainly in polling, that they'd be holding the bag on this. Democrats could wait the clock out because what happens on that day, taxes go up for everybody. And then Republicans will look like they're the people who have blocked, you know, who've supported raising taxes on the middle class, which is one of those things that will get you unelected pretty darned fast.

So technically you don't have to solve the spending thing right at this moment, right?

BLACKBURN: No. The president's plan would generate eight days of revenue. So you're going to raise taxes on the top two percent, and you're going to pay for two percent of your spending. I mean, this makes no sense. You have to deal with the spending issues. Just raising taxes on the top two percent makes the problem worse.

We don't want to go there. As I said, we have passed these bills out of the House. They have been in the Senate for months. If the president is wanting to be the driver-in-chief to go over the fiscal cliff, I find that very disappointing. Our constituents deserve better. This is not good for the country, and we would like to see him come to the table and address the spending issues.

You know, you can read article after article, and it will say you have to address all the health care costs there, whether it's entitlement, Medicaid --

O'BRIEN: -- laid out Medicare costs. He laid out, certainly, it's parts of the bill when it comes to some of the stipends that they underwrite. So there are areas, I mean, it's not like Democrats aren't talking at all about spending. You wanted to jump in, Ryan.

LIZZA: Congresswoman, it's Ryan Lizza. Just to talk details on entitlements, so are -- is this the Republican position on Medicare and on Social Security, the Republican leadership in the House wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67? Is that the position of the Republican leadership? And on Social Security, you want to change the cost of living adjustments to keep Social Security cost down. Are those the two issues that the Speaker is pressing the president on?

BLACKBURN: No. The issue is solving the problem for the long-term. No. No.

LIZZA: So you don't want to raise the eligibility rate?

BLACKBURN: The issue is finding a way to stabilize the systems. Look, when you look at Medicare and individuals, the federal government has had first right of refusal on your paycheck. All of your working life and that money has been paid into Medicare. We need to make certain that that trust fund, which is it is supposed to be, Medicare and Social Security are trust funds, and they should be organized as trust funds.

Some of us have had legislation that would help with this issue. That obligation to our nation's seniors has to be met. If we do nothing, then you're going to see those trust funds run out of money. Social Security is already pulling on the general fund. These are issues that you have to say, number one, let's stabilize it.

Number two, let's look at the long-term viability. Number three, let's figure out how this obligation is going to be met to today's seniors and near seniors and how we're going to make it workable.

BERMAN: Congresswoman --

BLACKBURN: You cannot leave this unattended.

BERMAN: John Berman here.

BLACKBURN: Yes. BERMAN: Let me ask you, just follow up on Ryan's question there -- those are big goals and lofty discussions to have and discussions that will no doubt happen over the next year. But let's talk about the next two weeks. Ryan asked you about the Medicare eligibility age and also the cost of living unchaining inflation and things like that. If those were included, could you vote for a plan then from the president, if the president still called for some tax increases on the top two percent but said we'll raise the eligibility age to 67 years and also dealt with the cost of living, could you open that plan for the next two weeks?

BLACKBURN: I -- there is -- we don't know what is going to be in a plan right now because there are two people that are handling these negotiations. One is the Speaker of the House and the other is the President of the United States. So to say, you know, we're going to vote for this or we're going to vote for that, we don't know what we're going to be presented with.

What we do know is this, that the fiscal cliff is looming. The House has taken action over the past several months that would address this. You know that Washington does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. What you have to do is get the spending side of this under control.

There is a way to generate more revenue, and it is through reforming the tax code, cleaning it up, dealing with some of the loopholes. It is a dynamic way to approach the revenue quotient rather than a static way, which is just raising the rates and you're going to end up getting less revenue. So I think it's an opportunity to clean up this tax code. I would like to see the focus put on that.

O'BRIEN: I would argue you, you guys have a fiscal cliff problem actually and maybe all of the above, you know, clean up the tax code, raise some taxes for some people, cut some spending, like everybody in America has to deal with their own budget.

BLACKBURN: We also have a cap and trade problem, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Cap and trade, we've got a lot to cover and --


BLACKBURN: If we do not clean this up, we are capping our children's future and trading it to the people that hold this nation's debt.

O'BRIEN: You've got 48 hours.

BLACKBURN: We've got to get this solved. I know.

O'BRIEN: Forty-eight hours before you go on break, 48 hours. Marsha Blackburn, nice to see you as always, Congresswoman.

BLACKBURN: Good to see you. Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it. You want to stay tuned to CNN because at 10:00 Eastern time this morning, the House Speaker, John Boehner, is going to be holding a news conference. He'll be joined by the Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, the Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, and others as well. You can watch it right here live on CNN.

Up ahead, we're going to be talking to the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. We have an exclusive interview with him. He's speaking out for the first time since North Korea launched that long-range rocket overnight. Erin Burnett just spoke to him in Afghanistan. We'll get to that right after the short break.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Overnight, North Korea launched a rocket into space carrying a satellite. Erin Burnett is in Kabul, Afghanistan where she just wrapped up an exclusive interview with the Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta. What did he have to say about this rocket launch, Erin?

VOICE OF ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "OUTFRONT": Soledad, it was really interesting. I asked him, you know, whether he thought, was concerned because of the success of this launch, whether a missile from North Korea would be able to hit the United States if that was their intent, and he was actually very strong.

You know, we've been hearing since this happened that the U.S. doesn't have a missile defense system that could really deal with this. The Defense Secretary says that he is extremely confident. In his words, "I'm very confident that they would be able to block any sort of a missile coming from North Korea directed at the west coast of the United States."

And additionally, Soledad, you know, I thought this was very fascinating. I asked him, you know, how we thought, you know, this had been failing recently when they had tried an attempt to launch and how they had suddenly fixed this and were able to be successful so quickly. And he said, well, I'm actually not sure it was a success.

And when you talk about that satellite, he said at this point the United States has not been able to determine if the final stage of the launch was actually successful or whether that could have tumbled into space. So I think that's pretty important, too, as we've heard that this was a quote/unquote "success."

But at least from the Department of Defense, they're saying according to their radar, they're not yet able to ascertain whether that was really the case.

O'BRIEN: The country is acting as if it was a huge success, announcing it just two hours after the launch that they were successful because they had not mentioned it ahead of time, like they did the last eight months ago, the failed launch. They made a big deal out of it and then turned out to explode in the air and was clearly unsuccessful.


O'BRIEN: Erin is going to have that interview with Secretary Panetta tonight on "OUTFRONT" at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, tomorrow night as well. You can check out the show. It airs live from Kabul, Afghanistan.

We got to take a short break. But still ahead on STARTING POINT, a black woman who's a meterologist on TV says she was fired after she responded quite nicely to a kind of nasty Facebook post about her short hair. Should she have fought back or should she stay silent? It costs her job. We'll discuss that, coming up.