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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Closing in on Fiscal Cliff: 19 Days; Clinton to Testify Next Week; Internet Mogul McAfee Back in the U.S.; Rebuilding After Sandy

Aired December 13, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, new information on the gunman who went on a rampage in the mall during the holiday season, his downward spiral over the last final days.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hang up on taxes and heading for the cliff, this morning, a warning from the fed chief that stalemate in Washington is already affecting your money.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Would you want to know your baby's future, both good or bad? The debate over genetic testing on infants, are the results still too hazy?

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, December 13th -- and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Deepak Chopra is back. He's the author of the new book. It's called "Super Brain" that, Will, they were not talking about you. We'll talk with him about that book straight ahead. Roland Martin is with us as well. He's a CNN political analyst. Will Cain is with us, columnist for TheBlaze.com. "EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman joining us as well, sticking around with us.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is the fiscal cliff getting closer. A deal, though, seems to be far off.

President Obama and congressional Republicans stuck on taxes. A new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll shows a majority of Americans are siding with the president on this one. And of Republicans polled, we're seeing a big shift. A majority now favor compromise.

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar has been following the negotiations, which are said to be tense with 19 days to go over the cliff. Brianna, good morning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

It appears, at least so far, the parties here haven't gotten the message on compromise. I would say they're still very far apart. They continue to talk. Staff between the White House and House Republicans are talking. President Obama and the speaker have had conversations in recent days.

But when you listen to how John Boehner has described those conversations, Sunday, he said that their talk was cordial, and then he described his Tuesday conversation with the president as deliberate and frank.

So, it doesn't take much to read between the lines there and see that things haven't gone really in the right direction here in the last couple of days. The bottom line is that the impasse remains over those income tax rates. The president says that they have to increase for earnings of a quarter million dollars, over a quarter million dollars. House Republicans still say no and accusing the White House of not coming forth with specifics on spending cuts and also entitlement reforms, reforming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Brianna Keilar -- oh, let me ask you a question about new Defense Secretary.

KEILAR: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What are the names floated? It could be a Republican, we're told.

KEILAR: Yes, this is really interesting. Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, his name is not only in the mix, but some Democratic sources say it's almost a done deal that he is the front-runner, as one referred to him.

So, this is pretty fascinating. Yes, he is a Republican. But remember back in 2008, he actually endorsed President Obama, traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan.

And sources knowledgeable of this process say that Hagel has met with President Obama recently, last week, and that he's also met with Vice President Joe Biden who as you know has some history with him because they both served in the Senate together. But it's sort of intriguing, because remember Bob Gates was a Republican as well. President Obama kept him on, if Hagel were to be appointed, two of his three defense secretaries would be Republicans.

O'BRIEN: Interesting fact. Brianna Keilar for us -- thank you, Brianna. Appreciate it.

KEILAR: Sure.

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

BERMAN: Hey. Thanks, Soledad.

We're beginning to learn more about 22-year-old Jacob Roberts, the sandwich shop clerk who killed two people and wounded a teenager at a packed Portland area mall. An ex-girlfriend says Roberts quit his job last week and said he was moving to Hawaii. It's not clear why he decided to go on a shooting rampage instead before he committed suicide.

Big questions this morning about that satellite North Korea just lifted into the sky. Could it be tumbling out of control? U.S. officials do not believe North Korea has full control over the satellite that was carried aboard the long range rocket that was launched yesterday.

This is video you're looking at right now from North Korean TV claiming to be from the control room in North Korea as the rocket blasted off. U.S. officials say that ground control has yet to send a key signal to the satellite, which could indicate there is a potential problem.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set to testify next week about the September terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. She'll appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A report by a State Department review board on the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is expected to be released before Clinton testifies. That's one week from today.

After weeks on the run, computer security tycoon John McAfee is on U.S. soil this morning. He's back. McAfee says Guatemalan authorities refused his request for asylum and kicked him out of the country. After landing in Miami last night, McAfee told reporters he is willing to talk to authorities from Belize about the death of his neighbor there, but the interview will have to happen here in the U.S.

And this morning, the world is remembering musician and composer Ravi Shankar. He died Tuesday at the age of 92. In India, "The Express" newspaper praises him as the man who brought East and West together with his music. An obituary in "The Los Angeles Times" calls him the Darwin of the hippie movement, noting the former Beatle George Harrison once called Shankar the godfather of world music. His funeral is still being planned.

Deepak Chopra is here. I know you were the friend.

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR: Yes and he is the father of Norah Jones and Anoushka.

And he's the cultural icon of the century actually. I knew him well, introduced interestingly enough through George Harrison. So, George Harrison introduced me to Ravi Shankar.

O'BRIEN: What a loss, too, and talented children, you think about that.

And now, we turn back to the fiscal cliff, which has seemed to be the story that has been overriding everything we've talked about over the last couple months. Stalemate in Washington.

We want to get to Nate Garvis. He's a senior fellow at Babson College, former vice president at Target. He has a new book out. It's called "Naked Civics: How America's Ordinary Citizens can Help Move the Nation Forward".

In all the conversations I had about the fiscal cliff, we're always talking about people on one side or the other, people in the capital, meeting at the White House, but very rarely is it the American citizenry unless we're sort of throwing out a poll.

You're saying we're less powerless than we think we are. What do you mean?

NATE GARVIS, AUTHOR, "NAKED CIVICS": Absolutely. Let's start with this. We just spent $6 billion on an election, $6 billion on anger- tainment basically to get us Washington, D.C. VM. Washington didn't change very much.

And we have this fiscal cliff. We have the crisis of the fiscal cliff. That is the same crisis of the debt ceiling that caused the fiscal cliff, and I don't think we're going to be -- you know, seeing the end of any crisis any time soon.

So if Washington, D.C. wants to play, you know, Lucy holding the football, we as the American people don't have to play Charlie Brown charging at it every time. And the way to do that is to look at our challenges much differently, not as polarized hyper-partisanship as how much or how little government we throw at these challenges, but really as a marketplace of innovation.

Well, you know, you touched upon that before. And if you look at our society as a bunch of civic outcomes, you can see actually how we're doing quite well, extremely well moving forward on all sorts of things.

So, you know, Soledad --

O'BRIEN: It doesn't feel like that, because I literally was just reporting that the fiscal cliff does not seem to be any closer and we hear the clock ticking.

CHOPRA: Posturing most of it. It's ideological posturing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's like even sitting here. I mean, I've said for years, I despise the boxes, that is you're either in a Dem box, GOP box, blue box or red box, as opposed to -- what's the issue we're talking about?

And I think this whole point about citizens , when people say we are going to get involved, forget the parties. You can affect it based upon the issue but it's driven by what is your party and what's your label?

GARVIS: Actually, it's how we get involved, too, just getting involved in the marketplace. I mean, here we are talking about a fiscal cliff, the biggest driver of our fiscal woes are entitlements and the biggest driver of that is health care. But we don't have a health care system. What we have is a sick care system. We have a sick care system that is really predicated on two ideas. One is get sick and we'll fix you, and the other is death is optional. And we spend a lot of money on both of them.

(CROSSTALK)

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The way to get involved has much more to do with your own individual life than your vote. There are things to do in this world that can improve the world besides what you do inside the ballot box. I think that's expansive, absolutely a positive way to look at the world.

GARVIS: And it's actually approachable.

CAIN: Absolutely.

GARVIS: You know, I mean, one of the best ways to understand this is environmental stewardship. We can argue about cap-and-trade all we want, but the more products and services that we're buying every day surrounding our lives with, the better off the planet is and the better off our economy is, because people are selling goods and services. And it's as approachable as dish soap that doesn't pollute or it's as approachable as $100,000 luxury car these days.

MARTIN: But you're asking for accountability and I think part of the problem is for so many Americans, when you throw out the word accountability, that's what scares people to death because you're saying forget D.C., you have a responsibility here and people go, oh, I don't know about that, Nate.

O'BRIEN: If you look at something for example gay marriage, the people have shifted and then the politicians follow.

GARVIS: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Are we today any more -- there used to be we think in terms of how we tell our past story that there were leaders, right, and they were brilliant and they went out and they stuck up for the things that they believed in, and they brought the people with them, versus the people saying any politician who worries about being reelected is going to say my gosh, the polling shows X. I better shift my position on this.

CHOPRA: They are a reflection of our collective psyche.

GARVIS: And a lagging indicator, too, let me put it this way. Roland, Barack Obama as our president, whether you support him or not, Barack Obama as our president is a pretty big deal, wouldn't you say?

MARTIN: Yes, the 44th, yes.

GARVIS: Yes, and it's not that the laws behind that, not the Voting Rights Act of '63 was unimportant, but the reason why we have Barack Obama as our president is because we raised a couple of generations on "Sesame Street" and "The Cosby Show". We created a culture that regulated us to that very big deal not being the big deal.

And the same thing -- just with the same thing with gay marriage, there's all of these political fights. But the fact of the matter is that "Glee" and "Modern Family" are regulating our culture faster than Washington.

MARTIN: But you can't overlook the rule of laws that play on it.

GARVIS: Not at all. I'm not explaining that.

MARTIN: When you say the people move it, that is still building and mobilizing and organizing and still getting involved. It simply is not going to happen just because oh it's a great idea. People still have to get off their couch and do something.

GARVIS: Absolutely. I'm not arguing against that. It's just that we have different ways of getting of our couch and it could be as close as going down to your store and buying products that actually have social good built right into their intrinsic designs.

O'BRIEN: The book is called "Naked Civics." The subtitle is: "Strip Away the Politics to Build a Better World." Nate Garvis with us this morning -- nice to have you.

GARVIS: Thank you. A pleasure.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

We got to take a short break. Still ahead on STARTING POINT: Rebuilding after Sandy, but why is there a holdup in federal aid? And why do some people say some of the neighborhoods shouldn't be rebuilt at all?

We'll talk this morning exclusively with Secretary Shaun Donovan. He's in charge of the response to the storm. That's coming up next.

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O'BRIEN: Dozens of celebrities were raising money last night for the victims of Sandy. It's been more than a month that storm devastated the Eastern Seaboard. Many folks, though, are still struggling to rebuild.

Joining us this morning is Shaun Donovan. He's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and officially also got a second gig the other day where he became in charge of the response to Superstorm Sandy.

Nice to have you with us.

MARTIN: One check or two checks?

SHAUN DONOVAN, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: Just one, unfortunately, Roland.

O'BRIEN: There's a proposal now in the table that is asking for just over $60 billion in relief for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. The CBO is estimating that only $9 billion of it would be spent by September. Why what seems to be so little, I get, it's $9 billion, but, you know, the tiny percentage when so many people need help and they need it now?

DONOVAN: Well, the fact is, Soledad, when you have a storm of this magnitude, this is going to be one of the worst disasters in the history of the country. We're not going to be able to rebuild everything in just a few months.

Families are going to take a year or two to rebuild their homes, businesses have to be rebuilt, and then, there's the whole question of how we prepare for the next storm. It seems like we have --

O'BRIEN: -- that question, though. The reality is Hurricane Irene, and you know, I lost a little trees and a couple of other things in hurricane Irene, which is a smaller storm, right, not a major storm. People are still waiting for the money from hurricane Irene in 2011.

DONOVAN: Well, look, let's be clear. We've reacted more quickly to this storm than any storm in history. In just a month, we have over 500,000 families that have already registered for aid. We have over a billion dollars that's already gone to families to help them feed their kids, to find places to sleep while they're out of their homes.

So, that is happening at a speed that it's never happened before, but this is a long-term process. The president asked me not to take over FEMA's job. That's the short term response. It's to create a long- term recovery plan and here's the thing. We know that for every dollar we spend to protect against the next storm, we save $4 down the road.

That's going to mean hardening our infrastructure. It's going to mean thinking differently about our communities, and we need to start that right away.

O'BRIEN: So, what does that mean, you know, for example, does that mean certain neighborhoods are not rebuilt? I mean, we always have this conversation. Should we rebuild new Orleans? Should we rebuild Florida? Should we rebuild --

CAIN: Should we be living against the ocean?

DONOVAN: Look, there are already conversations going on in neighborhoods in Staten Island, along the Jersey shore and Long Island about the potential for buyouts and turning what were residential communities into parks and other things, but this is not just those types of decisions. It's whether we elevate our homes. It's whether we invest in moving boilers and generators up to the top floors.

There's a story about Bellevue Hospital in New York where for two days, workers carried fuel oil up to the generator on the top of the building just to keep the generators going for those patients. We have to change those kind of rules.

O'BRIEN: Those hospitals still are not back. That's -- you know, my doctors are there, and I went the other day and the private offices are open, but the actual NYU Medical Center is not open, and you know, they're still trying to figure it out.

DONOVAN: And our job one right now is to focus on the response. I'm looking at the recovery, that's critical that we do that. But we still have more than 10,000 families that are in homes where electricians are working in their basements, replacing circuits that were burned out, replacing boilers, doing those things, and that's the critical step that we're taking right now.

MARTIN: Secretary Donovan, isn't it -- if we want to be really honest, part of the issue is we are so focused on short term, to your point about how do you rebuild, you have to think long-term because let's be honest, if another storm comes, we don't want to be having the exact same conversation saying, wait a minute, we just rebuilt something and then it gets torn up again and we didn't think about how to make it much more efficient, how to make it better, and thinking long-term requires long-term planning, which is not going to happen in a matter of a couple of months.

DONOVAN: You are exactly, exactly right, Roland. We saw this after Katrina, frankly. Those images of people at the superdome is what most people remember. But the fact is we also had a problem with longer term recovery. And that's why, in his first year in office, the president asked me and Secretary Napolitano to put together a framework.

We call it the national disaster recovery framework. How do we respond better on these big disasters that are going to have long-term implications? We've got 170 folks right now, a team working on this in New Jersey and New York, thinking exactly about that. What do we do with our building --

O'BRIEN: -- long-term, though, of course. The New Orleans is a great example. If you go to New Orleans east, a lot of people don't live there, right, because no one has rebuilt the food stores, no one has rebuilt the malls and other things, people on school that people need before they move back in.

So, there's sort of this, you know, catch 22 of what do you decide to rebuild first and doing it fast is often what keeps people to stay in the community. If you do it slowly, they disappear. Go to the lower ninth ward in New Orleans, it's a football field, right? There's nothing there. So, what they did by doing nothing, there are no homes now.

People don't live in those homes. It seems to me that that is a decision that's been made about someone's future just by going slowly.

DONOVAN: One of the things we learn, Soledad, too, is this can't be the federal government's decision. The president has said this is about looking to local communities and getting folks -- these are going to be some hard decisions we'll have to make, but it's not for government to make them alone.

So, we started community meetings in communities throughout the region to talk about these tough decisions, and we need different building codes. We need to talk about things like buy outs, but it has to be a process that brings the community together to talk about those tough decisions.

O'BRIEN: -- about Bloomberg and the FEMA trailers, Mayor Bloomberg says no FEMA trailers.

DONOVAN: Look, New York is a very different place. You know, I'm a native of this area, and one of the reasons the president asked me to do this is it's personal.

O'BRIEN: Your wife is from New Jersey, right?

DONOVAN: I'm married to a Jersey girl.

(CROSSTALK)

DONOVAN: That's right. Look, this is personal. I lost family members and friends. I have friends who are out of their homes and businesses. So, I see this as a real personal issue. We need to make sure that we respond in a way that's appropriate to New York.

MARTIN: No trailers?

DONOVAN: Look, there are going to be -- we are getting requests already and providing those in places in Long Island and New Jersey where it makes sense.

O'BRIEN: But Bloomberg doesn't want trailers.

DONOVAN: In a densely packed area, it's not the most appropriate solution. We've been able to find more than 10,000 vacant apartments in the region working with FEMA that we're helping folks get into, hotels, apartments. That's going to be a more logical solution in a community that's as dense as New York City.

CHOPRA: Are you thinking long-term? Is it time to acknowledge that climate change is real and is it too late to do anything about it?

DONOVAN: Look, as the president said, it seems like we're having the 100-year storm every couple years.

CHOPRA: Yes.

DONOVAN: And that means we've got to think differently. That's exactly why building smarter -- again, every dollar we invest in mitigation, $4 saved in the long-term. That's the evidence now. So, these are smart investments. That's why Congress needs to act quickly. And the other thing I would just say is we have family members, we have small businesses who are making a decision right now about whether they can rebuild.

And unless, Congress makes a decision quickly, they're going to be sitting on their hands, waiting to know what their futures are going to look like, unless, we can make a decision quickly about the resources that the president asked for.

MARTIN: That was smooth. That was smooth. Look, man, I'm focusing on the housing, OK -- not climate control. (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Secretary Donovan dodging the question on climate control but turning back to housing his area of expertise. It's nice to have you with us.

DONOVAN: I thought I did say 100-year storm every couple years, something is changing, right? Let's acknowledge something is changing.

MARTIN: Lebron says that was a good pivot.

DONOVAN: All right.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break, but nice to have you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, controversial new cover of "Time" magazine asking, "Want To Know My Future" is a genetic testing revolutionary or is it a potentially dangerous idea? We'll take a look at that coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business."

Stock futures up slightly ahead of the opening bell after a mixed close yesterday. Investors with an eye on fiscal cliff talks in Washington this morning.

A warning from the chief of the Federal Reserve. The stalemate in Washington is already affecting your money. Ben Bernanke says the fed doesn't have enough tools to offset the fiscal cliff. The fed will keep interest rates near zero until the jobless rate falls to 6.5 percent or the inflation rate rises to 2.5 percent.

And the fed downgraded its forecast for U.S. growth next year now 2.3 to 3 percent. The jobless rate likely to stay in the 7.4 to 7.7 percent range.

Unemployment checks will end for two million people at the end of the year. Congress failed to extend those benefits as part of the fixing of the fiscal cliff. Another million people could see benefits end by the spring. This is according to the National Employment Law Project.

It's unclear the fate of those benefits in the fiscal cliff fight right now, something that terrifies people like Alecia Warthen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You've been looking for a job for more than six months now. Are you more optimistic or less optimistic that things are going to turn around next year?

ALECIA WARTHEN, LOOKING FOR WORK: I believe it's going to turn around. It will probably take a little time, but I believe it will.

ROMANS: And you need the government to help now until that happens?

WARTHEN: Yes, I definitely do. I have a household to run, still have rent and bills to pay and I need help. I need help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Millions of people, Soledad, like Alecia. She's a B.A. in Accounting and looking for work since April. She thinks things are going to get better next year, but right now, she still needs an unemployment check, unclear the fate of jobless benefits and extension of those in the fiscal cliff fight.

We've spent $520 billion on unemployment checks over the past five years. There are conservatives who say it's time to end it.

O'BRIEN: And you know, she has a degree in a field that you would think she would be able to get a job in. Accounting.

ROMANS: She worked for a government agency. She was a child support enforcement office. She worked in child support, and all these government jobs keep getting -- you know, so it's budget cuts on one end (INAUDIBLE) and budget cuts at the other end, that could mean the jobless check is --

O'BRIEN: All right. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning, is weight an issue when it comes to the White House? He doesn't necessarily like to talk about it, but Governor Chris Christie is finally answering the question, is he too big to be the next president? That's ahead.

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