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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

U.S. Sending Patriot Missiles Batteries to Turkey; Fiscal Cliff Countdown: 18 Days; Rice Withdraws

Aired December 14, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Obama and Boehner face-to-face. The president and speaker try in person to stave off that fiscal cliff.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Susan Rice out of the running. The president's U.N. ambassador gives up on her hopes to be next Secretary of State.

ROMANS: And bullets fly as the camera rolls. Look at this, surveillance video captures the moment shots ring out aboard a train.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans. Zoraida is off today.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is 5:00 a.m. in the east.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: And we do have breaking news this morning. It's a big development in the fighting in Syria and a new level of U.S. involvement.

We just learned within the past few hours the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order sending two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey. That's to assist that nation in defending against any possible military action by Syria. This move was expected as the civil war in Syria destabilizes the Assad regime with each passing day.

In addition to this, 400 U.S. troops are going to Turkey. They will be deployed to operate the missile batteries.

CNN's Nick Payton Walsh is in Beirut, Lebanon, with the developments. Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Four hundred personnel will be accompanying these two batteries. Let me give you a bit of history of this. Over the past two months, we saw sporadic exchanges of fire across the border. Syrian military was alleged firing into Turkey, causing often destruction and injury and death there. Turkey often responding.

That brought about this request to NATO for Patriot missile batteries. They're supposed to be there. This particular type better at taking out missiles in the sky rather than taking down aircraft. But this move part of a NATO response. Also supplied by Germany and Holland, whose parliament last week approved their contributions. The U.S., though, of course, putting a number of people on the ground.

Many observers saying that now NATO has physical troops and presence in the area that it risks somehow being dragged into this particular conflict. Although everybody is stressing these are purely there to defend Turkey, a staunch NATO member -- John.

BERMAN: This come, Nick, as the U.S. offered some kind of diplomatic recognition to the rebels in Syria and with 400 U.S. troops there, it does give the U.S. some skin in this game.

WALSH: Absolutely. I don't think the troops will be involved in any way in the actual conflict inside Syria, as you say, skin in the game, certainly. The Obama administration though, many say caught between two different sides here.

At the same time, the day before they gave some kind of lower level diplomatic recognition to the Syrian government in exile, the day before that, they, in fact, blacklisted as a terror group, one of the more hard line parts of the rebel front, the al Nusra front, responsible for many victories, considered Islamic hard-liners. But also by many Syrians, to a degree, they're heroes because they've been taking out so many regime outposts along the way.

So, the U.S. response in the past, 48 hours, significantly more complicated. And now, as you say, skin in the game.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut, watching all the developments going on and around Syria -- thank you.

ROMANS: And now the fiscal cliff, where there seems to be little progress and a whole lot of frank. Here's what we mean. In 18 days, we go over the edge triggering tax hikes and sweeping cuts. And the House is scheduled to break for the holidays today.

So, last night, President Obama called John Boehner and asked him to meet again at the White House. They spent a little less than an hour ago together, as we hang in the balance. Was it a good talk? Was it a productive talk?

Afterward, both side said they called their discussion "frank" and said the lines of communication remain open. That to be frank doesn't seem to get us anywhere closer to a deal though.

Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us from Washington. Dana, Speaker Boehner plans to go home to Ohio today.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He is on his way if not there already. And, you know, you talked about the word frank that was used by both parties, by the White House and by the speaker's office. Just like they did over the weekend, they put out identical statements, really one sentence statements.

And, you know, in diplomatic parlance, frank means not so good. And that's the same kind of -- that's the same word that the speaker used a couple days ago to describe their meeting on Sunday, which we understand from sources was pretty tense. Just the fact that they only met for 50 minutes is indicative of the fact that the meeting didn't produce very much.

Now, I understand from Democratic sources earlier in the day yesterday that they were going to try to invite the speaker over to the White House to get things moving before he went home to Ohio to perhaps put a few of the spending cuts that the speaker has been demanding on the table to try to, you know, cut a -- break this deadlock. But it doesn't seem like they got very far.

ROMANS: You know, we've had dead locks before in Washington and they've, you know, with much pain been resolved. You talked to two former Senate majority leaders from opposite sides of the aisle on how to make a deal. What did they say?

BASH: Talk. I mean it's as simple as that. Just keep talking. And you're right, these were two people who were on opposite sides of the aisle leading the Senate for six years together. Trent Lott the Republican, Tom Daschle, the Democrat.

Here's what they said about the art of doing something really, really tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRENT LOTT (R-MS), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: There will come a moment when the speaker is going to have to, you know, make a decision on that and the president is going to have to make a decision on what he's going to do in return on spending. But they need to do it in concert. It's like directing the orchestra. You've got to have the winds and the brass come together.

DASH: Or maybe hold hands and jump off the cliff together?

TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: There will be a lot of metaphors you can use.

LOTT: Yes. It will be more fun on the way down. At least you have company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And, Christine, I've got to tell you, just in the halls of Congress, talking to lawmakers all day long every day, there is really a lot of angst and not a lot of optimism that they're really going to get this deal done. And that really is a big, big difference between what I covered those two men in the last decade and what's going on now.

Now, it used to be you used to stand in the hallways and wait to se when the deal would get done and what would it look like? And now, it's will the deal get done? And it really is a different kind of atmosphere.

ROMANS: It reminds me kind of the government shutdown in '96, you know? Will it happen? It will never happen. And then it happened and then it got resolved.

Dana Bash -- thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Yes, to be frank, not very good news.

The other mammoth news, of course, in Washington: the stunner from Ambassador Susan Rice. She'll meet today with the president after taking herself out of the running to be the next Secretary of State. In a letter to the president, Rice said, the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly to you and our most pressing national and international priorities. That tradeoff is simply not worth it to our country.

President Obama talked about her decision last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hadn't made a decision about who would be my next Secretary of State. There's no doubt that Susan was qualified. There are other people who are qualified as well. Her interest is in serving me but most importantly in serving the country. And she's done an outstanding job. I could not be prouder with her. She will continue to be one of the top members of my national security team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Rice drew heavy criticism from Republicans over her statements after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in Libya when she said the violence started over anger about an anti-Muslim film. The attack now known to be terror killed U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans.

In five minutes, we're going to talk about now who is in the running to be the next Secretary of State. I think the short list is down to essentially one.

ROMANS: There will be a funeral service in St. Louis today for Dallas Cowboys football player Jerry Brown. Brown died in a suspected drunk driving accident on Saturday. His teammate and friend Josh Brent was behind the wheel. Police releasing this new video of the wreck as well as 911 calls they received in the moments after it happened.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER: Anybody injured?

CALLER: I don't know. I just drove past it. It's like it just happened. The car was up side down and there was smoke everywhere.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: Josh Brent is free on $500,000 bail. He's facing intoxication manslaughter charges. BERMAN: Philadelphia police are searching for two young men involved in a shooting aboard an elevated train. This incident caught on tape. You see it right here.

Surveillance video captured a confrontation between a few young men who police say were arguing over a baseball game. That's when one of the suspects as he was leaving turned and fired a gun, a handgun into the train. Wow. Look at that. Two people were wounded in this attack.

ROMANS: Celebrations on the streets of Pyongyang, North Koreans clinking beer mugs and dancing on sidewalks following the country's first successful launch into space. Even the supreme leader Kim Jong- un got into the act. The North Korean government releasing this photo of the launch as leaders in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul all call for punishment, insisting that successful deployment moves North Koreans one step closer to being able to launch nuclear weapons across the Pacific.

BERMAN: So the basketball game between Bloomington South and Arlington High would be a disservice to blowouts. The two girls teams took the court in Indiana and when it was over, Bloomington High came out on top 107-2, 107-2.

ROMANS: There must have been something wrong with that scoreboard.

BERMAN: That's a difference of 105 points. I am assured by the mathematicians by CNN. The Arlington girls could only manage two free throws the entire contest.

Now, as you can imagine, the Bloomington coach, the coach that scored 107, is taking a lot of heat online for piling on. Some people calling for him to be fired.

ROMANS: You're the sports guy. I mean, if you're winning and team is good, do you keep scoring the points?

BERMAN: I'm a dad, if my kids were ever on the side, it would break my heart. That's all I can say. I'm not taking sides here. I guess I just took sides.

ROMANS: Sports guy and dad (ph).

BERMAN: In the 8:00 a.m. of "STARTING POINT," Soledad is going to be talking to the Arlington High coach Ebony Jackson and 10 members of her Golden Knights team. Soledad is going to talk about what it's like to lose a basketball game by 105 points.

ROMANS: All right. A text message meant to warn students at a major university ends up angering some instead. It's a pretty interesting story coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: The fallout over the attack on Benghazi leads to a diplomatic shocker. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is taking herself out of the running. She will not succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She explained in a letter to President Obama saying, "The confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly to you and our most pressing national and international priorities. That tradeoff is simply not worth it to our country." Those words from Susan Rice.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is in Washington with the latest. And, Elise, Susan Rice meeting with the president today.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, John. They'll be meeting with the president and her aides -- President Obama said and her aides tell me that Ambassador Rice will stay at the U.N. and that she'll continue to be a very close adviser to the president and the president's cabinet.

You know, some of the aides said she was up for the fight with the Senate. She was up for defending her possible candidacy but they did the math, John. They saw that these attacks had stopped Benghazi, they morphed into other areas. And they felt it detracted from the more successful work she did have at the U.N., such as getting really tough sanctions on Iran and really fighting for action in Libya, U.S. military action, to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi.

Let's take a listen to what Ambassador Rice said yesterday about why she resigned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I withdrew my name because I think it's the right thing for the country. I think it's the right thing for the president. And putting those things together, that makes it the right thing for me and my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: So she'll stay on the team, John, and some people say that she could have a future role in the administration, a different role later on.

BERMAN: They've been fairly explicit she could end up as national security adviser one day and then perhaps sometime this four-year term get another shot at being Secretary of State.

As for who will be the next Secretary of State, the short list seems to be essentially down to one person.

LABOTT: That's right. One person who the Senate has said would be easily confirmed. It's their colleague, Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Kerry is seen as someone who's really has a lot of stature in the world. He's been doing foreign policy for many decades. If you remember, he was one of President Obama's, kind of, mentors during the debate process, prepping him for debates. And he's seen as someone who has relationships, John, around the whole world with world leaders, someone that really could be very effective in U.S. diplomacy.

BERMAN: And he's made it clear he wanted this job for a long, long time.

LABOTT: No secret.

BERMAN: Just one last question, Elise. You know, Massachusetts, that's where Senator John Kerry serves. He would have to give up his seat there. There is a lot of talk about who would succeed him. What would happen next up there?

LABOTT: That is one of the considerations in whether they would tap Senator Kerry for the post. The front-runner for that seat is Scott Brown. He's a former senator from Massachusetts who just won his re- election. So I think that the administration was loathed to give up the Senate seat. But they did pick up a couple seats for the past election. So if they do pick Senator Kerry, they feel they can live without it.

As you sad, he's made no secret he wants the job. And practically the entire Senate said he'd be easily confirmed and an excellent choice. Certainly, President Obama would love to get that behind him.

BERMAN: That's right. There would be a special election in Massachusetts, 145 days after Kerry gives up his seat and Scott Brown easily the front-runner in that race.

Elise Labott in Washington, thanks very much.

ROMANS: All right. It is 17 minutes after the hour this Friday morning. Let's get you up to date with the morning's top stories.

President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner going face-to-face behind closed doors of the White House again. But with 18 days remaining before America goes over the fiscal cliff, there's still no sign of a deal. Both sides calling yesterday's talks frank and insisting the lines of communication remain open.

BERMAN: A man fatally shot himself inside a clerk's office at the federal courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. The U.S. Marshal Service says he worked in the building and slipped a gun past security because he used an employee entrance, not a public one. Visitors have to pass through metal detectors. Police say no one in the courthouse was threatened.

ROMANS: So the University of Miami has apologized for a text message gaffe sent over to emergency notification network. It warned of a black man on campus and what he was wearing. That text raised eyebrows as there are many black men on campus.

The complete text should have said that was the description of a man wanted for stealing a student's laptop.

BERMAN: Yes, they should have done that.

ROMANS: It was a game of hot potato Thursday night. The hapless Philadelphia Eagles fumbled the ball four times, threw a pick, and had a punt blocked by their own teammate.

BERMAN: Yikes!

ROMANS: They lost at home to the Bengals. The Eagles dropped to 4- 10. While Cincinnati keeps play-off hopes alive by improving to 8-6.

BERMAN: That was awful right there. Look out for these Bengals. The Bengals can play some football.

All right. It is 18 minutes after the hour right now. Time for "Early Read" -- your local news making national headlines.

We're revealing the story in "The Chicago Sun-Times" where one lawmaker is proposing fines as high as 1,000 bucks and six months in jail for pigeon feeders. Alderman James Cappleman says he's tired of seeing parts of uptown Chicago turning to a scene from Hitchcock classic "The Birds." And it's even scarier some ways in the homage to Hitchcock. He said bird droppings about a quarter inch thick in some spots.

Alderman says there are culprits who feed the birds three or four pounds of bread four times a day. That sounds that could be bad for the digestion. One of these feeders is known as the "pigeon lady".

ROMANS: All right. Get back here with my driveway from "The Star Banner" in central Florida.

Police arrested a man accused of stealing someone's driveway, sorry, brick by brick. The neighbor called deputies reporting two people with truck removing the bricks. About 300 square feet of them are gone and a few days later, they allegedly came back for more. Police found 40 to 50 bricks in the bed of the guy's truck.

I once did a story about the landscaping that kept disappearing from people's houses. They would put brand new landscaping in, like a $200 tree and the next day it's gone.

BERMAN: That is fairly aggressive though, stealing someone's driveway.

ROMANS: That's pretty aggressive.

BERMAN: All right. For expanded look at all of our top stories, head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart. You can also follow us on Twitter. I should say, you should follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Just search for EarlyStartCNN.

One more way the fiscal --

ROMANS: Don't tell me any more ways that's going to cost me.

BERMAN: There are a lot of ways it's going to cost you. Coming up, what happens to your paycheck if there's no deal in Washington. You're not going to like it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You're looking at New York City right there.

ROMANS: Is that skating -- no, skating rink. Is that ice rink? Wollman Rink.

BERMAN: That is Wollman Rink where they will skate. I hope they're not skating now. That would be spooky at 5:30 a.m. skating.

That's a nice shot. And they'll be skating over the course of the day.

It is your lucky day. Why? Christine is minding your business this morning.

ROMANS: Well, stock futures are up this morning a little bit. But worries of the fiscal cliff are still around despite upbeat data yesterday and initial job claims and retail sales.

Your mildly positive data in the U.S. the S&P 500 snapped a six-day winning streak yesterday, in part because still concerned about progress in the fiscal cliff. Now, if Congress fails to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, more than 2 million long-term unemployed Americans will see the federal jobless benefits disappear come January 1st. Long-term unemployed, those out of work for 40 weeks or more currently make up 40 percent of the unemployed population, you expect many of them are going to lose federal benefits. Those benefits serve as a life line to many of the people that have been out of work for so long, and are waiting for the job market to improve.

And of all the fiscal cliff issues, there's one that many middle class Americans will certainly feel right away. That's the payroll tax holiday. It comes directly from your paycheck and funds Social Security. For the first two years they've been paying a rate of 4.2 percent, instead of 6.2 percent. In 2013, that rate is set to go back up on wages up to $113,000.

Take a look at this. Someone making 50 grand a year will see $19 less in their take-home pay per week starting January 1st. Payroll tax cut, only a small piece of a fiscal cliff puzzle would have a direct -- direct effect on your paycheck, folks.

BERMAN: But payroll tax cut wasn't really part of the fiscal cliff issues. This is happening independently.

ROMANS: It is. But you are here, and the president would like to continue the payroll tax holiday. And you're hearing some mumbling around from some people on the right that they don't want to raise taxes on anybody. And maybe that's -- so there's some soul-searching going on the payroll tax cut and whether that would stay or go.

Two months ago, I would have told you there's no way it comes back. Now, they're talking about it again. I'm on the edges, as maybe something --

BERMAN: In their frank discussions.

ROMANS: Yes, in their frank discussions with open lines of communication.

BERMAN: Which have been very frank, frankly.

Police caught on the trail of a hot ready reported stolen and this does not end well. Watch the dramatic conclusion coming up.

If you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time in your desktop or mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Show of force amid Syria civil war. The U.S. says they will send missiles and troops to the area but not to the rebels.

ROMANS: A White House one-on-one as the fiscal cliff looms. President Obama and Speaker Boehner meet again 18 days to go.

BERMAN: Push comes to shove on the floor of parliament.