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Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; NATO to Send Arms and Troops to Turkey; Interview with Philip Bredesen; ESPN Reporter Questions Robert Griffin the III's Racial Identity

Aired December 14, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, sending manpower. The U.S. is deploying 400 troops, two air defense missile batteries to help Turkey help protect them from Syria's threat. This is just the beginning of a much bigger involvement to the U.S. We'll have a live report this morning.

And Ambassador Susan Rice takes herself out of the running for Secretary of State. Why did she do it and who will replace Hillary Clinton?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: President Obama and John Boehner meet for 50 minutes, but they didn't walk out with a fiscal cliff deal. And today, Congress goes on vacation. So what's next for our money?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": So, what if the House floor came to this over the fiscal cliff? Why these Ukrainian lawmakers were throwing punches. Glad we're not there.

O'BRIEN: Not there yet.

It's Friday, December 14th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning is a developing story about Syria's ongoing civil war and a new role now for the United States. Overnight, the Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, signed an order to send two patriot missile batteries to Turkey along with 400 U.S. troops to help that country defend against any military action by Syria. The move was expected as the rebellion destabilizes or begins to destabilize the Assad regime. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Beirut, Lebanon, with the very latest for us. Nick, good morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. And 400 U.S. troops expected to be on the ground, but this contribution of three total member nations. Germany expected to begin ratifying its deployment of two patriot batteries, also the Netherlands as well. The U.S. not exactly clear at this point where it will locate these troops.

Let me give you some of the back story. In the past two months we have seen exchanges, the Syrian army accused of firing into turkey, Turkey returning fire. That sense of hostility and volatility on the border leading them to ask NATO for help and patriots coming here at this point, expected to be used mostly in the event of missiles being fired and have the ability to take down aircraft as well.

As we heard from U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, that the U.S. does have a plan in the event that they see the Assad regime use or prepare to use chemical weapons. Not clear if patriots will be involved in that. But right now, in the very volatile part of the world, we have U.S. troops potentially on the ground in the next weeks.

O'BRIEN: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for the update.

Frank discussions, open lines of communication, but no deal yet. There are 18 days until the fiscal cliff. President Obama and John Boehner met at the White House for just under an hour. After coordinated press releases, both sides assured the American people that communication lines remain open, which really isn't saying all that much. Senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash is live in Washington, D.C. this morning. And 50 minutes and sort of a very milquetoast-y kind of statement at the end of it, sounds not good.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not good, considering where we are in the calendar. I'm told by sources in both parties, a meeting that did not produce any new ideas, more of touching base meeting, the president wanted to talk to the speaker before he went home to Ohio, which he still planned to do this weekend.

The sources say that the basic problem still is, Soledad, after all of the weeks, is Democrats still believe Republicans have the problem. They need to deal with the debt crisis by raising more revenue, meaning raising more taxes and Republicans still think Democrats are the problem. They are not offering enough in spending cuts. The issue is, the reality is, Democrats, the president has the most leverage. Has had the most leverage, Republicans know that. Everybody see where is this will probably go. Republicans have to give some on the rate increases for the most wealthy, Democrats will have to give on entitlements. And the question, when is it most politically advantageous for both sides to agree to that.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question. You have had a chance to talk to two former majority leaders from opposite sides of the aisle. What are they saying about where we are and the fact that there will be a deal somewhere soon?

BASH: That's right, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle, they were Republican and Democratic leader, opposite sides of the table four years, working together on very, very tough issues. And they pointed out it is certainly possible, of course it is possible. They have to have the political will in to the political leaders. And they pointed out that timing on a deal is really key. Take a listen.

O'BRIEN: Very true.


TRENT LOTT, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The speaker is going to have to make a decision on that, and the president is going to have to make a decision on what he will do in return on spending, and they need to do it on concert. You have to have the winds and the brass come together.

BASH: Maybe hold hands and jump off the cliff together?

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


BASH: Whether or not that is all going to happen before the ends of the year, really still is an open question. But, Soledad, I was outside a meeting of Republicans yesterday, and all of them said that the speaker told them don't make Christmas plans.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's not a shock either. And I think jumping off a cliff, whether you have hands to hold or no hands to hold, is still all bad all the way down. Dana Bash this morning, appreciate it.

Diplomatic shocker to update you on after the Republican firestorm on the attack in Benghazi, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice has taken herself out of the running, won't try to succeed secretary of state Hillary Clinton for that role. President Obama talked about ambassador rice's decision last night.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hadn't made a decision about who would be my next secretary of state. There's no doubt, Susan is qualified. Other people are qualified as well. Her interest is in serving me, but more importantly, in serving the country. I could not be prouder of her. She will be one of the top members of my national security team.


O'BRIEN: She'll meet with the president today. Our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott in Washington, D.C. to break this down what's happening behind the scenes. She said in her resignation note that she's decided to do this for the good of the American people, so there is not this contentious, partisan debate. What's really happening here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've talked to some of our aides. She was ready for a fight. She doesn't give up on a fight. Tweeted this morning with an op-ed in "The Washington Post," but over the last couple of days and weeks, her aides and she started to do the math. Wasn't just about Benghazi anymore, morphed into something else, on other issues back when she was in the Clinton administration, increasingly politicized and it wasn't going to stop.

And so she made the tough decision. And also I think, Soledad, her aides felt that this detracted from some of the more successful work that she did as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. If you remember, she was instrumental in passing the toughest sanctions ever on Iran. She pushed for military action in Libya and a lot of other things. Let's take a listen to what she told NBC news about why she withdrew he her name.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I didn't want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive. Because there are so many things we need to get done as a country.


LABOTT: And, Soledad, she has a lot of work to do at the U.N. right now, the U.S. is trying to get a resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea, the Syria crisis. And right now, the short list for Secretary Clinton's replacement, down to one man, Senator John Kerry, who is seen as someone who has a locality of world stature, a lot of relationships with world leaders and certainly as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has a lot of foreign policy chops, and most attractive to the administration, Soledad, he's easily confirmable.

O'BRIEN: Elise Labott, thank you. That's a very short list, John Berman. It has just one name on it.

BERMAN: Short list right now of one.

Live pictures of a pro President Mohammed Morsi rally in Cairo, showing support for tomorrow's referendum on Egypt's new controversial constitution proposal. Members of the opposition say the constitution is too Islamist and infringes on minority rights. Apparently there is protesting outside the presidential palace right now.

New this morning, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Baja in California. So far, no tsunami warnings.

Clackamas town center in Oregon will reopen to shoppers in six hours. That's the mall where a gunman killed two people on Tuesday and critically wounded a third before killing himself. A candle-light vigil will be held outside the mall.

A funeral service today in St. Louis for fallen Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown. Brown was killed in a suspected drunk driving accident on Saturday. His teammate and friend Josh Brent was behind the wheel. You are looking at new dash-cam video of the wreck released by police along with 911 calls they received in moments after the accident.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is anybody injured?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I just drove past it. Looks like it just happened. There's a car upside down.


BERMAN: Josh Brent is free on half a million dollars bail. He's charged with intoxication manslaughter. So today is the deadline for states to declare whether they will set up their own health insurance exchanges under the new health care law. And 22 states will not do it. In those cases, the affordable care act dictates the federal government comes in and will do it for them. The exchanges will offer consumers an Internet based marketplace for purchasing private health insurance plans.

So it hasn't come to this in Washington, D.C., yet. This brawl broke out on the floor of Ukraine's parliament. Lots of pushing, shoving, collar grabbing, and the scuffle apparently started after members of Ukraine's opposition party accused two of their own members of planning to defect to the ruling party. I guess the good news, it's not partisanship. It's fighting within the party. You know, looking for a silver lining.

ROMANS: They are talking. Not just saying we had frank discussions.


BERMAN: Those are more than frank discussions right there.

O'BRIEN: Can you imagine if we had video fiscal cliff come to this and people going at each other. No women at this shot. I looked very closely. What does that say?

ROMANS: Sorry Berman.


O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we have a documentary yesterday, "Black in America," will re-air on Saturday. And an ESPN host is questioning the blackness of a star football player Robert Griffin III, RG3 on air, what was said and the fallout from that, straight ahead.

ROMANS: Plus, business news. One more way the fiscal cliff could cost you. What happens to your paycheck immediately if there is no deal in Washington? That's next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, minding your business. The S&P 500 snapped a six-day winning streak, despite modestly upbeat economic data.

The call it the "payroll tax cliff." Of all the tax issues being negotiated in Washington, there is one that many middle class families would certainly feel immediately. It's the payroll tax holiday that comes directly from your paycheck. Payroll taxes fund Social Security. The last couple of years workers have been getting a break paying a rate of 4.2 percent. In 2013, the rate is said to go back up to 6.2 percent, of everything you make up to $113,700. Take a look at this someone making $50,000 a year will see $19 less in their take home pay per week starting at the beginning of the year. So the payroll tax cut, a piece of the whole tax mess, tax puzzle, could have a direct effect on your paycheck right away. I'll tell up the stock market up 13 percent this year. Until now, everybody says they'll get it sorted out. I'm starting to get e-mails from strategies who are starting to get worried again.

O'BRIEN: So the fact that the stock market has been going up is based on that this is all bluster, but now you think it will start going down?

ROMANS: Yes. I don't know. Greg Valier sent a note to clients, the financial markets think this will get solved, but the word and mood in Washington is that it won't.

O'BRIEN: Let's bring in Philip Bredesen, a former Democratic governor of Tennessee. He's now a member of the Campaign to fix the Debt. He joins us this morning. Nice to have you with us, sir. It's great to see you again. We did a documentary a couple years ago.


O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us today.

So I want to talk -- Christine, stick around. I want to talk about finance 101. We know the deficit is the gap between the spending and revenue that the government has every single year. The CBO is reporting that the deficit in 2012 is a $1.1 trillion which sounds terrible, but it's also gone down over the years, if you look at 2009, 1.4 trillion, 2010, it dropped, 2011 it dropped and 2012 it dropped. Why are you focused on fixing the debt, which is $16 trillion, at a time when we veal have a low borrowing rate? Why focus on fixing the debt instead of the deficit?

BREDESEN: The two of them are really the same thing. You have to fix the deficit in order to get to a more sensible place with the debt. The difference now is we have these high levels of deficit in the past, World War II, World War II, the Great Depression was over. The separation we're in now, with the deficit being driven by an unwillingness to raise taxes and to cut entitlements. There is no end in sight. It's something that, you know, threatens to undermine the financial stability of the country. A silly place for to us be. It's crazy.

O'BRIEN: You have three pillars of fix the debt. Walk us through.

BREDESEN: I think we were talking about first of all doing something -- doing something real about it, making sure that at least $4 trillion in reduction over the course of the next ten years and doing it in a smart way, not walking off the cliff, and causing us really to quite likely move back into recession. Plan it out over a period of time like intelligent adults ought to do. It has to be fair, there has to be entitlement reforms and revenue increases. We need to stop this political wrangling that just looks so silly out here in the country. This is a self-inflected wound, the fiscal cliff we're looking at. We need to get beyond that and get to the real problem, showing the world we know how to run the government of the United States. Paul Krugman in "The New York Times" has a very interesting op-ed, I thought, and starts off by saying we are not having a debt crisis, and says this is really a political crisis. Let me read a bit of it. "Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid." And he's talking about his framing of the GOP. He basically says part of the problem, Americans have a sense against big government, but when it comes to big government people don't want to cut those things of what they think are part of what Americans deserve to have.

BREDESEN: But I put the blame on that squarely on the political leadership in Washington. I think the country is hungry and would respond to someone how you fix the whole problem. These are the pieces that you need to put together to get us out of this mess. Instead we are just focused on small aspects of the thing and about whether marginal tax rates should go up or not, and what ought to be done about entitlements in the short term.

I think people respond and will respond in this country, always have responded to someone who honestly tells them what the situation is and has a real proposal, not political in nature, that has shared sacrifice that solves the problem. We ought to try that.

O'BRIEN: Dave Wells of "The Wall Street Journal" writes about the risk of cutting the deficit, too much too soon. If you just focused on jobs and could really solve the problem, bring your deficit to zero, if you just had a really robust job market. You bring unemployment down low enough in the budget, the critically adjusted deficit should be close to zero when the economy fires on all cylinders. He is like don't worry about debt, don't worry about the deficit, worry about jobs.

BREDESEN: I didn't read that piece, but I don't think anyone believes you can simply grow your way out of this. You would have to have growth rates in the economy that are beyond anything we've experienced over a sustained period of time for long period of time to grow our way out of it. That's just an easy way out. This requires taking some hard actions.

And I think everyone also agrees we should not go of the cliff. We are in the throes of a very sort of fragile recovery right now. Let's do the stuff it takes, space it in over time like any well-run organization would do, and give the world some confidence.

I would also make the point if we really solved this problem, I think it would be a stimulus package to the economy greater than anything we tried to do before. There is $2 trillion sitting in corporate America sitting on the sidelines. That's a lot of jobs, a lot of investment. If we can present them and the rest of the world with a stable situation and an understandable situation where there is not big things, big rocks in the road down the road, I think you will start to see that money come in and it would be a huge stimulus to the economy.

O'BRIEN: Former governor Phil Bresen, thank you, sir.

BREDESEN: Thanks, enjoyed it.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, we'll talk about blackness. The latest comments from an ESPN host talking about Washington Redskins quarterback RG3. It's so crazy that I can't even summarize it in a line. But it -- it is a very interesting, and we'll talk about it on the other side of the short break. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning, Bastian Junger is joining us, the author of a new e-book called "A World Made of Blood." We'll talk about that later. Will Cain, CNN contributor, columnist for Richard Socarides is back with us, former adviser to president Clinton and a writer for


O'BRIEN: I'm struggling this morning.


O'BRIEN: I'll try to fake it. Did you watch the ESPN host, Rob Parker.

SOCARIDES: He made you watch it, because we'll be talking about it.

O'BRIEN: He's now really dealing with this controversial issue about race. Talking about the Washington redskins quarterback, Robert griffin iii, and earlier in the week, rg3 told a recorder he wants to be defined by his work ethic and character and less about race and that prompted parker to wonder what kind of brother rg3 really is. Let's play a chunk of that.


RON PARKER, ESPN REPORTER: My question, which is just a straight, honest question. Is he a brother? Or is he a cornball brother?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that mean?

PARKER: He's not real. He's black, but he's not really down with the cause. We all know he has a white fiancee, and he's a Republican. No information at all. I'm trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me say this. I'm uncomfortable with where we just went.


O'BRIEN: I love -- I love it. I'm uncomfortable, where you just went. Our documentary, "Black in America," what it was all about, RG3 doesn't fit into Parker's sense of what real blackness is.

SOCARIDES: Like a stereotype, people advocating against stereotypes, stereotyping themselves their own people. CAIN: It's so -- it's so offensive on so many levels. You lined up three white guys to talk about this thing, this term cornball brother, and I took an informal poll, and all my black friends. Have you ever heard the term, the answer is unanimously by the way no. It turned Robert Griffin III, it stripped from him any sense of individuality, and he wants to be defined by who I am, which is a great freaking quarterback.

O'BRIEN: Parker says he feels like he's dodging the question. Are you -- what is the role of race in being this great quarterback? Right? And for people of color, it's often a challenge. He wants to say I don't want to be defined by being the black quarterback, but at the same time I want to represent all of the black people who look at me as a great quarterback. Mr. Parker took some great exception to that, which is sort of a PR effort and --

CAIN: He is trying to take something away from RG3. That is the tone of the conversation.

O'BRIEN: Is he black? He has the corn rows, that column there. But he has a white fiancee. But he might be with the GOP.

CAIN: He might be Republican.

O'BRIEN: Stephen smith, never thought in my whole life he would be uncomfortable. Who is black in America, my documentary, will re-air Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Parker, maybe I'll send him a copy of it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, it's generating lots of buzz, but people say the new movie "Zero Dark 30" goes too far into the hunt of Osama bin Laden. We'll tell you about that straight ahead.