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The Tipping Point?; Back to School; Fiscal Cliff Breakthrough?

Aired December 18, 2012 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Could Newtown be the tipping point for gun control? The White House, a major retailer, national polls and even some pro-gun lawmakers have shifted.

But, first, cautious step for school kids in Newtown. Most of them head back to school just hours from now.

And is it a breakthrough for fiscal cliff talks? The two sides closer than ever with just two weeks left to go.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman here in New York.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin, live in Newtown, Connecticut.

We're going to be bringing you the very latest on the investigation. As John said, the children are starting school as well, with an increased police presence. Will it be enough for the parents? And, of course, we have another funeral that we are following this morning for you as well -- John.

BERMAN: That's right. Another beautiful, young child we buried up there, four days after the school massacre that numbed the entire nation.

This is the latest. This unspeakable tragedy is reigniting the gun control debate all over the country. President is already taking steps to ban assault rifles with his vice president leading the charge.

Plus, this brand new overnight: Dick's Sporting Goods has banned the sale of AR-15 rifles and other guns like it for now. The modern sporting rifle section of its Web site, totally blank this morning.

The company releasing a statement saying, quote, "Out of respect for the victims and their families, we have removed all guns in our store nearest to Newtown and suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of our stores chainwide."

Grief counselors and police will be on hand this morning when kids all over Newtown head back to class for the first time since Friday. The Sandy Hook Elementary School remains closed.

Jessica Rekos, one of 20 children killed Friday, she will be laid to rest today. The 6-year-old adored horses, and couldn't wait until her 10th birthday to get one.

There is another big story this morning. It's out of Washington right now, where there's been huge movement in the fiscal cliff wrangling with just 14 days left to go now until a huge across-the-board tax hikes kick in, along with mandatory spending cuts. This has not received a great deal of attention in recent days and understandably so.

But overnight, we learned that President Obama made an eye-opening new offer in talks with House Speaker John Boehner. Under this new proposal, tax rates would go up on incomes above $400,000. For years, the president has campaigned that that number should start at $250,000. He's also offering some new spending cuts to go along with this.

Speaker Boehner's latest proposal called for the tax hikes to kick in at $1 million.

CNN's Dan Lothian is in Washington with the latest on this. And, Dan, it really does look like there is some movement.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does. And, you know, this movement came during a meeting the president had with Speaker John Boehner yesterday at the White House. That meeting lasted for 45 minutes. It was the third time that they had met in the past eight days.

And, you're right. It is pretty dramatic because the president for years now had been holding steadfast to that $250,000 threshold, saying that the Bush era tax cuts would extend for them but not those households making more than that. Now, he raises it to $400,000. So, that is seen as a major breakthrough.

But Republicans, while encouraged by these latest developments, also say that the math really doesn't add up, that the president's proposal leans more heavily towards new taxes.

Now, as part of that proposal that the president has cut put out there, he's calling for $1.2 trillion in new revenue, $1.22 trillion in spending cuts. But Republican aides, again, saying that the math doesn't quite add up because they say that the consumer price index, or the CPI, really increases tax revenue by $95 billion. So when the president is talking about $1.2 trillion, they're saying it's more like $1.3 trillion.

So, there's still distance there between both sides but much closer than it was a few days ago, John.

BERMAN: Dan, it does seem both sides are indicating there is movement but neither side is willing to say it's a complete breakthrough yet. So, the question is, with just 14 days to go, should we be optimistic that a deal will be reached?

LOTHIAN: Well, I certainly think that, you know, people are optimistic. Clearly, John Boehner will have to go back to the conservatives in his party who have been resisting any movement whatsoever in taxes going up on wealthy Americans. And President Obama also has to sort of prod some in his party and the left, labor unions and others who don't like what they see so far.

But I think, overall, when you look at the distance that was there between both sides, just a week ago, there is some optimism that this can get done before the end of the year.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Lothian in Washington this morning. The House Speaker, by the way, will be meeting with House Republicans today. That could be an interesting and contentious meeting.

Thanks very much, Dan.

Let's go back to Zoraida in Newtown now.

SAMBOLIN: And back now to the gun control debate that's been reignited by the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School right here in Newtown, Connecticut. It seems more and more Americans are moving in the direction of tighter gun laws in this country, in the aftermath of that tragedy.

And this morning, we have learned that President Obama is moving fast on getting a ban on assault rifles. That is according to "The Washington Post."

Another big new development overnight for you as well, Dick's Sporting Goods store has now suspended the sale of all assault rifles in its stores. This is nationwide.

Emily Schmidt is live from Washington right now with all of the details. Good morning to you.

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, good morning to you. We have heard from even Democratic lawmakers that this was in Newtown a game changer. We're beginning to see potentially the impact of these shifting landscapes, especially in commercial ways and political ways.

We start with commercial. As you mentioned, Dick's Sporting Goods, one of the nation's largest sporting goods retailers has said in Newtown, Connecticut, the store that's closest to the shooting. They'll remove all guns from the stores. Nationwide, they're going to be suspending the sale of some semiautomatic weapons. They say they are doing so out of respect for the victims and for their families.

Then you take a look at what is happening politically. "The Washington Post" is reporting this morning that yesterday, President Obama directed some members of his cabinet to come up with proposals immediately to take a look at new gun control measures, including potentially the end of the assault weapons, banning that, again, after that law lapsed back in 2004. We are hearing more from the White House that they want to see change in this.

Listen to what the president said just this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.


SCHMIDT: As we hear more about this from Washington, the one place we are not hearing anything about it, Zoraida, is from the NRA. They've not made a statement sense a written statement on Friday. They've suspended their Facebook page and Twitter feed has remained silent -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And, Emily, I understand you also have new polls to share with us this morning.

SCHMIDT: We have three different polls that are really showing a potential spike in public opinion change on this.

I want to start with one from CBS News that was taken just over the weekend saying, do you think gun control rules should be more strict or less strict? There has been a significant change in this. Since more strict, 57 percent say that now compared to 39 percent back in April. The amount of people who think the gun control should be less strict has dropped.

Similar findings from an ABC News/"Washington Post" poll, do you support or oppose stricter gun control laws? Take a look at how that number has gone up since August.

And one more interesting thing, the Pew Research Center asked people, do you think the shootings reflect a larger societal problem? Their polls that were taken over the weekend say 47 percent of Americans that were polled think it does. Contrast that to what happened after the aurora shootings earlier this year. At that time, the number just 24 percent.

The question is whether this quick spike in public opinion change will reflect any legislative changes down the line -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I know a lot of people are hoping so. Emily Schmidt, live in Washington for us -- thank you very much.

At 6:30 Eastern, Soledad O'Brien will be joined by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. The Texas Democrat is calling for an immediate ban on all assault weapons.

Soledad will be joined by Senator Joe Manchin. The West Virginia Democrat is an NRA member. But he says now is the time to act on tightening up our gun laws as well.

As we said, Newtown schools will re-open today. But they will be open two hours later than usual. Sandy Hook remains an active crime scene. It is still closed. Hundreds of Newtown teachers and staff met with a national expert on kids and bereavement, as well as state mental health counselors to prepare for the students who are returning to school. But students and their families, it is a return to healthy and helpful routine.

Here's Sandra Endo.


SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wake of tragedy, a step towards normalcy. For Newtown kids, that means going back to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We also are going to be a little bit worried, because we know what we thought was a secure school had this happen to them.

ENDO: But facing fear may be the first step to overcome this tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Children have to get back to school. If we let this sort of terror in our lives anywhere in this country win, you know, we've lost. We've got to get our kids back to school again.

ENDO: Classes are resuming for 5,400 students in the district except for those at Sandy Hook Elementary. Monday all schools were closed as teachers and administrators trained with experts on how to handle the aftermath. Many parents we spoke with agree, kids belong back in school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that one of the big things we have to do is have some sort of normalcy. And school is part of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, you know, we're living in this world where evil prevails sometimes. But we're just believing that good will overcome this.

ENDO: Sandy Hook Elementary remains a crime scene. Furniture and supplies were moved to Chalk Hill Middle School in neighboring Monroe where Sandy Hook Students will eventually resume classes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the children come in whenever the school is started, they walk into a classroom that will look as close as possible as their classroom they left.


ENDO: Grief counselors and police will be at Newtown schools as classes resume and principals have asked parents to talk to their child before returning to school, because they can't control what their child may hear at school. And teachers will be addressing what happened in an age appropriate manner -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Sandra Endo, live for us here -- thank you for that, Sandra.

Connecticut Governor Malloy is calling for a nationwide moment of silence Friday morning, exactly one week after the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. He's also calling on churches to ring their bells 26 times. Of course, that is once for each of the victims who were killed in Friday's massacre.

The governor sounding shaken when he explained it why he took it upon himself to tell waiting families that their loved ones were not coming out.


GOV. DANNEL MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: It was evident to me that there was a reluctance to tell parents and loved ones that the person they were waiting for was not going to return. I made the decision that to have that go on any longer was wrong.


SAMBOLIN: Malloy says he fully supports action at the federal level to tighten the nation's gun control laws.

And every mass shooting leaves us asking the exact same question: Why? What drives someone to such violence? Does the brain hold clues for us?

Later this hour, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to look at that for us.

And it's another sign the tide could be turning and the debate over gun control in America. Coming up, the Wall Street firm taking a stand, putting politics ahead of profits.


BERMAN: U.S. stock futures are up this morning. Markets ended sharply higher yesterday on all optimism that a fiscal cliff deal could come by the end of the year.

Christine Romans is here right now minding our business this morning. She's looking at some of the fallout in the gun industry in the wake of these Connecticut school shootings.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Really interesting story just breaking this morning. Cerberus Capital Management, this is something that's called a private equity firm. These are people making direct investments in companies, investors do, right? You have teachers, pension funds invest in private equity.

Listen carefully. Cerberus owns a company called Freedom Group. An investment group Freedom Group, which owns Bushmaster, the company that made the assault rifle that police say was used to kill all of those children and six teachers. This morning, Cerberus Capital Management is saying it will hire someone to try to sell its Freedom Group Company, to sell Bushmaster, to sell the company that made that rifle.

This is what they say basically. They say, "It's apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level. It is not our role to take positions or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take."

Here's one reason why private equity might be taking a stand. It's quite rare really for private equity -- this is rare -- after a news event for a company to stay to sell its stake in what is a controversial product, because teachers, the California teachers retirement fund is invested in Cerberus investments.

Follow this for me. California teachers invested in a private equity fund that invests in the company that makes guns -- guns that killed teachers. You can see the optics of that, which is very, very difficult.

BERMAN: No. You know, everyone says is this a turning point in gun debate? If you're seeing big money decide that it's a bad investment to be involved with certain gun manufacturers, that's a big development.

ROMANS: Until now, private equity investors and others have weathered controversy about gun control. But there's a different feeling this time. I mean, you're talking very specifically about a product that killed children and a lot of people are talking about that. You'll have 20 some funerals this week and you're going to keep hearing the words Bushmaster 223.

I can tell you this morning that Dick's Sporting Goods says it will stop selling some automatic rifles out of their stores and, of course, they're taking all of the guns out of their store in Newtown, Connecticut.

BERMAN: As we said, an interesting development. When business gets involved in a debate, it is a serious debate.

ROMANS: A shift, shift.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very, very much right now.

Other news, James Clapper is staying on as Director of National Intelligence. CNN has learned the president has asked him to stay in the position and he agreed to remain for the foreseeable future. Clapper has taken a lot of heat from Republicans for the administration's response to the September 11th attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

FedEx grounded. Hundreds of packages never made it to their Nebraska destinations. Postal inspectors say a delivery driver working as a private contractor for FedEx. He was spotted dumping packages from his truck on to the street last month. Only about 30 of the more than 400 packages were found intact and finally delivered.

The driver was fired. Yes, I'll bet. The New York Mets, they've exported Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. R.A. Dickey traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a seven player deal that will send one of baseball's top catching prospects back to New York. Dickey, who's a 38-year-old knuckleballer, a great guy who throws a fantastic pitch, he was on baseball's scrap heap and then he became the king of the hill last year, winning the Cy Young, going 20- 6 for the New York Mets. (INAUDIBLE) R.A. Dickey.

Meanwhile, he had served in Hawaii since the day it became a state in 1959. This morning, tributes are pouring in for Senator Daniel Inouye, who died at the age of 88 from respiratory problems. Inouye was the second longest serving member of the Senate, just behind the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

He was a veteran of World War II. He lost an arm charging machine gun nests in Italy. That service earned him the Medal of Honor. He also witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a high school student.

You know, we toast a word "hero" around quite a bit. Daniel Inouye, a hero who provided great service to this country over a long, long time.

A report by an independent panel that examined the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya will be delivered to Congress as early as today, just ahead of congressional hearings this week. The report was ordered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton although she will not testify due to that illness. She had a concussion. She's recovering right now.

The attack back in September in Benghazi killed four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

So, it may just be an incredible coincidence, but it gives one man special insight into both Aurora and the Newtown shooting tragedies. His close connection to both events, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We're live from Newtown, Connecticut.

It is an emotional and difficult day here with some children heading back to school this morning. Veronique Pozner, the mother of Noah Pozner, he's the 6-year-old boy how was killed in a mass shooting here, has release the eulogy that she gave yesterday before she buried her little man. That's what she calls him. Some of it was published in "The New York Times."

We want to share some of the touching words with you this morning. Here they are:

"The sky is crying and the flags are at half mast. It is a sad, sad day but it is also your day, Noah, my little man. I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps, stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room" She goes on to say, "Your melody will linger in our hearts forever. Momma loves you, little man."

Our condolences to the Pozner family.

An the mother of a mentally ill child getting backlash for blog posting with a title, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother." The post went viral. In it Liza Long says her aim was to describe the challenge of raising a child who she says is seriously disturbed. She says the blog post was a cry for help.

Long spoke last night to CNN's Erin Burnett.


LIZA LONG, BLOGGER, "THE ANARCHIST SOCCER MOM": Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he will just turn into this absolute raging -- I don't know how to describe it. You'd have to see it to believe it. I stopped and said to myself, you know, this isn't normal. I have to face up to the fact that I have a sick son and we need help.


SAMBOLIN: Liza is also telling CNN that she loves her son but he, quote, "terrifies me".

For one Connecticut man, it is hard for him to believe what has happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Stephen Barton has been through a mass shooting before. He was seriously wounded in the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. That was back in July, as you recall.

Like so many, his heart breaks for all of the victims. But unlike others he knows the violence and fear firsthand.


STEPHEN BARTON, THEATER SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Our country is long overdue for a serious discussion about guns, about mental health. Fix our background check system, and you'll make it a lot harder for criminals to get illegal guns.


SAMBOLIN: Barton works for an organization devoted to preventing gun violence.

The postal service has established a post office box for anyone anywhere who wants to reach out to the people of Newtown, Connecticut. Here it is for you. Message of condolence can be sent to P.O. Box 3700, Newtown, Connecticut. Zip is 06470. It's there on the screen for you to read as well.

And we have another opportunity for you to help, to find out how you can help those that were affected by this tragedy, go to There are a lot of options for you there. There are so many people across the country who really want to figure out a way to help. That's a really good option for you.

And amid shift in public opinion in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, he is sticking to his guns. You'll hear from Texas Governor Rick Perry. That's coming up.