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Fiscal Cliff Deal May Be Near; Newtown Back in School Today; Tipping Point for Gun Control:

Aired December 18, 2012 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Two-week warning until the fiscal cliff and a one-on-one meeting at the White House results in major movement towards a deal.

The tide could be turning in the gun control debate. A major corporation and even some Republicans showing signs of change.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: An anxious morning in Newtown, Connecticut. Many students and parents here putting their fear aside and heading back to school this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. i will have much more live from Newtown coming up.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman here in New York. It's 31 minutes after the hour right now. And we do have some big news coming out of Washington on the fiscal cliff negotiation. And it's about time, with just 14 days to go now, we learned overnight that President Obama gave some pretty serious ground in his latest proposal to House speaker John Boehner.

Under this revised pitch, tax rates would rise on incomes over $400,000. Now, previously, the president wanted higher taxes on households starting at $250,000. The president is also offering new spending cuts worth around $200 billion. The speaker has given some ground himself going from a no new taxes position to proposing tax hikes on those making $1 million.

Today, the House speaker meets with some Republican House members to update them on the negotiations. This could be a prickly meeting.

We have CNN's Dan Lothian in Washington right now to give us some 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, even House Republican aides are saying that this is, you know, some positive movement here taking place, but they still have some -- take some issue, rather, with the president's math.

Nonetheless, what we have seen here is a big breakthrough because the president over the campaign trail years when the president was out there pushing this middle class tax cut to voters, the president was insistent that he did not want taxes to go up on those making up to 250,000, but those above that, taxes should go up on them. That those Bush era tax cuts should expire for them.

And now, the president raising that ceiling to $400,000. So, that is a dramatic development. You know, for the most part, much of the negotiations have taken place behind the scenes. And in fact, we often don't find out that the two leaders have spoken either by phone or face-to-face until after those meetings have taken place. And that was the case yesterday.

Certainly, we did not find out that the president was meeting with Speaker Boehner until about 20 minutes or so before that meeting was over. They met for 45 minutes at the White House. That was the third time that they had met face-to-face over the last eight days. And so, again, it does show that they are making some big movements, some big concessions here. It will be interesting to see if it continues over the next few hours, John.

BERMAN: And a little bit unusual also, Dan, that we're seeing so many of the numbers from these discussions. The president offering, you know, the tax rate hike at $400,000, Speaker Boehner at a million dollars right now. How much hope is there that they'll reach some kind of deal before January 1st?

LOTHIAN: That's right. And you know, the interesting thing is as these numbers have gone up, you see Speaker Boehner talking about raising, as you pointed out, the taxes on those million dollar threshold, the president $400,000, well, that angers the left of the president's party and for Speaker Boehner, it angers the right in his party.

And so, those issues still have to be resolved, but I think there's some optimism as Speaker Boehner will go back and talk to his folks. President Obama will continue to prod those in his party. Both sides realize that it's urgent that there have to be some concessions in order to get this deal done by the end of the year.

And I think when you see such big movement like you've seen over the last couple of days, there's more optimism that this will get done in time.

BERMAN: And it's true that they both did come off their initial bargaining positions by a lot.


BERMAN: All right. Dan Lothian in Washington, thanks very much this morning.


BERMAN: I want to go back to Connecticut right now. Zoraida is in Newtown. Hey, Z.

SAMBOLIN: And as Newtown prepares to bury another six-year-old child today, there are key developments to report in the national gun control debate. Here's the very latest for you.

Four days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Obama is taking action. "The Washington Post" reports that he has ordered his cabinet to put together proposals that include reinstating a ban on assault rifles. Vice President Biden has been asked to lead the charge on that effort.

Dick's Sporting Goods announcing it has removed all guns from its store closest to Newtown and also suspending sales of all modern sporting rifles. This is happening chain-wide. It is out of respect for the victims of the school shooting.

And meanwhile, grief counselors and police will be on hand this morning when all kids all over Newtown head back to class for first time since Friday. The Sandy Hook Elementary School will remain closed.

I want to tell you about Jessica Rekos. She's one of 20 children that was killed on Friday. She will be laid to rest today. This little six-year-old girl adored horses, couldn't wait until her 10th birthday to get one. That's what her family had promised her. I want to share a little bit more about her, because just a spectacular little girl.

Her family says that she was the CEO of the family. She was the first one to plan everything incredibly organized. She was a ball of fire. She ruled the roost. You know, this little girl loved to write. And she left notes all over the house. And her mom says that she found a journal and it was exactly what she needed, because it said, "I love you so much, momma. Love Jessica."

You know, she said that they're still finding notes all over the house that this little girl left behind and that it's really helped them with the healing process. And they are committed to keep this little girl's memory alive.

Meantime, people in Newtown are coming together. They're pressing on as they continue to grieve. The former chairwoman of Newtown's Board of Education telling our Wolf Blitzer that she feels hollow.


LILLIAN BITTMAN, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, NEWTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION: It's been horrific. From the moment we all heard the news, it was devastating to know that someone had come into the school with a gun. That alone was horrible enough, because it's a place of peace and joy.

But now, as we go forward and we've learned the names and now we're going through the grueling process of the funerals, it's very, very, very hard. Everyone uses the word hollow. That's where we're at right now.


SAMBOLIN: And this morning, it is a big step in the recovery process for Newtown students and, of course, for their families. They are all headed back to school this morning. Sandra Endo is following the return to the classroom. And Sandra, I would imagine this is going to be a very difficult time for the parents as well as the kids.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Zoraida. Certainly, some anxiety this morning as students start returning back to school, but this is a first step towards normalcy in the wake of this tragedy. Roughly 5,400 Newtown district students will be able to return to class today.

There will be a two-hour delay. This applies to all students except for Sandy Hook Elementary students. Classes there are still suspended. And we know that there will be a two-hour delay. Also, grief counselors and police will be present at Newtown schools today and throughout the week.

Interesting to note, principals have asked parents to talk to their children about the incident before they head back into the classrooms. That's because they can't control what other students may be saying inside school and they don't want them to learn about what happened from other students and in an uncontrolled environment. And, of course, Zoraida, teachers will be addressing what happened in an age- appropriate manner.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Sandra Endo live for us. Thank you very much. We're going to send it back to John Berman. He's in New York.

BERMAN: Thanks, Zoraida.

New this morning, Dick's Sporting Goods taking action in the wake of the massacre in Newtown. The company releasing this statement. They say, "Out of respect for the victims and their families, we've removed all guns in our store nearest to Newtown and suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of our stores chain-wide."

Some more fallout from Friday's tragedy, a company called Cerberus Capital Management announcing it's selling its financial stake in Freedom Group, which required Bushmaster, the company that manufactured the AR-15 model used in Friday's school shooting.

It also didn't take long for President Obama to take some action. "The Washington Post" reporting he's directed members of his Cabinet to put together a list of proposals that includes reinstating a ban on assault rifles. This effort is being led by Vice President Joe Biden.

And the White House appears to have some momentum here. Two influential Democratic senators with "A" ratings with the NRA, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, they're sounding pretty ready to reconsider their positions.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: Who would have ever thought in America or anywhere in the world that children would be slaughtered? You know, it's changed me. I don't know of anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know people that need 10, 20, 30-round clips.

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA: I believe every American has Second Amendment rights and that the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I had an NRA rating of an "A." But you know, enough is enough.


BERMAN: Again, these are two pro-gun Democrats. Big movement from them on this issue.

Meanwhile, more and more Americans seem to be getting on board with the idea of tighter gun control laws in this country. A new CBS News poll shows 57 percent now believe we need stricter gun laws. That's an increase of 18 percent since April. One guy, though, who doesn't seem to agree, Texas Governor Rick Perry, he is sticking to his guns so to speak.

At a state Tea Party forum last night, Perry took issue with calls for stricter gun control laws following the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre.


GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) TEXAS: In the state of Texas with our concealed handgun license, if you go through the process and you have been duly backgrounded and trained and you are a concealed handgun license carrying individual, you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state.


BERMAN: Perry says we need to make schools safer. And if that means arming teachers and administrators, he says he's fine with that. He says lawmakers need to address mental health issues as well. is calling for a show of support for the families and victims of the Newtown massacre. This is a gaming online forum that is asking all gamers and online shooters to join in what it calls a day of ceasefire on Friday, December 21st.

Some other political news, South Carolina congressman, Tim Scott, has been tapped to succeed retiring Sen. Jim DeMint. Governor Nikki Haley, she says she chose Scott, he's on the right of your screen, because of his background in business along with his commitment to what she calls conservative principles.

When he sworn (ph) in, Scott will be the only African-American in the Senate. Senator Jim DeMint is leaving to head up the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

And the subject in Martin Scorsese's next big film, Bill Clinton. The Oscar-winning director will produce and direct a documentary on the former president for HBO. It will cover Clinton's two terms in office and beyond. Clinton is said to be cooperating fully with the Scorsese project. That should be interesting to say the least.

Coming up, one man, a one-man tribute to the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre on football's primetime stage.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 45 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date wit this morning's top stories.

For the first time since Friday, children in Newtown, Connecticut, will be heading back to school today. There will be counselors on hand as well as increased police patrols. Sandy Hook Elementary, however, remains closed.

And we have new information this morning about the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms confirms that he did visit a gun range with his mother as recently as six months ago. And a technology adviser from Newtown High School says they were being very careful with Lanza because if he hurt himself or even if he cut himself, that he could not feel the pain.

Meantime, police in Fairfield, California, arresting a man for allegedly threatening to duplicate the Newtown shooting. Eighteen- year-old Sergio Cabada is accused of posting comments online indicating that he supported the actions of the Connecticut school shooter and thought of possibly committing similar acts. There's a picture of him. Police say they seized several items in a search of his home.

And the Titans star running back, Chris Johnson, paying tribute to all 26 victims of the Newtown tragedy. On his cleats during Monday Night Football, take a look at that there, he broke off a 94-yard touchdown run in those cleats in the 14-10 win over the Jets.

And folks, to find out how you can help those that have been affected by this tragedy as I know many of you want to do, go to There are a lot of options for you there on how to help. And that's one thing we are seeing, John, right, worldwide support. Everybody wants to see what they can do, feeling at a loss. That's a really good option for folks.

BERMAN: Absolutely. I mean, you see Chris Johnson with that on his cleats. Everywhere you go, everyone you talk to is feeling this tragedy in one way or another. I have never seen anything like this, really, where so many people want to help. They want to do whatever they can. All right. Zoraida, thanks very much. We'll come back to you in a little bit.

Meanwhile, stormy weather in the west and Midwest could affect your travel plans today. It was ugly here in the east, too. Let's get right to Karen Maginnis who is in for Rob Marciano today. Hey, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And, John, yes, it does look like a very unsettled weather pattern, not just across the west coast and the east but Midwest, just in time for Christmas. It looks like if you are traveling towards the Midwest, some serious snow expected there in the next several days. Look at the west coast and Seattle, the snow levels have been down as low as 200 feet. They will go up to around 400 feet for the afternoon, but some of these snowfall totals, very substantial going into the next several days, could see 10 or 20 inches of snowfall, but in the Midwest, this is what we'll focus on because we really haven't seen a significant snow event like this.

This one occurs as we go into Wednesday and then for Thursday, so you're traveling into Chicago or Des Moines or Topeka, Wichita and even into Denver. You could expect, perhaps, some delays later on in the workweek. How about 48-hour snowfall totals? Spokane just under five inches being reported there. In Libby, Montana, two-day snow totals just about two feet

And Newtown, Connecticut, right now, overcast with rain. The temperature, a cold rain, 41 degrees. The winds are out of the east and northeast, but as we go into the next five days, we'll look at a little bit of a break weather-wise. Those temperatures will remain in the 40s, but then, as we go into Friday, the rain is going to return and a 20 percent chance of some showers coming up for Saturday and temperatures turning much cooler -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Karen Maginnis in Atlanta. Thanks very much.

Coming up, we're going to address one of the most difficult, troubling questions after the Newtown massacre, why? Dr. Gupta, Sanjay Gupta goes inside the violent mind for answers. Does the brain contain clues about why killers snap?


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone to this special edition of EARLY START. As people in Newtown and around the world try to make sense of the tragedy there, the biggest question, of course, is why? Why did the shooter target an elementary school? Why did he gun down 26 and seven-year-old kids?

A body of research on previous mass murders may provide clues as to what the killers share in their minds. Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has been following that.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First thing you notice when you look around Newtown, everyone has that questioning look, why, what did we miss, if anything? No answers yet, just hindsight.

(on-camera): To try and make some sense of the tragedy here in Newtown, Connecticut, medical investigators will often look for evidences of patterns, not talking about looking at clothing styles or musical preferences or even lifestyle, but rather looking for evidence of specific plans, could give some clues to what was happening in a person's mind and in their brain.

(voice-over): It's hard to know, because thankfully, there are relatively few tragedies like this one. But a close look at ten of the most analyzed mass murder cases in history provide some remarkable insight. According to this research published in the journal "Aggression and Violent Behavior," doctors typically start by placing these killers into three categories, traumatized, psychotic, psychopathic.

In 2005, a 16-year-old killed nine people at a school in Minnesota. A look into his past revealed an abused boy with an awful family history. The shooter had been previously traumatized. The Virginia Tech shooter killed 32 people. Six were murdered in Arizona and 12 lives were taken in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.

In each case, the killers showed signs of psychotic behavior, severe delusions and paranoia. Thirteen people were shot and killed in Columbine, Colorado. One of the murders was later discovered to be a textbook psychopath. And we now know he even laughed while gunning down his victims. Looking back, none of them had snapped. They had all left clues, pieced together after it was too late. Hindsight.

(on-camera): We still don't know much about the shooter who lived in this home, but there is something else to consider. What medications, if any, he was on. I'm specifically talking about anti-depressants. If you look at the studies on other shootings like this that have happened, medications like this were a common factor.

Now, I want to be clear, not saying that anti-depressants can't be effective, but people seem to agree that there is a vulnerable time when someone starts these medications and when someone stops could lead to increased impulsivity, decreased judgment and making someone out of touch.

(voice-over): None of this is an excuse and it's never just one thing. None of these behaviors will fully predict or explain why. But soon again, there will be hindsight that might just prevent another tragedy.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Newtown, Connecticut.


BERMAN: And we will have much more from Newtown next hour. Another very, very hard day ahead.

We're also watching some major developments in the fiscal cliff negotiations out of Washington. The president seems to budge on a key number and we could be moving closer to a deal.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Could it be a tipping point for gun control? I'm Soledad O'Brien. The White House, a major retailer, national polls, even some pro-gun Republicans are now shifting in the wake of this massacre in Newtown.

SAMBOLIN: A first, very cautious step here in Newtown. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Most school-aged children are heading back to school just hours from now. We're following those developments. BERMAN: And is it a breakthrough for fiscal cliff talks? I'm John Berman. The two sides are closer than ever before with just two weeks left to go.

Good morning, everyone. We're going to go live to Washington in just a moment for more on the fiscal cliff, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: But in the meantime, welcome to a special edition of EARLY START. We're also live here in Newtown, Connecticut.