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President Obama on Gun Control; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Newtown's Day of Shared Grief; Gun Owners Race to Buy More; Gun Law Reform Challenge; Obama's New "Perspective"; "What Makes Us So Different?"; Nancy Lanza Was in New Hampshire Last Week

Aired December 19, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama bluntly challenges Washington to do something about gun control.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Summon even one tiny iota of the courage those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday.


BLITZER: Also today, investigators conduct a fresh sweep of the killer's home.

And, finally, some real answers about the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans. We now know more than ever about what happened and who is to blame for what an official report calls grossly inadequate security.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with President Obama's call to action against what he calls the national epidemic of gun violence. Amid the trauma over the Newtown school massacre, he has put Vice President Biden in charge of coming up with a specific agenda the president can submit to Congress next month.

And we have new evidence of a growing number of Americans. They want action from the government. A brand-new CNN/ORC poll shows that 52 percent of U.S. adult now favor major restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal, while 46 percent are opposed. That's basically the reverse of the way people felt when our pollsters asked the same question last August.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's joining us.

Brianna, the president came out and he didn't mince many words.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. This was significant because this was the first time that President Obama laid out a timeline for his administration to act. He appointed Vice President Biden to lead this group of Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, as well as outside groups to come up with some solutions and he wants those recommendations from them no later than January.


KEILAR (voice-over): The president said this time Washington won't just talk about tackling gun violence.

OBAMA: This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issues for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now.

KEILAR: He urged Congress to vote early next year on an assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and close the gun show loopholes, so all gun purchasers are subject to background checks.

The president's task force will recommend policies beyond gun control.

OBAMA: We're going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun. We're going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.

KEILAR: The president is hoping to seize this moment of heightened public awareness to push Washington to change.

OBAMA: But, goodness, if this past week has done anything, it should just give us some perspective. If there's one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what's important.

KEILAR: The announcement is quieting criticism from within the president's own ranks. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband in a mass shooting, now feels the president is showing leadership.

REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: We will follow the president's commission on education, mental health, and all of the other things that need to be done to keep us safe.

KEILAR: But far-reaching gun regulations will no doubt be met with resistance from the National Rifle Association, which has yet to weigh in on the debate, but will hold a press conference Friday. Senior administration officials say they are ready.

OBAMA: The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers. And I would expect that they have been impacted by this as well. And hopefully they will do some self-reflection.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: President Obama made it clear today that he intends to use the bully pulpit to appeal to Americans and to gun owners on this issue. And, Wolf, it's still to be determined just how much of a clash there could be with the NRA over this. There is obviously some concern, though, and I think you can see that in just some of the lawmakers, the gun rights lawmakers who are coming out and sort of changing their tune on this issue.

Many of them, for instance, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, he doesn't have to worry about reelection until 2018. We have also heard from Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette. He is retiring. There is certainly a sense that more vocal lawmakers, maybe they are not the vulnerable ones and we haven't heard from a whole lot who are.

BLITZER: It was clear to me, Brianna, I'm sure to you as well, to a lot of our viewers, the president really has been moved by what happened last Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut.

And he wants to take action now because, as one of the reporters at that briefing where you attended basically said to the president, where have you been for the last four years? What has taken so long? I thought he had a pretty good answer, but he really is motivated to try to do something about gun violence in the country now.

KEILAR: Yes. He said in response to that that he hasn't been on vacation, that he's been dealing with a lot of other things that affect children, health care, jobs for their parents.

But I think even though he didn't come out and say that he feels as if he's been absent on some sort of legislation, some sort of push to tackle gun violence, that there certainly seems to be, as he said, a time for self-reflection, and it's something that he's been thinking about, what more he could have done and obviously now what more he needs to do moving forward. And he's clearly trying to seize the moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thank you.

During his remarks today, the president said, and I'm quoting him now, "We may never know all of the reasons for the school shootings."

But in Newtown today, investigators started a fresh sweep of the house Adam Lanza shared with his mother.

Our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, is there. She is on the scene for us.

Deb, there seems to be increased police activity at the house. What's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is. As a matter of fact, the major crimes squad was here all day and they brought back their mobile lab. You can see it. It's just there to the left of the house.

They brought that back. That wasn't here the last couple of days. There have been about eight investigators on scene throughout the course of the day. Earlier this afternoon, they carried out a large box. What they are doing is they're processing a lot of things inside the house. They have got to go through all of the documents, all of the photos, all of the records, anything that might give them some indication as to why what was going on in that house and why Adam Lanza then killed his mother, shooting her four times in the head, then going to that school.

They did carry out that box. It was difficult to see exactly what it was. They process whatever information or whatever evidence they can on the scene, things like, for example, like different sort of compounds, different fingerprints, things that they will not be able to remove. Then it will go to the major lab, so that they can analyze it even further.

One thing we know is that investigators have tried to put together where Nancy Lanza and her son were in the days leading up to this tragedy. No one has yet claimed the body of Nancy Lanza. That has yet to be done. It's unclear who will actually take her. She's from New Hampshire. That's where her family is from. So, there's a suggestion that her brother may come to claim the body.

She was -- divorced her husband. That happened in 2009, about the same time that Adam Lanza cut off communications with his dad. Right now, as far as this home goes, when they finish with this as a crime scene, there is a plan to board up all of the windows and to just sort of secure the home. Right now, it's an active crime scene. As we said, the major crimes squad has been here all day and they are going to continue working on this house until they have ever single piece of information.

As you know Wolf, the computer still -- that is still damaged. There is hope that they will be able to get some information, but right now they are having difficulty retrieving anything from that computer. That's another angle of all of this, but the investigation is still very active and still continuing as they try to figure out exactly what was happening with Adam Lanza -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see where that goes.

Deb Feyerick, thank you.

"The Hartford Courant" reports Connecticut's chief medical examiner has asked a geneticist at the University of Connecticut to join in his investigations of the killings.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what clues, if any, can a postmortem genetic test provide investigators?


Certainly, this idea that perhaps finding some genetic clue as to what motivated all of this I think is very unlikely. A couple of reasons why, Wolf. First of all, there's not clear-cut sort of still genes identified with the types of illnesses, mental illnesses that may cause this sort of behavior.

So, I think, simply saying, oh, we found a gene, therefore, it explains this, I think, is very unlikely. Also, there are people who carry these genes who don't have the behavior still. I think it's very hard to sort of put those two things together.

Genetic analysis can be useful sometimes if there's unanswered questions still about where somebody was or what exactly happened or if there's a sudden unusual death, like somebody just drops dead suddenly and there's no explanation. It can be helpful in those situations.

But my guess, Wolf, is this unfortunately is not going to provide much in the way of any answers.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect you're right, too, based on what I'm hearing from others.

A murder-suicide, you have done some research into this. What can we learn? Here he goes and he does a mass murder and then he kills himself. What does that say?

GUPTA: Well, there's no hard and fast rules here. But let me put it to you like this.

If you start with this idea, did the person really know right from wrong -- and we talked about this whole how in touch with reality the person may have been. You know, for example, the Arizona shooter, the Aurora shooter, they did not kill themselves at the end of this and if you sort of dig in and look at some of the follow-up medical part of their investigation, you find out if they were delusional, psychotic to the point where they really could not, did not seem to know right from wrong, they didn't think that they had really done anything that warranted either being arrested or shooting themselves or anything. Here, he obviously did.

Again, as I said, there's no hard and fast rules here. But this makes it less likely to be a delusional psychosis sort of thing and maybe more depression, bipolar, that type of thing, or those underlying things that became suddenly worse because of a recent traumatic experience.

Again, this is how the medical investigators are going to be thinking about things, at least starting to narrow in.

BLITZER: I guess the bottom line question, Sanjay, how do you piece together his mind-set now that he's dead? How do you go back and try to figure out what was going through that mind?

GUPTA: It's hard.

But you talk to a lot of people certainly that knew him, try and figure out what some of his activities were over time. And there's also -- there's something to be learned, to some extent, Wolf, from previous tragedies like this. Obviously, every tragedy is different, but if you talk to people who study these sorts of things and who the FBI even relies on for some of their investigation, they typically break these categories down, the type of person down into either a person who had psychosis, someone who was psychopathic, or someone who was traumatized.

Not everyone is going to fit neatly into one of those categories, but once you sort of get an idea of patterns of behavior, you look to see if certain patterns were met here as well. It's not as easy or as clean-cut as that, but that's again a little bit of an insight into how the medical investigators will approach this.

BLITZER: Sanjay, thanks very much, always good to get your perspective on these issues, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting.

Even as the police investigation continues, so does the heartbreaking task of burying the dead. And as Newtown's families bury their dead, gun shops around the country now being flooded with new buyers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was looking for a gun that I had wanted for a long time and just wanted to get it before possible changes.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Most of the funeral services in Newtown, Connecticut, have been private. But one service today not only was opened to the public, the whole town shared in their grief.

CNN's Sandra Endo is in Newtown for us.

So, what happened, Sandy?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, saying goodbye to loved ones is becoming a daily routine here in Newtown. Today, 27-year-old hero teacher Victoria Soto, 6-year-old Caroline Previdi, 7-year-old Daniel Barden, and 6-year-old Charlotte Bacon, were all laid to rest and the town also got a chance to say goodbye.


ENDO (voice-over): Twenty-six angels on the hillside, watching a somber journey to a final resting place.

The private pain of saying good-bye shared by this small New England town. Grief knowing no boundaries.

Seven-year-old Daniel Barden dreamed of being a firefighter. In ceremonial dress from New York to Massachusetts, hundreds of them gave Daniel a hero's sendoff.

The slow flashing lights come through town too often, leaving heartbroken residents with questions no one can answer. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO: Later tonight, a bigger tribute at a neighboring town where residents there and elected officials are hoping to present to Newtown an uplifting memorial to remember the lives lost -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sandra Endo, thanks very much.

With the renewed discussion of gun control in the aftermath of the shootings, there's another push among gun owners. CNN's David Mattingly reports on the surge of firearm sales.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost a thousand miles away from Newtown, Connecticut, gun owners rush to buy more guns.

(on camera): Why are you in here today?

KEITH FISHER, GUN OWNER: I was looking for a gun that I had wanted for a long time and just wanted to get it before possible changes.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): At this gun shop and firing range north of Atlanta, already brisk holiday sales have suddenly bumped up even more. Customers fearing gun restrictions from Congress are looking to buy now.

RUDY ORLANDO, GUN OWNER: Me and my brother collect weapons and we have plenty of handguns and shotguns and only one assault rifle. With all this, all the new, you know, talk of new legislation going on to assault rifles, I really -- you know, I definitely want to get a few more, you know, before something may happen.

What's the largest clip that you can put in there?

MATTINGLY: Gun collector Rudy Orlando is looking to buy an AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle similar to the one used in Connecticut. And he's not alone. Demand for the weapon here is driving a $1,000 price tag.

ORLANDO: All the prices are really high. I mean, they are really high on those guns right now, you know? And they're not going to budge on the prices because they're going to be sold.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Are you going to buy anyway?

ORLANDO: I probably will.

MATTINGLY: A recent spike in sales reported in stores across the country add emphasis to what is already a record sales year last year in the U.S. Last year, the FBI conducted a record 16,450,000 background checks. This year, the total so far is over 16,800,000. And that doesn't include the month of December.

(voice-over): Future legislation could affect availability of certain semiautomatic weapons, features on the guns, and the magazines that hold large number of rounds. Without specifics, store president Tom Deets says any gun owner could feel.

TOM DEETS, PRES., SHARPSHOOTERS USA: How it will be implemented? Would the existing rifles that are in the marketplace be legal, or will they go across the board to make everything that people had previously purchased illegal?

MATTINGLY: The uncertainty bothers non-gun owners as well.

Brandon Ward is a first time gun buyer worried about protecting his family.

(on camera): Why now? Why today, so soon after the shootings?

BRANDON WARD, ROSWELL, GEORGIA: Because I'm worried that the government is going to put so much regulations on being able to do this, you know, come future months that it's not going to be an option for me.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): industry analysts say this as a possible peak to the sales growth that began with the election of President Obama four years ago. U.S. gun sales totaled $2.5 billion in 2008. This year, that figure could top $3.5 billion.

David Mattingly, CNN, Roswell, Georgia.


BLITZER: The president is calling for swift action to address gun violence. So, how high are the hopes for real change in the coming weeks? New polling data provides a clue. We'll talk about that and more with Dr. Drew Pinsky.

Also, a train is rammed off the tracks. We're going to show you the amazing video of what caused it.


BLITZER: A massive dock washes up on Washington state shore.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

So, what happened there, Lisa?


Well, the dock may be debris from last year's tsunami in Japan. A Coast Guard helicopter spotted it along the remote section of Olympic National Park. Authorities are now trying to reach it to determine if it is tsunami debris and if it's harboring invasive species that could harm the area.

And the Treasury Department is planning to sale its remaining shares of General Motors stock. G.M. will buy back 200 million shares and another 300 million will be sold through various means over the next year or so. That will end the $51 billion bailout of the automaker. Taxpayers, however, are expected to lose money on this deal. Even though G.M. has returned to profitability, the stock hasn't done as well as hoped.

And South Korea has elected its first female president. Park Geun-hye claimed the victory with the pledge to revive the sluggish economy. The other challenges she faces include income inequality and strained relations with North Korea. Park is the daughter of the country's former military dictator. She heads South Korea's ruling conservative party.

And take a look at these dramatic images of a mudslide in motion. Our affiliate KOMO reports a longshoreman in Everett, Washington, captured the video as the slide slammed into a moving freight train. Cars crumbled and derailed, as you can see there. The freight trains were back on the tracks yesterday but Amtrak and transit line are waiting 48 hours to make sure that this scene is safe.

Unbelievable when you see that mudslide.

BLITZER: Anybody hurt? Do we know if anybody was hurt?

SYLVESTER: I don't think that there was anyone hurt. But, you know, all things considered, it was a freight train. So -- but, you know, they want to make sure that everything is safe.

Take a look at those pictures. There it goes, slamming into those cars.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

It's a debate politicians have resisted in recent years, but new poll results show a shift in how Americans feel about preventing gun violence and how that could affect gun law reforms.


BLITZER: With the families in Newtown, Connecticut, burying their loved ones, President Obama issued this call today for an interagency group to propose ways to prevent gun violence. He emphasized he can't do it alone.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Each one of these Americans was a victim of every day gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 every year, violence that we cannot accept as routine.

So I will use all of the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. And I'm not going to be able to do it by myself. Ultimately, if this effort is to succeed, it's going to require the help of the American people.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Dr. Drew Pinsky from our sister network HLN. Dr. Drew, if the president were to ask you to join Joe Biden on this committee and come up within a month of specific recommendations, what would you tell them?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW": Well, I would tell him, first of all, it's not just about the guns. It's about our crisis in mental health. Let me just sort of step back for a second, Wolf, and tell you that I've generally been kind of unhappy with our leaders in terms of how emotionally they have supported our country.

We have been wounded. We took a body shot. We have people suffering in Connecticut. We needed our leaders to get in there and get their hands dirty and express themselves. If you remember, as Rudy Giuliani led New York out of 9/11, that is the kind of leadership we needed and I was kind of disappointed until today.

Today, I feel like we have our leaders doing something, taking action, letting us know that we need to gather as country and help them take action and all they are asking for is rationality. How many amongst us could say that it's OK for people to have 100 rounds of ammunition and a banana clip.

This is not rational. No one is talking about taking guns away. People are talking about taking away the opportunity for people to have massive, massive loss of life and I think any reasonable person is going to say that is something we could all get easily behind.

And thank you President Obama for being clear that you're going to take action and you need our help. But it is not just about the guns. I tell you, on my program we are getting in deep with what to do with people and parents and family members with people with mental illness that are out of control.

There are resources in our country. People cannot get conservatorship. There's no state hospital. There's no structure and I would say, President Obama, please, please, there's so much more to be done here than just guns and this is our opportunity and Connecticut is just a symptom.

BLITZER: The president made it clear that he agrees with you. It's not just guns that are at issue, even though he did say you have to deal with military assault -- military-type assault weapons, background checks for gun purchasers. So those are important, but he also did call to deal with this committee, this Biden committee should look at the mental health care that we have in this country, how that could contribute to that kind of gun violence.

PINSKY: He lost on it. He did.

BLITZER: That seems to glorify his words, guns. Those are issues that he wants this committee to raises well.

PINSKY: I hope -- I'm sorry, but I hope they don't spend too much time on that because I don't believe that's something that policy is going to determine. I do believe those of us in the media can take a good, hard look at that and should be more responsible with it and should be educating people about that. But I'm not sure that's a policy issue. That's a cultural issue and media is a big part of culture. He did gloss the mental health issues. I was, again, not overwhelmingly excited with the gentle gloss he put on that rather than, we're going to focus on that.

By the way, he also glossed a little bit at the privacy issue and background checks insofar as checking for there having been legal problems. But I say he's got to go further and we have to have rational -- we've got to be rational about our privacy.

If somebody has a history of mental illness that has any probability of making them predisposed to acting out, and that's a big, broad statement I'm making, the safety of the community should take precedence of the privacy right of the individual and that's going to take some can change in our legal system.

BLITZER: In our new poll, our CNN/ORC poll we asked the question, could government and society take actions to prevent another shooting. Back in January 2011, 33 percent said yes. That's now up to 46 percent. So there is clearly a desire, maybe in the aftermath of what we just saw a few days, a desire for the government to really step up.

PINSKY: Yes, Wolf. I think absolutely. This is the time. I saw a commentary -- I think Michael Moore put out -- which was saying, please, let's back off and let these families mourn. No, that's wrong. The families need us to take action so their loved ones should not have died in vain.

Sentiments that are recorded in your poll there are precisely that opportunity for us to gather as a community and to begin making a difference. You know, we all are hurt. I'm deeply wounded by this. I'm beside myself from this episode in Connecticut.

As I keep telling everybody, making difference, service, faith, connection with other people, that's going to get us through. And here now is an opportunity for all of us to gather as a community and make a difference.

BLITZER: Dr. Drew, thanks very much for coming in.

PINSKY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And please be sure to watch Dr. Drew "On Call" weeknights 9 p.m. Eastern on our sister network, HLN.

When it comes to the fiscal cliff, President Obama today said should -- and I'm quoting him now, just take the deal.

Up next in "Strategy Session," we'll take a closer look at why the president and House Speaker John Boehner still seem to be talking past one another.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: And this is not a situation where I'm unwilling to compromise. This is not a situation where I'm trying to rub their face in anything.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in America.



BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us, two CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, and the former Bush White House speechwriter, David Frum. He's now a contributing editor of the "Daily Beast" and "Newsweek" as well as the author of the bestselling e-book "How Romney Lost."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Listen to the president because he's trying to put what is going right now in the fiscal cliff negotiations into some sort of perspective.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: If this past week has done anything, it should just give us some perspective. I mean, if there's one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what's important.


BLITZER: So stop arguing so much about a billion here or a billion there. Just do it. Don't go over the fiscal cliff. That's the bottom line. That's what he's saying. Look at the tragedy we just all saw in Newtown, Connecticut.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm sure the president means well, but that's really guilting people in a way that is not an appropriate way to conduct an investigation. There's a Jewish mother quality of that.

BLITZER: Before you get criticism, you speak of someone who is Jewish.

FRUM: Exactly.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Never accused of being.

FRUM: You don't talk like that. But this gets to kind of the weirdness of this whole fiscal cliff discussion. We are about to make choices that are going to affect the next decade of the country's budget, economic growth and we are making them on box of envelopes.

We're making them before we really know with the most significant new program of the past 30 years. The president's health care initiative is really going to cost. It would be so much more sensible for the president to accept an interim deal and then figure out creatively how do you pay for this?

BLITZER: Do you agree?

BEGALA: Not really. Sometimes Washington can only work with a gun held to its head and we've been through this before. In fact, I worked for the House Majority Leader Dick Hepart in the early '90s or late '80s. When we cut the really big fiscal deal and that was done well a gun to our heads.

By the way and I think this may happen again. Back then, that deal failed twice in the House as the TARP did under President Bush Jr. It failed the first time through. I was talking to Democrats, who are experts on the budget. They are really worried about --

BLITZER: He's going to make some concessions on Social Security and Medicare. He has his own problem. Boehner has problem with Tea Party Republicans, but the president has got some problems and he says he's gone more than halfway and he says, you know what, there's a reason why some Republicans won't accept anything he proposes. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: They keep on finding ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes. I don't know how much that has to do with, you know, in it very hard for them to say yes to me. But, you know, at some point they've got to take me out of it and think about their voters and think about what's best for the country.


BLITZER: I guess the point he's making, I'm exaggerating a little bit. He could call for across the board tax cuts and huge spending cuts, but if it comes from him, there will be Republicans saying, there must be a socialist agenda out there why he's doing it.

FRUM: Perhaps that's true and perhaps anything John Boehner does will make Democrats look suspicious. I wish we could think about these fiscal issues in a way that is outside the personalities entirely.

And to think about things like this at the core of what the president is proposing is an attempt to squeeze more revenue out of income tax system. The United States federal system relies on income taxes to a degree almost without parallel anywhere else in the developed world.

Other developed countries pay for things like health care in other kinds of ways that have less constraint. They use more consumption taxes. They use energy taxes. The president is going to try to get more juice out of the income tax system.

And this is all being done in a last minute negotiations with a question, do we get this much more juice or that much and nobody is ever asking questions like, we're talking about the next decade, can we talk about this in a way that actually as economic rather than political logic.

BLITZER: The speaker has got a plan. He says it's going to introduced tomorrow and you know what? Ninety nine -- well, listen to what he said.


BOEHNER: Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American, 99.81 percent of the American people. Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.


BLITZER: All right, so there's a difference. The president says he wants to protect 98 percent of the American people. Boehner says he wants to protect 99.81 percent of the American people. These guys are not that far apart, right?

FRUM: The speaker misspoke. He's a good person. He's an honest person, but he got his facts wrong there. The Center for American Progress, Tax Policy Foundation, a lot of propeller heads who looked at the speaker's proposal, so-called Plan B, point out for example, it ends the poor people's tax credit that the president put in.

So it would actually raise taxes on lots and lots of poor people and middle class people. I hope that's not his intent and I don't want to accuse him of that. But he got the facts wrong. I believe in the nerds and the propeller heads who have actually looked at it more than the politician trying to sell us on it.

BLITZER: The president keeps saying that there's a Senate bill that will pass. If the House were to pass it then 98 percent of the American people will not get a tax increase January 1st. So what Boehner is now saying, instead of the $250,000 limit, the president has gone up to $400,000 by the way, do it at a million and end this and move on next year and deal with these issues.

BEGALA: Well, I think actually and David makes a good point of taking a more fundamental look at our tax system. We can't do that now with a gun to our head. As I say I'm a little more pro threatening and pro deadline.

But I do think a longer look at the tax system, should we tax carbon the way we did in the Clinton administration 20 years ago, that would not only help fund the government, but create pollution in the air. Right now, there's a fundamental principle that the country is broke and rich people got a big tax cuts --

FRUM: The deadline is totally artificial. What the president wants, he doesn't care about the revenue. He wants to break the Republican resistance because he believes if he can break their resistance then everything will get easier in the second term. So when you deal politically, you will be dealt with politically.

BLITZER: On that note, which I'm sure you disagree with. We'll leave it there. The next 24 hours I think will be critical. I keep saying that every single day. We're learning new information more about the whereabouts of Nancy Lanza, the mother of the Sandy Hook School shooter and the days leading up to the murders. That's just ahead.


BLITZER: All of us who reported from Newtown, Connecticut, over the past few days have been deeply, deeply affected by what we saw, what we heard in the days immediately following the school massacre.

One of our CNN correspondents, Kyung Lah brings a unique perspective to this story because she has been working in a country where there's almost no gun violence. We asked her to share some thoughts.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I moved back to the U.S. this summer. For the last five years, I was living in Japan as CNN's Tokyo correspondent. In that entire time, I never covered a shooting. There weren't any. This is my third mass shooting I've covered in just six months.

It is a very dangerous scene, Don. It's a little bit of a miracle, and the police will quickly point out, they just don't know how this happened, but certainly a very difficult day, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very difficult, indeed. I hope everyone is trying to get back to normal, though it's not going to be easy.

LAH: In this brief time, I've heard this question again and again by those victimized, most recently from a frustrated Newtown resident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are we so different than the industrialized countries that have so little gun violence and we are -- what makes us we so different? Why is that?

LAH: I don't have the answer. But I can compare Japan and the U.S. In Japan, there are almost no guns. The average person just can't get one. And I have to tell you, it's the safest place I've ever lived.

Here in the U.S., gun ownership is considered normal. Forty percent of Americans own one. There are enough guns here to arm every single man, women, and child, about 300 million firearms.

But these mass shootings, part of our American narrative, follow the familiar pattern, the shock, national outrage, memorials and funerals. Then the conversation fades. The rest of the world wonders why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have seen too many of these massacres. I have been here for 12 years and there is never anything more than a brief conversation. People outside of America can't understand that.

LAH: But it's not all about guns. Remember Japan's tsunami? In the wake of the disaster, people lined up for food and water. There was never any violence or rioting or crime. It's about society. Individual rights are second to the community's needs in Japan. Here in the United States, the constitution, including the second amendment, is considered sacrosanct, we as Americans prize freedom, the good and the bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about freedom. Freedom works both ways. If Americans would waive their freedom to buy guns anytime, anywhere in any kind of situation, then that would have given these kids at the elementary school the freedom to live.

LAH: I met these three men who fought for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. These men of war were so disturbed about the Newtown shootings that they came here on their day off to donate Christmas trees at the town hall. They wonder, what is this national security that they are fighting so hard for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To come home to what you think is safe and experience the same thing here, it's troubling and it's -- it brings such sorrow to everyone, the whole army.

LAH: None of us have the answer. But maybe the deaths of the shooter's mother, 20 innocent children and their brave teachers will this time keep a vital American conversation going. Kyung Lah, CNN, Newtown, Connecticut.


BLITZER: And we are just getting in some new information about Nancy Lanza, mother of the gunman in the Connecticut school massacre who became her son's first victim last Friday morning. Rita Cosby of our sister network HLN has been working this story for us from Newtown. What are you learning, Rita?

RITA COSBY, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have just learned from several friends close to Nancy Lanza that she was not home in the house behind me where she was murdered by her own son for the 2-1/2 days before that killing took place.

Now, I've confirmed this information with a hotel. It's the Omni Mt. Washington Hotel and Resort in northern New Hampshire. And what's significant about this is the timing, Wolf.

Let me give you the information that we have confirmed from multiple sources, telling me exclusively that on Tuesday, this is December 11th, Nancy Lanza checked in alone at 12:10 a.m. She checked out of this hotel, again, 4-1/2 hours drive away from here, on Thursday.

That is the 13th at 12:27 p.m. again, a 4-1/2 hours drive. Now, I have been told from many friends close to the Lanza family that in recent years Nancy Lanza did feel comfortable to leave her son alone and that she would often leave her son Adam alone in the house on some short mini vacations.

She would actually cook for him, make pre-made meals because she didn't want him cooking when she was not in the house, but felt comfortable enough to leave him alone in the house. Additionally, I've also spoken to a number of friends and I have physically seen written communications between Nancy Lanza and her friends on Wednesday night, the latest one being about 11:00 Eastern Time.

In those communications she talks about being away on a trip, that she is planning oncoming back very soon and appears to be in very good spirits, does not seem to be concerned about anything at all.

This is very significant, Wolf, because we know that Adam Lanza clearly had a lot of preparation that he had to do before he killed his mother over here and then went over to the school, which was about five miles away.

Everyone was wondering how could that be with his mother watching him with the two of them in this house. Well, now we are finding out that the mother was not home for 2-1/2 days and could have come home -- the earliest could have been, according to this information.

If she checks out of the hotel on Thursday, again, about a 4-1/2 hour drive, she always drove. You figure she wouldn't have been here until 5:00 at the earliest, leaving him alone again for nearly 2-1/2 days.

Again, we know also from the medical examiner that we were given exclusive information from the medical examiner that Nancy Lanza was found home, she was in her bedroom. She was shot four times in the head while she was in her pajamas asleep and they believe she was killed Friday morning by her son.

BLITZER: Yes, just before he left the house and then he went to that school. Rita, thank you very much.

We're going to check back with you. Rita, giving us some new information on the whereabouts of Nancy Lanza two days before this mass murder. We're going to take a quick break. Much more right at the top of the hour.