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CNN NEWSROOM

Midwest Hit with Major Storm; Fiscal Cliff Showdown Playing Out; Gunman Had Cut Ties with Father; Global Gun Control; Backlash from Benghazi Report; Libya Focuses on National Security, Reconciliation

Aired December 20, 2012 - 12:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

Here's what's going on right now.

The first major storm in the season hitting the Midwest closing roads, forcing holiday travelers to stay home.

A blizzard warning stretches from Eastern Colorado to Wisconsin. More than 30,000 people have lost power in Iowa now, which has seen the most snow so far, as much as eight inches. Near white-out conditions on the roads caused a 30-car pileup that is near Fort Dodge, Iowa, killing one person. The storm is heading east, expected to hit New England sometime tomorrow.

We're going to keep our eye on the system and bring you the latest throughout the hour.

Political showdown, of course, playing out in Capitol Hill, could lead to higher taxes for almost all of us.

Now, the House votes today on Speaker John Boehner's backup proposal to avoid the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that are set to take in effect just 12 days from now.

President Obama is threatening to be veto that plan, and a new CNN ORC Poll reflects the concern among Americans if the two sides do not reach a deal, 20 percent say going over the so-called fiscal cliff would lead to a crisis, 50 percent say it would cause major problems.

Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill following this. I understand you have two lawmakers who are going to be votes on speaker Boehner's Plan B. How do they feel about this?

DANA BASH, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That race is on.

We're just steps off of the House floor where that vote is going to take place later on today and I'm with Congressman Steve Sutherland of Florida and Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana. Both of they see men, both of you, are going to vote against your leader, against the speaker on this. Why? REP. STEVE SOUTHERLAND (R), FLORIDA: Well, we have great concerns that this doesn't go far enough to really solve the problems that we face. I would lean no yesterday. Nothing that I've seen today really changes me wanting to go in the other direction.

And, you know, America needs to understand we have significant problems that we face, a mountain of unfunded mandates. Closing in on $100 trillion, and this does nothing to prevent us from continuing to move towards a crash course.

BASH: Now, there are probably people out there saying, how could these two members of Congress vote against keeping taxes in place for everybody except millionaires? What's wrong with raising taxes on millionaires?

REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), LOUISIANA: Well Dana, you have to understand that the higher income earners are small business owners and they're the ones who hire people.

We have a very steep, aggressive tax system, and for us to pull out of this recovery, you know, we have the highest unemployed rate in terms of people sitting on the sidelines, 23 million Americans since 1982.

If we want to increase revenue, we need more taxpayers. The way to do that is employ more people. And by taxing business owners, that's going to be very difficult. We're going to continue to see an anemic recovery.

BASH: Now, the reason the speaker saying that he's doing this is for lots of reasons, but one is to try to kind of grease the wheels with the larger negotiations.

Yesterday the president said, take the deal, and he said he thinks part of the reason why the deal it isn't going through is because of him, because Republicans like you don't want to sign onto something the president has signed onto.

SOUTHERLAND: Well, let me be very clear regarding the president. It is very clear that he is doing everything within his power to take us over the cliff, and he is set on dividing us.

Whereas, I want to commend our speaker, because he's working as hard as he can, as other members of leadership, to keep us whole. To make sure that we aren't divided. To make sure that we are a strong country, that we do create jobs to move that economy forward.

The president has said, look, this bill is dead on arrival. It will not be heard in the Senate, and it would be vetoed if it made it the to the president's desk. The American people, hear what the president is saying, I am doing everything I can to make sure we go over the cliff.

BASH: Now, you say that the president is trying to go over the cliff. The White House, the president himself argued yesterday that he has given a lot, and there are a lot of people in his own party who are not happy with some of the things that he has given on particularly on spending cuts and these negotiations with the speaker.

FLEMING: Well Dana, the president ran on $3 cut to every income of $1 in taxation. He is already breaking his promise.

The offer he made to us was a less than a 1:1 ratio, and those cuts were not real cuts at all. They're artificial future theoretical cuts and then he added back more stimulus spending. And so, it's really going to increase spending. He's really going against his own promise to the American people.

BASH: Now, the Democrats, particularly the White House, they argued that they are having a lot of trouble getting a deal just 12 days out with the speaker because he can't control his caucus.

The fact that you all are voting against him on this, on raising taxes for millionaires and up, is that, you know -- are you proving their point?

FLEMING: I would argue that we're not doing what as you suggest. We're not voting to cut taxes for everybody but millionaires. What we're doing with this vote is to increase taxes on millionaires, and by the time this thing makes its way by the president, it will be down to $400,000 to maybe $250,000 income people, which in some states is middle class.

So I would argue that our vote that we took in August was very simple. We voted to extend the Bush tax rates for everybody. That's the way to push America forward. What we're going to do today, if we vote yes on this bill, we're going to be increasing taxes for certain segments.

MALVEAUX: Dana, real quick, if you can ask the lawmakers this, because this is something the president started off with saying, OK, $250,000, everybody above would be taxed more. Now he's raised that to $400,000. Boehner is saying more than a million.

Is there some compromising between there? Perhaps people making $500,000, $600,000 where you bring those numbers closer together? Would that be open to something like that?

BASH: Suzanne is asking since the president right now in negotiations with the speaker is talking about income levels of $400,000 keeping taxes low for those, the speaker saying a million.

Do you think there's a middle ground in between? I know you all are even opposed to a million. So it might be hard to answer, but just knowing your colleagues do you think that has any potential to get through the House?

SOUTHERLAND: I think it is going to be very difficult, because you still haven't solved the problem. I mean, we know that the president when he was going after the 250 created enough revenue to run this place for eight days. So we're talking less than that now.

We're still running around the fundamental problem, and it is not a revenue issue here. It is a spending issue and that must be addressed. And I think that you're saying how difficult we are. No, I think we're realists. And I think we've all voted and claimed that our problem is spending, and now we have to pass legislation that mirrors that.

BASH: Thank you.

FLEMING: The polls are with us on this. They say the American people more than anything want to see spending cuts rather than tax increases.

BASH: Thank you both for joining us. And just to be clear I was giving you the White House's argument.

SOUTHERLAND: (INAUDIBLE) the White House. I got it.

BASH: All right. Well, thank you very much. This is a protect illustration of how things really are very difficult, because there are genuine philosophical differences on how to address this very, very real budget crisis in this country.

MALVEAUX: Even the Republicans, we see the Republicans are divided as well.

Dana, thank you very much for following up on that.

Of course, we're going to be taking a look at vote as it happens in the aftermath.

We're also following with the other story, the top story and the update on the aftermath of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Hearses (ph) are making their way through the town today. At least three more students, a teacher and a school therapist are now being laid to rest.

Vice President Biden, he is meeting in the next hour with law enforcement representatives as well as cabinet members. Now, what he is doing, he is leading the president's effort to come up with new proposals to reduce gun violence.

Also today Attorney General Eric Holder, he is meeting with law enforcement officials and first responders in Newtown.

We have also learned new information about the gunman's mother. Friends say that Nancy Lanza went on vacation alone at a resort in New Hampshire days before the shooting. She checked out last Thursday afternoon. Her son killed her and went on his murderous rampage Friday morning.

We've also been able to piece together details about the gunman, Adam Lanza's mother Nancy, haven't heard much from the father. Mary Snow is taking a closer look at a strange relationship between the father and son.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Peter Lanza's home is less than an hour away from where his son Adam opened fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School, but a person who knows him says, he hadn't had any communication with his son in about two years when Adam cut his father out of his life about the time the elder Lanza remarried.

Until then, Peter Lanza, an executive with G.E., seen in this LinkedIn photo, had weekly visits with Adam. According to the same source who told us, Lanza hadn't live in the Newtown since 2001, eight years before his divorce with ex-wife Nancy was finalized.

In the hours after the shooting a reporter for the Stamford Advocate who was outside Peter Lanza's house told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Lanza was apparently unaware of his son's involvement in the shooting.

MAGGIE GORDON, REPORTER, STAMFORD ADVOCATE: I said we received a report that somebody at this address is connected to the shooting in Newtown. His face just went from -- you know, he'd been this very polite stranger who was making pleasantries with me, and he went from that to sort of shock and then just this horrified look. And essentially declined comment, rolled up his window and went inside his house.

SNOW: Since then he released a statement expressing condolences for victims' families and friends adding, "We're in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We too are asking why."

Peter Lanza's sister-in-law told reporters both Lanza and his ex-wife were committed to their kids' welfare.

MARSHA LANZA, LANZA FAMILY RELATIVE: They were the type of parents even when they were married as well as separated, if the kids had a need they would fill it.

SNOW: Court documents show few hints of an acrimonious divorce and indicate a comfortable lifestyle. Irreconcilable differences were sighted as the reasons for the divorce finalized when Adam was 17.

Alimony was set this year at $298,000. Those documents also showed Peter Lanza would pay for his son's college and graduate school, medical insurance and provide a car for him.

Peter Lanza was questioned by investigators searching for a motive. He said in a statement over the weekend that he had cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.

Mary snow, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: We are all asking why after those deaths in Newtown, the search for answers, there is one fact that we can't ignore. These kinds of mass shootings happen in the United States more than anything else in the industrialized world.

We'll go to take you next to Japan. That is where gun violence is almost nonexistent, but first...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PS22 CHORUS, N.Y. CHOIR (singing): Three cheers for the green and the white the sandy hook school.

MALVEAUX: This is nice. These are students from New York's PS22 Chorus singing Sandy Hook's Elementary School song to honor the victims there in Newtown.

Their goal, of course, to bring hope and inspiration to families who have been impacted by the shooting. These are fifth graders from Staten Island.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A 12-year-old found a loaded gun in a movie theater. This is in Tillamook, Oregon.

Police say it was a semi-automatic handgun with a round in the chamber, the safety off. The boy did not pick up the gun. He immediately told his teacher who called police.

The boy was part of a group of students being awarded for their good work with a trip to the movies yesterday to see "The Hobbit."

Police say they are trying to trace the gun to the owner and have notified the district attorney for possible charges.

In the U.S. firearm homicide rates are 19 times higher than the other high-income industrialized countries. That is according to the Brady Campaign.

National correspondent Kyung Lah compares her years of reporting in Japan where there is almost no gun violence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": CNN's Kyung Lah is on the scene for us at that apartment complex. She's got more on this part of the investigation.

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

LEE SHULL, NEWTOWN RESIDENT: Why are we so different from so many other industrialized countries that have so little gun violence and we are just -- what makes us so different? Why is that? LAH: I don't have the answer, but I can compare Japan and 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 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, woman and child about 300 million firearms.

But these mass shootings, which are now a part of our American narrative, follow a familiar pattern, the shock, national outrage, memorials, funerals, then the conversation fades. The rest of the world wonders why.

MIKE AMOR, 7 NEWS AUSTRALIA: I've seen too many of these massacres. I've been here for 12 years and there is never anything more than a brief conversation and I think people outside of America just 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, no rioting, no 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.

MAX HOFMANN, DEUTSCHE WELLE: It's about freedom, but freedom works both ways, you know. If Americans would waive their freedom to buy any kind of guns, any time, anywhere and in any situation, then that would have given these kids at the elementary school the freedom to live.

LAH: I met these three men that fought for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. These men of war were so disturbed by 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're fighting so hard for?

SPECIALIST JAMES WATTERS, U.S. ARMY: To come home to what you think is safe and it to 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: It's been more than a year since the revolution that brought down Gadhafi, so what is life like now in Libya after the death of a dictator?

We're going to talk to a woman who just spent the morning with the country's new president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It's supposed to be the day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answered to Congress about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, but two of her deputies are in the hot seat instead.

The congressional hearings follow an independent report that blame the State Department for what they called systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies regarding embassy security.

U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in that Benghazi attack. It set off a firestorm in Washington about exactly who was responsible for not making that consulate more security.

Elise Labott is in Washington. And, Elise, we know there is some fallout here. One State Department official has resigned, three others placed on administrative leave. What is next?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. The top assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell, a few others in his department and then the Mideast policy shop have all been reassigned. Eric Boswell is gone.

I think there's going to be a lot of questions now, Suzanne, about whether top officials, more senior levels of the department going up to Secretary Clinton should be held responsible, even though the panel said no.

We heard this morning from the Deputy Secretary Tom Nides and Bill Burns, Secretary Clinton's deputies, and, Suzanne, they were sufficiently contrite, I'd say.

Really, there's nothing you can do with such a scathing report other than accept the recommendations, say we know we messed up and we need to do better.

MALVEAUX: And we know that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also accepted full responsibility for what happened. She's accepted all these recommendations. Is she required or will she go before this board? We know she's not testifying today because she's recuperating from a concussion.

LABOTT: That's right, but she has said that she would testify in January and a the lot of senators this morning and also the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have said they would like to hear from her. She's expected to be at the beginning of January and she said she would testify. She's not legally required to, but I think, Suzanne, she really wants to be heard by the committees and get this behind her.

MALVEAUX: Is there any concern from the State Department or even from the secretary herself about her legacy? That perhaps it would be tarnished with all the questions and what they called systemic failures in the department?

LABOTT: Well, certainly, it's a blemish on an otherwise pretty stellar reputation here over the last four years and a very good relationship with Congress.

I think that that's why the secretary's aides really do want her to testify because, as you know, she has very good relationships with Congress. When she testifies, she doesn't get a lot of toughing questioning and, so, I think that they feel that, if she could testify, she could certainly paint it in the best light.

And she's done exactly what, I think, people were looking for the State Department to do, which is accept responsibility for the errors that were made.

The panel did not find her personally responsible, said it happened at a lower-level managerial thing and that it never went up the chain of command from her.

But I think she does want to take responsibility on behalf of her department.

MALVEAUX: All right. Elise, thank you. Appreciate it.

While Washington is discussing the security breakdown in Benghazi, the Libyan government is focused on the broader issue of national security and reconciliation. It has more than a year since rebels captured and killed the long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Zahra Langhi is with us via Skype from Tripoli. She is the co-founder of the Libyan Women's Platform for Peace. Thank you for joining us.

I understand that you just had -- you held a peace conference that included the president, militia members, lawmakers, women representatives, as well. What do you feel about the state of your country and where it is heading now?

ZAHRA LANGHI, CO-FOUNDER, LIBYAN WOMEN'S PLATFORM FOR PEACE (via Skype): Well, thank you.

Our country is at the moment in crisis and that's due to that we, as a country, government and civil society, we did not address the issue of transitional justice and national reconciliation from the beginning.

Yes, there are very encouraging trends towards Libya's transition towards inclusive democracy. In July, Libya held its first post- Gadhafi election, the country's first multi-party democratic elections since 1952. A woman won 16.5 percent of the Congress.

Yet, not addressing the security issues is hindering the whole process of the reconstruction of Libya and it's basically ...

MALVEAUX: Do you feel safe, Zahra? Do you feel safe in your community? Do you feel safe in your country? You say it's in crises because they haven't addressed security issues.

LANGHI: Yes, yes. When I say it's in crisis, it doesn't mean that we, as women or as people, we don't feel safe because we see today we were holding this conference and we had women from the south (INAUDIBLE), from the western mountains (INAUDIBLE). We had women from Benghazi City.

Were keen to attend near Tripoli and to work actually closely with senior members of militias and this is the first time ever that we call for a national dialogue creating a venue, a platform where all parts of Libyan society would meet and discuss the challenges that we're facing.

And it all has to do with creating an efficient judiciary system as well as a security system.

MALVEAUX: Sure. It sounds very encouraging. I know that's very significant for you.

The consulate, the U.S. consulate that was attacked in Benghazi, there are many Libyans who took to the streets afterwards, voicing support for the United States and the presence of the United States.

Do Libyans still support the United States now? Have their feelings changed about the role that Americans have played?

LANGHI: Yes. Actually, this was always there and we've seen it ever since the liberation where Hillary Clinton and even President Sarkozy and Cameron, when they were in Benghazi, welcomed in the square.

And this was like a catalyst moment in the history when we came together, all common values, democracy, and peace. And, so, this kind of appreciation, though it was a bit questioned after the tragic attack at Benghazi, but then you saw the people, how themselves came out in the streets and they actually felt very sorry for that attack and the killing of the ambassador so they're keen for working together and collaborating on common interests and values.

MALVEAUX: All right, Zahra, thank you for giving us as an update. We're going to keep up with you, as well, because we know there's a lot of change that is taking place within the country, within the administration and, of course, the role of women and how that is changing, as well, bit by bit. Thank you very much, Zahra. Appreciate it.

South Korea just elected its first female president. Pretty cool, right? Well, the only catch, she's also the daughter of a former dictator.

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