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THE SITUATION ROOM

Connecticut Shooting Investigation Continues; Winter Storm; GOP Senator's Gun Law Switch; Booker's Political Future; Potatoes on Planes; Film About Bin Laden Hunt "Misleading"; Congress Honors Senator Inouye; Upstart Firm to Buy NYSE; Warning: Gift Cards Often Charge Fee; Making Money Off Doomsday, Tomorrow?

Aired December 20, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The Connecticut shooting investigation appears to be moving into a new phase at one crime scene. Stand by.

A blizzard, rain, and high winds. A winter storm is on the move and holiday travel potentially could be taking a big hit, information you need to know.

And a new Hollywood film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is getting a terrible review from three United States senators.

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

Right now, the House of Representatives is getting closer to a showdown vote on the House speaker's plan to avoid that so-called fiscal cliff. It's a high-stakes bargaining chip in John Boehner's negotiations with President Obama, and it comes only 12 days before automatic tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect and could take a painful toll on the U.S. economy.

Let's go to Capitol Hill.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by with the latest -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the vote on what the speaker calls his plan B is about 3.5 hours away. And despite the speaker's confidence that he has the votes, we're told that Republican leaders at this hour are still twisting arms, Republican arms to make sure that this passes.

There's a weird sense here, a weird atmosphere that things are moving fast, but stalled at the same time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The fiscal cliff impasse is so surreal, Democrats are resorting to movie analogies, calling Republicans Thelma and Louise.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: Rather than face the reality of what lies ahead, they hit the gas. That's what we're hearing from Speaker Boehner now.

BASH: Don't blame us, say the Republicans; it's the president.

REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), LOUISIANA: He's doing everything within his power to take us over the cliff and he is set on dividing us.

BASH: Adding to the sense that Congress is in an alternate universe, instead of negotiating to avert the fiscal cliff, the House will vote tonight on the GOP plan B, a bill to keep tax rates in place for households making less than $1 million. Senate Democrats call it dead on arrival.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: House Republicans know that the bill has no future. If they don't know it now, tell them what I said.

BASH (on camera): Senator Majority Harry Reid just had a press conference saying, "House Republicans know this bill has no future. If they don't know, tell them what I said."

(LAUGHTER)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I talked to Senator Reid this morning. He was more polite then. I am not convinced at all that when the bill passes the House today that it will die in the Senate.

BASH (voice-over): Democrats say the House speaker is in denial. The truth is, the speaker is well aware of political reality. If the country careens of the fiscal cliff in 12 days and every American's taxes go up, Republicans will take much of the heat. That's a key reason he's holding tonight's vote.

BOEHNER: Our bill will protect 99.81 percent of American people from an increase in taxes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: A Republican lawmaker with knowledge of leadership talks and of strategy says that there's another reason why they are holding this vote tonight and that is an internal Republican reason, to try to prove to Republican rank-and-file lawmakers that -- to give them a reality check, basically, to prove that the votes simply will not be there ultimately to pass even this, taxes -- keeping taxes where they are on millionaires in the Senate and that will give the speaker a little bit more running room if he does in fact go back to talks with the president.

And the speaker again today said that after this he does hope to resume talks which have been stalled since Monday with the president.

BLITZER: So, in the meantime, Dana, everyone getting out of Dodge, everyone getting out of Washington, D.C., for Christmas?

BASH: When it comes to the Senate, yes. They are probably going to be out of session either tonight or tomorrow and not coming back until the Thursday after Christmas. When it comes to the House, they say that they are going to be in session tomorrow and, most importantly, the speaker is likely to be here in town, and the president has said that he's not going to go on his trip to Hawaii, likely as long as he has somebody to negotiate with.

So, we will see what happens with this weekend. It doesn't sound like at least the key players are going anywhere.

BLITZER: We will see if there is going to be a Christmas miracle. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Thanks very much for that, Dana.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, right now, top state officials are promising Congress they will improve security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world, in some cases by the end of the year. House and Senate committees holding hearings today on the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Lawmakers argued over funding and whether more money would help keep American diplomats safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: If the State Department intends to blame its long string of failures on inadequate funding, then perhaps it should take a closer look at the money that is being lavished on global climate change, culinary diplomacy programs and other favored projects.

This money could have been used for providing diplomatic security, including hiring additional personnel and providing them with adequate equipment and training.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're joined now by our foreign affairs report, Elise Labott, who covered all of these hearings, the Senate hearings, the House hearings.

So what did you come away with?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things, Wolf.

First of all, it's obviously still politicized. You heard Ileana Ros- Lehtinen. She is out for blood and she says that this is not even enough. She doesn't accept the report. She says the State Department can't really review itself because of its failures noted by the panel.

And she's looking for Secretary of State Clinton to testify in January. I also think that the State Department officials, Bill Burns Tom Nides, Secretary Clinton's deputy, were really contrite. What else can you do, Wolf, with such a scathing report such as this instead of say, listen, take their listen, we know we messed up, we know we need to do better and we will?

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sort of had a tight, a fine line he had to walk. He made a nice opening statement, uttered a few nice words, but then he recused himself, for all practical purposes, didn't ask any questions because everybody knows the president is going to nominate him to be the next secretary of state.

LABOTT: That's right. And he was already talking like a secretary of state.

He said that the department really this is a step forward in terms of dealing with security and he thinks it is going to be very helpful. And then listen to this, what he said from the hearing about where he thinks the blame should also lie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Congress also bears some responsibility here. Congress has the power of the purse. We use it for any number of things. But it's our responsibility. And for years, we have asked our State Department to operate with increasingly lesser resources to conduct essential missions.

And because of the gridlock and excesses in the Senate and Congress itself, we have not even been able to pursue the regular order of authorizing legislation. That must change. And in the next session of the Congress, I hope it will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: So, Wolf, when he comes back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his own confirmation hearings, I think he's making pretty clear he's going to be asking them for more money for State Department security.

BLITZER: Assuming the president nominates him, and we think he will, he's confirmed, we think he will be confirmed, he's already, you're right, sounding like a secretary of state. That was in opening statement and gave us a little preview of what his priorities will be as the next secretary of state.

Thanks very much, Elise, for that report.

Other news, including in the Newtown school massacre, nearly one week after the tragedy, the cycle of funerals and grief scene endless for that shattered community. Three more children, two more teachers were laid to rest in Newtown today, and their principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was buried in Upstate New York.

We're also learning about one more burial of Adam Lanza's first victim.

Our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, is in Newtown town. She's investigating all of these reports for us.

What is the latest, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that the gunman's mom, Nancy Lanza, was laid to rest today.

The Kingston chief of police, that's Kingston, New Hampshire, the chief of police, close friend of the family, grew up with Nancy and her brother, who was on the police force, the chief is telling us that in fact there was a private service for family only. They didn't even invite friends.

It was a very small service at an undisclosed location. But she was buried. I asked about the gunman, her son Adam. And the chief tells me that, no, in fact, he was not with her, he was not buried with her. That's still in discussion. If it happens, if he joins his mother at some point, it's not going to be for many months.

So, that is still in play. But the mother, as you said, his first victim, she was buried today. This is the home where she died, shot four times in the head by her son. And this, Wolf, came after she had been away for three days.

When she returned home Thursday, the first victim Friday morning was Nancy Lanza. She was laid to rest today, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the rest of the investigation? What else are you hearing?

FEYERICK: Well, there were about a dozen detectives and others from the major crime squad here today. They have been aggressively combing through this home.

They are processing the crime scene. They were here since Monday. They pulled out just before lunch today. They are done. They have gone through documents, they have gone files, they have gone anything that they could sort of get their hands on. They would not confirm whether in fact there were any sort of video games and if so what those video games were.

But we spoke to Lieutenant Vance. We have spoken to the Connecticut State Police spokesperson. He tells us in fact they are done for now. The is remains a crime scene. It remains in technically possession of the police department. If they uncover other evidence that leads them back to this home, then they will come back. But for the time being, they are don -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick working the story for us.

What a story it's been. Thank you.

The vice president, Joe Biden, by the way, has started his new assignment of trying to come up with some gun proposals in response to the Newtown shooting. He met with Cabinet members, law enforcement leaders over at the White House today. The attorney general, Eric Holder, also took part in the talks before flying himself to Connecticut to meet with officials there.

We're going to have much more on the new attempts to crack down on gun violence, whether they will pan out. That's coming up shortly.

Just in time for Christmas, a winter storm is causing flight cancellations, delays, and other travel nightmares. We're going to show you where it's heading.

And a teacher killed in the Connecticut Massachusetts, Lauren Rousseau, she is remembered by the love of her life. Stand by for that moving interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Church bells will toll across Connecticut 9:30 tomorrow morning, marking the moment one week earlier when bullets ripped through the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Final preparations are being made for tributes to the 26 students and educators who were killed last Friday morning at that elementary school.

CNN's Poppy Harlow spoke with the boyfriends of one of the victims buried today, teacher Lauren Rousseau.

Poppy is joining us now with more.

A very emotional moment for so many people, tomorrow morning, 9:30 a.m. Eastern, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.

I mean, this community is still reeling. They are really living minute by minute here trying to get by.

Lauren Rousseau, this beautiful young woman, 30 years old, told her mother that she had wanted to be a teacher since before she was even in kindergarten. She got to live out that dream, but her life was cut far too short.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY LUSARDI III, BOYFRIEND OF LAUREN ROUSSEAU: So I guess my face, and it says "Me since I have been with you. Thanks for rubbing off on me."

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty and in love, Tony Lusardi and Lauren Rousseau.

(on camera): Do you remember the moment you realized you were in love with her?

LUSARDI: Oh, yes, like right off -- the first date I had with her, I knew.

HARLOW (voice-over): At a wine bar where they shared their first kiss.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- he says, what happened in Newtown where those children were subject to that level of violence is beyond my comprehension. As a state legislator in Massachusetts, I supported an assault weapons ban thinking others states would follow suit, but unfortunately, they have not.

And innocent people are being killed. As a result, he says, I support a federal assault weapons ban. David, are a bunch of Republicans now coming around on this because of Newtown?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know that a bunch of Republicans are. It's more of the ghost of the Republican Party. Remember when the Brady bill passed in the 1990s. I think there were 38 Republicans votes in Congress. But that is the north-eastern and Midwestern and suburban Republican Party that by and large doesn't exist anymore. Democrats hold those seats, but those voters are still there even if the members are not.

BLITZER: Do you think that this is really going to get off the ground when the Vice President Joe Biden has been assigned by the president to deal within a month to come up with new some recommendations for federal legislation? Do they have the votes in the House of Representatives, which is the majority of Republicans, do they have the votes to get it done?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they probably don't have the votes today. It will be interesting to see what the NRA who is going to be making press announcements tomorrow start to say and whether they start letting some members off the hook on assault weapons bans.

I don't know if they will, but I can tell you this. The NRA has four million members. You know, the campaigns like mayors against illegal guns and others, within a few weeks they are going to have four million members.

This is just not going to be tolerated in the same way anymore and senators like Scott brown may end up being kind of the first test on this. He made that crafty statement because he opposed a federal bill in the past.

BLITZER: You mean the state should have the responsibility.

ROSEN: Right. But he knew as a senator from Massachusetts that Arkansas was never going to pass that. So that's just an excuse to be against the federal weapons because he was the number one recipient of NRA money in his campaign over this last year.

A lot of senators are going to find themselves in the cross hairs because of taking all of that money and when he comes back to -- tries to come back to the Senate that may very well be a big issue. BLITZER: Like Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, he's apparently ready to take some steps. The three steps the president laid out yesterday, I think he wants to do an assault weapons ban, for example, high capacity ammunition clips and tightens the laws as far as background checks. You can go to a gun show, for example, and buy a gun without a background check.

FRUM: What you want to do in this measure is do something that burdens law abiding gun owners at least while achieving the most good and that's why the assault weapons ban of the 1990s was so disappointing because --

BLITZER: There were so many loopholes?

FRUM: Well, it's impossible for them not to be. There is no such thing as an assault weapon. You end up doing is describing weapons may not have certain characteristics.

BLITZER: They got to be clever enough to come up with language that will meet that requirement.

FRUM: Whatever you say the gun maker can't make, the gun maker says, right, we can't make that. We'll make this other thing. The magazine rule I think is powerful but the background check, you want to be looking at who gets the guns more than anything he will. That will have the most impact, 40 percent I think of the guns sold in this country are sold without a background check. Nobody can justify that.

ROSEN: You know, also, I think the bully pulpit matters here. I think that's why the president, the vice president, other civic leaders and parents coming together very aggressively on manufacturers. You know, we shame the tobacco manufacturers to a huge amount of voluntary measures.

There's no reason why we're going to be fighting a definitional fight if gun manufactures are going to really be trying to be the good guys that they say that they are, only caring about hunting and personal --

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans, by the way, are feeling pretty confident that Scott Brown has a good chance of winning the special election in mayor, June, whenever that is going to take place. Who is going to be the Democratic challenger?

ROSEN: You know, I don't know. There are obviously several candidates right now --

BLITZER: Governor Deval Patrick is a potential candidate. Congressman Ed Murphy, for example.

ROSEN: I think Democrats are going to coalesce around a single candidate. I think you're going to get Senate Democratic leadership and the White House along with the Massachusetts leadership to focus on a candidate.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the president and the vice president and Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama in the district multiple times over the year. They are not going to let this race slide the way they did last time with Scott Brown. This is no walk for him. This is going to be a tough race.

FRUM: Massachusetts has too many Democrats and not enough jobs for all of them. So while Democrats often want to be united, they find it difficult because an opportunity like this comes along in a politician's career not very often.

BLITZER: We learned today that Cory Booker, the very popular mayor of Newark is not going to challenge Chris Christie in his bid for re- election next year. He said, I will complete my full term as mayor.

As for my political future, I will explore the possibility of running for United States Senate in 2014. During my lifetime, Senator Lautenberg, the incumbent Democrat, has been one of New Jersey's important leaders. It would be a privilege to continue his great legacy of service. It sounds like he wants to run for Senate.

ROSEN: He does.

BLITZER: Assuming Frank Lautenberg doesn't. He's almost 90.

ROSEN: Right. I was born in Newark. There is a soft part in my heart. Newark still needs Cory Booker, really glad that he is going to stay. If he runs for the Senate, I think that's a good choice. I still think that Chris Christie can be beaten.

BLITZER: By who?

ROSEN: I have no idea, but I don't think he is an invulnerable as everybody assess.

BLITZER: A lot of people don't think he could be. He is pretty popular right now.

FRUM: He is pretty popular right now and he is such an important figure. You know, in the 1990s, the beginning of the Clinton area. We saw a reconstitution of the Republican tradition in the north east. The election of Mayor Giuliani in New York City and the election of Governor Christie, Todd Whitten as governor of New Jersey.

It would be a very promising thing if people like Scott Brown were to be re-elected, if Chris Christie were to be re-elected as governor of New Jersey and then we could hope maybe for some progress in congressional level and like a local level, a reconstitution of the Republican Party in the part of the country that needs Republican representation.

BLITZER: You know, some Democrats are dreaming of Ben Affleck as a potential Democratic senatorial candidate maybe in Massachusetts. Is that at all realistic? What do you think?

ROSEN: It doesn't feel like it. There are too many experienced politicians there who I think will end up elbowing him out. I think David raises a really important point and this gun issue may end up coalescing that, which is, we just don't have any Republicans willing to work with Democrats anymore. I don't think Scott Brown has shown that propensity. Chris Christie has a little bit though.

BLITZER: Ben Affleck was testifying this week in Washington on issues involving Africa specifically in Congo. Wasn't there another actor who once got into politics and did sort of OK?

FRUM: Yes, but there are a lot of others that didn't do so well. And in general, I think you want to say, one of the problems that happens with actors is they want to start at the top because they've been used to being the star. And politics is really hard and I think people outside it don't understand how incredibly difficult it is, how many places you have to go and how thankless it is for how much of the time.

BLITZER: Ronald Reagan turned out OK, though.

ROSEN: And Ben Affleck is a serious --

BLITZER: He is a very serious guy. Guys, thanks very, very much.

A major aircraft manufacturer comes up with a novel way to test cell phone use on its plane. It can test subjects -- test subject can be found of all place including in the produce aisle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Many of us like to use our computers or other electronics in flight, but new testing is under way to try to improve our internet connection right now. Wait until you hear how these tests are being conducted. It sounds sort of bizarre. Kate Bolduan is here. She's been working in this story, bizarre? Yes.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bizarre, yes. I think that's a very good use just the word bizarre. Aircraft engineers needed something to fill in for humans while they developed a test to test for wireless equipment on airplanes and strangely enough, they found their solution in the produce aisle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Potatoes, 20,000 pounds of them, in fact, were piled into the seats of this decommissioned plane in Arizona.

KENNETH KIRCHOFF, BOEING RESEARCHER AND DEVELOPMENT ENGINEER: Potatoes it turns out have properties that are similar to humans in the way they interact with those radio frequency waves and they were quite cheap, stayed still and you could, with sacks of potato, build semi-human forms in the seats.

BOLDUAN: The goal for engineers like Ken Kirchoff was to design a better way to test wireless signals, like Wi-Fi, in aircraft.

KIRCHOFF: What you want to do is you want to design the system so that you get the best signal coverage throughout the airplane.

BOLDUAN: This graphic shows the wireless signal strength inside the lab. The benefit of this potato project, cutting down their testing time from weeks to just hours.

KIRCHOFF: It's not only just Wi-Fi that we can use that test technique for. It's other technologies, cell phones, Bluetooth, headsets, anything that can transmit.

BOLDUAN: The FCC and the FAA have long banned cell phone use in flights, but Boeing and other manufacturers sell planes equipped with on-board cell phone systems outside the U.S. Emirates has let passengers talk on their phones for nearly five years.

PATRICK BRANNELLY, VICE PRESIDENT, EMIRATES: We were kind of surprised because people said, why did it take so long? Now if they get on a plane that isn't equipped, they tend to complain.

BOLDUAN: An FAA study says carriers around the world that do allow cell phone use in flight have not reported any problems. Delta Airlines, the only U.S. carrier to respond to the study, called for allowing in-flight texting on phones, but not voice calls citing a survey where 64 percent of passengers said talking on cell phones would hurt their in-flight experience.

Whatever kind of wireless services is allowed, Boeing says with the help of these spuds, it's figured out an even better way to make sure it works and is safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: As for those 20,000 pounds of potatoes after their very fine service, they were shipped off to a food bank and the next time potatoes are going to be loaded into a Boeing jet, it will likely be part of the in-flight meal.

The engineers involved say this was a once in a career kind of project. So you're probably wondering if not humans, why not just use mannequins for this kind of a testing? They say those mannequins were more expensive and the composition of potatoes, Wolf, was actually more like a human than a mannequin in this scenario.

BLITZER: I believe that.

BOLDUAN: I don't know if I do, but --

BLITZER: Those potatoes have a future as French fries.

BOLDUAN: Maybe that's why we love French fries so much.

BLITZER: That's right. Thank you. Interesting stuff.

A week after the Newtown elementary school killings, Washington is getting to work on new gun control initiatives. In the next hour, we're taking a closer look at what the White House has on the agenda.

And a new movie has some lawmakers on Capitol Hill fuming, up next, the controversy over "Zero Dark Thirty."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A new Hollywood film on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is being panned not by critics, but by three United States senators. The film entitled "Zero Dark Thirty" hasn't even been released nationwide, but you get a hint at why it's controversial from the trailer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I be honest with you? I have bad news. I'm not your friend. I'm not going to help you. I am going to break you, any questions?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our entertainment correspondent, Nischelle Turner. Nischelle, senators say parts of this film are misleading. They are angry right now. Give us the background.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Wolf, basically, from its inception "Zero Dark Thirty" has been a movie under intense scrutiny. Now that it's out in limited release. Well, the controversy behind it only seems to be growing.

Three U.S. senators who have seen the movie are taking issue with specific scenes where CIA operatives are torturing detainees. These senators include Democrats Dianne Feinstein, Karl Levin as well as Republican John McCain whose own experiences as a POW in Vietnam has made him an out spoken critic of torture.

Now since most people have not seen the film yet, let me give you a little explainer about these scenes. Now the torture scenes, and there are more than one, show CIA interrogators waterboarding, humiliating and abusing detainees.

And in the movie, these interrogations do result in crucial information in the search for Osama Bin Laden. Now, I would not say that the film actually glorifies torture, but the CIA operatives are not squeamish about what they are doing at any point.

But there is a point in the film where a CIA official complains about President Obama's decision to stop the detainee program. Now also in a letter to Sony, which is the studio behind the film, the senators say that "Zero Dark Thirty" is quote, "perpetuating the myth that torture is effective."

Now they argue that a classified report proves what they call coercive interrogations didn't result in any information that led to Osama Bin Laden's capture. And here's what else they had to say in the letter. Let me give a little bit of that.

They said, "Zero Dark Thirty" is factually inaccurate and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is not based on the facts but rather part of the film's fictional narrative.

Now Sony maintains that they have never classified this as a documentary. They stand behind the film's authenticity. They issued a statement of their own saying, this was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a 2-1/2 hour film.

We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding Osama Bin Laden. So in that mouthful, Wolf basically what they are saying is this is not a documentary and we've never said it's a documentary. It's a movie based on actual factual facts of an event happening.

BLITZER: Interesting these three senators wrote the letter to Sony and as you point out, Senator Karl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Senator John McCain, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

Nischelle, thanks very much for that report. By the way, I'll be speaking live with Senator McCain about his concerns about this film, "Zero Dark Thirty." He's going to join us right at the top of our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour right in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congress bids farewell to one of its own. That is one of the other top stories that Lisa Sylvester is monitoring in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, House Speaker John Boehner called it a quiet ceremony for a quiet man as members of Congress gather this morning to honor the late Senator Daniel Inouye. The Hawaii Democrat died Monday at the age of 88. He will lie in state in the capitol rotunda, an honor reserved for presidents and other significant figures. Inouye represented Hawaii for 53 years and he was the second longest serving senator in U.S. history.

An Atlanta-based company has entered into a deal to buy the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Euronext has agreed to be purchased by International Exchange for $8.2 billion in stock and cash. The deal was announced today. The International Exchange was created just 12 years ago. It operates commodities and derivates markets around the world. The combined company will have dual headquarters in New York and Atlanta.

And a warning for gift card shoppers, buyer beware, you know, the cards you buy, well, they could be riddled with fees. A survey by Bank Rate says all eight of the popular bank-issued cards charge purchase fees of nearly $7.

Only a few of the retail gift cards survey charge them and after at least a year the maintenance fees can begin eating away at the balance of the cards that go unused.

So the moral, bottom line, if you do get a gift card, you should spend it. You should actually use it and I know a lot of people, they are very, very popular this time of year, people stash it in a desk or drawer, don't know where it is, and it goes unused. So use those gift cards.

BLITZER: Good for the companies if we don't use that. We get to pocket the money for nothing.

SYLVESTER: Yes, it's something. It's tremendously popular, as you know. Everybody wants to give a gift card because it's easy.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

Whether or not the world comes to an end tomorrow, guess what, I'm betting it won't. There's a small village inn Mexico that's making a bundle of money on all the doomsday speculation. We're going there. Standby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm planning to be here tomorrow, but as you've probably heard by now, some people believe the world will come to an end on Friday. It's all based on the ancient Mayan calendar and it's proving to be profitable for a village in Mexico. Here is CNN's Nick Parker.

NICK PARKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, tourists are streaming in from buses to this ancient archaeological site. On Friday, the 21st, authorities estimate it will be something like 8,000 people, which will converge on (inaudible) tomorrow, the end of the Mayan calendar. As we found out, it's a money spender for the Mexican government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PARKER (voice-over): Surging crowd of tourists, countdown clocks in airports around the country. All part of an international marketing campaign, get around one date. This is one of the most iconic sites in Mayan culture. It was built more than a thousand years ago, but it's attracted more than 50 million tourists to Southeast Mexico in the last year alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're here near to a date that's going to be a big deal to a lot of people. I think it's very interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before we came, I thought according to the Mayans that it's the end of the world.

PARKER: Films like "2012" have helped spread the idea of an apocalypse. Mexico launched a campaign to capitalize on global speculation. It was the brain child of Gloria Guevara.

GLORIA GUEVARA, FORMER TOURISM MINISTER: Some people believe it's the end of the world and we believe and the Mayans believe it's the beginning of a new era. You have to come to Mexico to discover what is it.

PARKER: Mel Gonzalez also seeing the calendar as an opportunity, he opened a boutique hotel to the closest city to town.

MEL GONZALEZ, OWNER, JUDAMIS HOTEL: Tour operators are being creative. We can tell there's a lot of expectation. A few hotels in towns are giving discounts because it's the end of the world.

PARKER: Some Mayans have complained about the exploitation of their culture.

GUEVARA: They are very happy. They see the benefit because the nice thing about the tourism is that it shares the benefit with everyone.

PARKER: Others disagree. Alfonso Escobedo runs tours to Mayan communities and says the tourists dollars are going elsewhere.

ALFREDO ESCOBEDO, ECOTOURISM YUCATAN: Most of the money is spent in transportation and they don't owe taxes, hotels, restaurants. Here they don't have those services yet.

PARKER: Yet may be the word. They have sold out ahead of the date. The hope is that interest in the culture is long term. Assuming everybody survives December the 21st.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PARKER: Wolf, one statistic to throw at you, authorities estimated that since that marketing campaign began they generated something $50 billion in tourist revenue in southeast Mexico alone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Parker, thank you.