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Boehner Withdrew Fiscal Cliff "Plan B"; NRA to Hold News Conference Today; School Attack Inflames Gun Debate; Momentum Grows For Gun Control

Aired December 21, 2012 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me this morning. I'm Carol Costello.

We're watching four big stories in the NEWSROOM right now.

First, Speaker of the House John Boehner scheduled to hold a news conference on the fiscal cliff at any moment now. You're looking at the podium behind which he will stand. This comes after last night's devastating defeat of Boehner's fiscal cliff proposal known as Plan B. It was supposed to force President Obama to deal on the fiscal cliff, but it did not work. We're going to take you back to Washington as soon as Mr. Boehner begins speaking.

Wall Street already making its opinion known about the lack of a fiscal cliff deal because take a look at the Dow -- it is down 121 points so far this morning. The S&P and the NASDAQ also in the red.

Christine Romans is in New York with that part of the story. Not looking good.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It would be worse, Carol, quite frankly, if it hadn't been this quick announcement that Speaker Boehner was going to be talking to the press in just any moment right now.

COSTELLO: Christine, House Speaker Boehner is starting to speak. So we'll get back to you in just a second, OK?


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: -- not the outcome I wanted, but that is the will of the House. So unless the president and Congress take action, tax rates will go up on every American taxpayer and devastating defense cuts will go into effect in 10 days.

The House has already passed bills addressing the fiscal cliff. We passed a bill replacing the president's sequester with responsible spending cuts and did it last May. We passed a bill to stop all the tax hikes on the American people scheduled to take effect January the 1st, and we did that on August the 1st.

And we proposed plans over and over again that Democrats used to support, but now they won't. I don't want taxes to go up. Republicans don't want taxes to go up, but we only run the House. Democrats continue to run Washington.

What the president has proposed so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem. He wants more spending and more tax hikes that will hurt our economy, and he simply won't deal honestly with entitlement reform and the big issues that are facing our country.

We need significant spending cuts and real tax reform to address our long-term debt problem and pave the way for long-term growth and real growth in jobs in our country. We'll continue to work with our colleagues in the House and the Senate on a plan that protects families and small businesses from the fiscal cliff.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Again, I think we saw last night yet the next chapter in this saga of trying to resolve the situation of the fiscal cliff. It is clear that our conference has been consistent in its commitment to doing something about the spending problem in Washington and the mounting debt that has resulted.

We stand ready to continue in dialogue with this president to actually fix the problem. I hope that we see that our colleagues on the other side of the capitol can do likewise, can get serious to try and address the real problem of spending so we can get on about the business of growing this economy and get people back to work.


BOEHNER: Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, a lot of the argument that you made in favor of the bill that you pulled last night, the multitrillion dollar tax cut, rescue all but a fraction of taxpayers from a tax increase also would apply to the president's proposal. Are you willing to give the president's proposal a vote?

BOEHNER: The president and I had a series of conversations. I told the president on Monday these were my bottom lines. The president told me that his numbers, $1.3 trillion in new revenues, $850 billion in spending cuts was his bottom line that he couldn't go any further.

And so we see a situation where because of the political divide in the country, because of the divide here in Washington, trying to bridge these differences has been difficult. If it were easy, I guarantee you this would have been done decades before.

But we have to find a way to address this significant spending problem that we have and we need to find a way through tax reform to begin to grow our economy in a way that will create more jobs in our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what is the path forward? Are you going to be speaking with the president further and let me reinforce this question, are you ruling out putting on the floor for a vote the bill that passed in the Senate to extend all those tax rates for those -- BOEHNER: There is no Senate bill that's come to the House. As you all know, the Senate bill had a blue slip problem and it continues to sit in the United States senate so we don't have a Senate bill.

We do have a House bill that sits in the Senate that extended tax rates for all Americans, and we've been waiting since August the 1st for the Senate to act. If the Senate wants to act on that bill, we'll certainly take a look at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the path forward? Have you spoken to the president? Are you going to be speaking to the president in negotiations forward? What are we going to do now?

BOEHNER: I'm interested in solving the major problems that face our country, and that means House leaders, Senate leaders, and the president are going to continue to have to work together to address those concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Budget Control Act, there's a provision where after the sequester ordered on January 2nd, the majority leaders in both bodies can bring up a privileged resolution to shut off the sequester. Considering the dire nature of these circumstances, is that an option at this point and have you given consideration to that?

BOEHNER: I have not given consideration to it. We have a spending problem and we have to address it, and we're not going to address it by kicking the can down the road, which is what you're suggesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker Boehner, Mr. Cantor has suggested that the House would stay here until this job was done. They're obviously going home for Christmas. Are you giving up on your conference? Are you quitting?

BOEHNER: Absolutely not. Listen, I'm proud of our members. They do a great job on behalf of their constituents and frankly on behalf of our country, but what Mr. Cantor outlined last night is that the House would come back if needed. And we're prepared to come back if needed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, it sounds like you're walking away from talks with the president.

BOEHNER: No, no, no. Listen, I did not say that. Nobody is out to read anything into this. We've got differences, but the problem -- the country has got big spending problems, and we've got to get serious about addressing them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But this isn't the first time that something like this has happened during talks with the president. Why should he have faith that when you negotiate with him, that your members are behind you?

BOEHNER: Listen, the president knows that I have always been able to deliver on any promise I have made with him. The concern that I had is that time was running short, and the idea that taxes ought to go up on every American taxpayer I thought was wrong. Trying to address the tax issue I thought was very important to do it now so that we don't have taxes going up on every American and hurting our economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, are you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, you said here yesterday and expressed confidence that you were going to pass --

BOEHNER: Sure did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- that bill. What went wrong?

BOEHNER: There was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes. Now, I disagree with that characterization of the bill, but that impression was out there, and we had a number of our members who just really didn't want to be perceived as having raised taxes.

That was the real issue. Now, you know, one of my colleagues the other night had an analogy of 100 people drowning in a pool and that he was the lifeguard. And because he couldn't save any of them, does that mean he shouldn't have done anything?

And his point to them was if I can go in there and save 99 people that are drowning, that's what I should do as a lifeguard, but the perception was out there, and a lot of our members did not want to have to deal with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, given that you clearly do not have the votes to raise tax rates, are you willing to pass a bill, which the majority of Democratic support at this point.

BOEHNER: As I said, the House has passed a bill to extend all the current tax rates. We did it on August 1st. It's been sitting in the Senate. We passed a bill to replace "The Sequester." At some point the United States Senate has to do something.

And what we were trying to do this week was to basically jump start and try to kick into gear some action by the Senate to avert these tax increases going into effect on January 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, what impact do you think bringing up a bipartisan grand bargain that you could strike with President Obama would have on the future of our speakership?

BOEHNER: Well, listen, at some point, we're going to have to address the spending problem that we have, but we can't cut our way to prosperity. We need real economic growth, and many of us believe on both sides of the aisle the fundamental reform of our tax code will help us get our economy moving faster and put more Americans back to work and more Americans on the tax rolls.

How we get there, God only knows. All I'm telling you is that Eric and I and our team here are committed to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the capitol, and the White House to address that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, last week I asked you if you were concerned about losing your speakership, and you said you were not. In light of what happened last night, if you're not concerned, shouldn't you be?

BOEHNER: No, I'm not. Listen, you have all heard me say this, and I have told my colleagues this. If you do the right things every day for the right reasons, the right things will happen.

And while we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 percent of the tax increases, I don't think -- they weren't taking that out on me. They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes. Merry Christmas, everyone. Thank you.


COSTELLO: And to all a good night. Christine Romans is in New York. Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent, is at the White House right now.

But Christine, I want to start with you and the bottom line. I mean, political posturing aside, if we go off the fiscal cliff, everybody's taxes are going to be raised an average of what, between $3,000 and $4,000. And if the stock market continues to tank, no one will be able to retire until they're 92 years old.

ROMANS: Merry cliff-mas, Carol, to all a good night. I don't see a path forward here. That's what's so interesting about what you have here. We're right where we started. It's like Groundhog Day, only the movie was funny. This isn't funny.

This is two sides who can't get together, and you've got one side talking about spending cuts, the other side talking about taxes, and we're just right where -- we are literally right where we started, Carol, and you've got payroll processors who say it's already too late.

The IRS saying 30 million people could pay higher AMT and 100 million people are going to have tax refund delays. I mean, the fiscal cliff is already here and the politics are just maddeningly playing out in Washington.

COSTELLO: OK, so let's head to Dan Lothian because we heard John Boehner say that, you know, everybody is going to go home for Christmas and celebrate Christmas, but he'll still be open and ready to work if need be. What about the president?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, you know, White House Spokesman Jay Carney is saying that the president wants to make sure and his top priority is to ensure that taxes don't go up on the majority of Americans and a majority of small businesses.

And that the president will meet with Congress and is willing to meet with Congress in order to get some kind of bipartisan solution here, but as you've been talking about, there's not a lot of time left here to come up with any kind of bipartisan plan that will prevent the effects of the fiscal cliff.

The White House still believes that this offer that they have on the table is the best offer because the president came off of that $250,000 limit that he had for extending those bush era tax cuts, raising that to $400,000.

They still believe that that is where you work from. So we will be watching to see what the next strategy is, how the White House responds to this latest development up on the Hill.

COSTELLO: All right, let's head to Capitol Hill and Dana Bash. So John Boehner is the main negotiator here with the president. It's not clear that he can negotiate anything even with his own party. So what does this say about any deal down the road?

Dana, I think your battery in your microphone is dying. That's what it sounds like to me. So we're going to get back to you. We are going to take a break. We will be right back with more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: It's 16 minutes past the hour. Live this hour in just about 30 minutes, the National Rifle Association delivers its first on-camera comments on the school shooting rampage in Connecticut.

The gun rights group has been noticeably quiet in the week since the man armed with an assault rifle killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The tragedy has inflamed the debate over gun control. We'll have more on that coming up.

Again, we expect that NRA presser to begin in about 30 minutes. CNN's heavy hitters are on hand. Wolf Blitzer provides the analysis, Jessica Yellin the view from the White House and Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill.

Tom foreman is standing by in Washington. He will be inside that press conference. As we await the NRA's comments, a look back at how we got to this point.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Today, exactly a week ago at 9:30 in the morning the unthinkable happened.

LT. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: There were several fatalities at the scene, both students and staff.

COSTELLO: A man armed with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were police with rifles and handguns. They were on the roof. They were surrounding the school. They were going in through the roof.

COSTELLO: The emotion, the passion was unlike anything the country had experienced since 9/11. Perhaps it was because of the target and the victims, a school with children barely older than babies, and the teachers who were caring for them.

And it wasn't long before questions arose about guns in this country and whether a man like Adam Lanza should have had access to a military-style assault weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should be more gun control, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you think that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know, guns are in the wrong hands are very dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely should be a gun control issue and be no guns out there, you know, a lot of crazy people don't know how to handle guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that taking guns out of civilians who are good, contributing members of society are the answer.

COSTELLO: For days the most powerful gun lobby in the country, the NRA, has remained virtually silent. No official statements, nothing on Twitter, its Facebook page inactive. Enter the president and a plea that something had to be done.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers, and I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well and hopefully they will do some self-flexion.

COSTELLO: The NRA remained silent until Wednesday when it said it was shocked, saddened and heartbroken over the tragedy insisting it also wanted to make meaningful contributions to the gun debate in this country. Perhaps it was feeling pressure from its supporters, including Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), VIRGINIA: It's changed me. I don't know anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know people that need 10, 20, 30-round clips.

COSTELLO: It's unclear what the NRA means by the words meaningful contributions, but we know in the past the NRA has been loath to support any kind of gun control legislation.

In fact, in the past few years, its supported legislation that pushed through some of the most permissive gun laws this country has ever seen. You're allowed to carry a gun into a national park. You can transport a gun on Amtrak.

And the NRA fought the handgun ban in the nation's capital. But today it feels different. This time the NRA might not be able to exert its powerful influence over lawmakers because as we have heard so many times, after Newtown, it feels different. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Now more on today's NRA news conference. Wayne LaPierre will be speaking. He's the executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association. He began working for the group in 1978, took over the top post in '91.

LaPierre has been an outspoken hardliner on gun rights once saying Bill Clinton had blood on his hands for supporting gun control measures. Tom Foreman, CNN's Tom Foreman, covering the news conference.

He's on the phone because they just went through a security sweep in the room before people entered the room where Wayne LaPierre will begin speaking. Tom, tell us what that's like.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Carol. We just had a security sweep here. We're all getting re-established in the room right now and we're expecting not only Wayne LaPierre, but a bit of a surprise guest, the NRA won't say who it is, but somebody is going to speak here. We did not know.

I will note that a short while ago, the president of the NRA, Dave Keen, who is one of the most astute and involved political players for the NRA and has been for many, many years with top players in Washington. He's one of the point men on any sort of political debate about new gun legislation.

He came out promptly at 9:30 and asked everybody in the room to join in that moment of silence with the nation for the victims in Connecticut. So we're not sure yet what the NRA is going to say here. We don't know what their meaningful contributions will be as they've described it.

But everybody is quite eager to hear and clearly the NRA is girding itself for what could be a very long, protracted political battle going into the new year, at least for the time being could be competing with for headlines with the fiscal cliff.

COSTELLO: I know you have done some reporting on this. Does anyone have any idea what the NRA means by meaningful contributions to the gun control debate in this country?

FOREMAN: People have a lot of guesses. I don't know if that constitutes a good idea, but the guess is it tends to run along the idea of what we have been hearing on the state level.

A lot of talk about the notion that if you're going to address these problems of violence, it needs to be a more comprehensive view of that looks at things like mental health and poverty, and a whole lot of things that maybe involved the community will experience a lot of violence not just guns.

We don't know that, but that seems to be where the smart money is in terms of which direction the NRA may go with what they have to say today -- Carol. COSTELLO: All right, Tom Foreman reporting live from Washington. We understand the NRA has postponed its news conference until 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, so just about in 45 minutes Wayne LaPierre will take the stage with his surprise guest.

The nation hasn't seen this kind of momentum for gun regulation for years. Just look at the CNN/ORC poll taken after the Newtown shooting. A majority of people, 52 percent, say they support major restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal.

That is a change from the last three years and up 5 percent since August. In New York now is Dan Gross. He's the president of the "Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence." Dan, welcome.


COSTELLO: You are a gun control advocate. I just want to make that clear for everyone. What do you expect the NRA to say today?

GROSS: Yes, I don't think we know what they're going to say, and I don't think it's the right thing to kind of just speculate. I think we should talk about what we do know, which is that the overwhelming majority of Americans, including the overwhelming majority of gun owners and NRA members support sensible restrictions.

You know, you just showed a poll that said the number of Americans that support strict gun control, that's not the conversation. The conversation is around specific measures like criminal background checks on all gun sales, 74 percent of NRA members support criminal background checks on all gun sales.

And our message today is really to them, to the NRA members, you know, like President Obama said, NRA members are mothers and fathers, too, and we all grieve over this terrible tragedy and we all grieve over the 32 to 34 murders that happen every single day in our country, and there are things we can do about it and that's what we hope the NRA is going to focus on as well, but it's anybody's guess.

COSTELLO: I think it's been a long fight for you, and, frankly, you guys have not been very successful in getting gun legislation passed, and I think one of the reasons is that there's this fear that organizations like yours want to ban all guns, and most Americans are certainly not for that.

GROSS: Yes. The NRA, that's one thing they have been very effective doing, and, you know, we'll see if they continue trying to do that at this press event is painting anybody who wants to have a sensible conversation about what we can do -- every time President Obama has talked about this issue.

Every time I talk about this issue, we talk about the fact that the second amendment has nothing to do with things like criminal background checks. The second amendment can co-exist with sensible solutions to this problem. There was a poll that showed that 87 percent of NRA members agree that the second amendment -- COSTELLO: I understand that but, Dan, let me ask you this. We know what the message has been from the NRA, but what about your message? Is there something wrong with the message you're giving people that they don't understand and should your message change?

GROSS: No. Our message has been very consistent, especially over the last several months as this conversation -- as we have been convening this conversation among the American public that this is a conversation that the American public wants to have.

The American public is in support of these solutions, including the overwhelming majority of gun owners and NRA members and it's time that we start looking at this whole issue as, you know, what can we do as a nation to make this a better safer nation we need to be.

This is our message, the only place where this is a partisan political debate is in the halls of Congress and we have to expose that disconnect that exists between what the American people want and what our elected officials are doing about it, and that's our message.

And so what we intend to do is take the voice of the American people to the halls of Congress. To that point that disconnect has been allowed to exist. This is casting such a stark spotlight on that disconnect that it's going to change things.

COSTELLO: Dan Gross from the Brady Campaign. Thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

GROSS: Thank you.

COSTELLO: And, of course, we're keeping an eye on Washington where the head of the NRA will speak in about a half hour. And just by the way, we did invite several gun rights activists to come on our show.

Some declined, some did not respond to our request, including the NRA. We did have a gun rights advocate on in the 9:00 hours of NEWSROOM just wanted you to know. We're back after a quick break.


COSTELLO: My goodness, we have an abundance of breaking news this morning. We have just learned that President Barack Obama will nominate Senator John Kerry to be his secretary of state. So let's go to a man who really knows about these things, our own Wolf Blitzer. Good morning, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It's not a huge surprise. We've been expecting it now for the past few weeks, especially since Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew her name as a possible secretary of state. Hillary Clinton is going to be leaving in January. She's moving on.