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John Kerry Nominated as State Secretary; Day of Mourning in Newtown; NRA and Gun Control; Stephen Moore Talks Fiscal Cliff

Aired December 21, 2012 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Suzanne, thank you so much.

Hi, everyone, I'm Brooke Baldwin. Huge news day. A lot to get to, including the president's big announcement; you saw it here on CNN, moments ago: Senator John Kerry tapped to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

But he will have to go through Congress first. We're going to talk about that here in just a moment.

But we have to begin with this. Days of tears, days of debate, even some confrontation. The sounds of silence this morning spoke volumes as the nation and Newtown remember what happened one week ago today.


BALDWIN (voice-over): Only raindrops heard during this moment. Firefighters there in Newtown, paying tribute to 20 young children, 6, 7 years of age and those seven adults gunned down for reasons we may never know.

The reflections began at 9:30 am Eastern time; that is the precise time that first call came in. At least 29 states held a moment of silence, put flags at half-staff, even parts of the Internet went silent this morning. Video gamers put down their consoles in unity and bells across Connecticut state sounded for each killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.

At the Episcopal Church in Newtown, 28 tolls rang for each life lost, 28. That includes the shooter. When the bells were still, the remembrances began. One was just inside the capital building there in Connecticut.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see.


BALDWIN: Time of great sorrow, great unity, saw it in Newtown myself this week.

I want to go to my colleague, Poppy Harlow, who is there now for us live amidst the memorial that I know, Poppy, is growing and growing.

We saw the bells. We saw the services this morning. But just take me to Newtown. What was it like there at 9:30 this morning?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: It was silent, Brooke. It was still. And I'm so glad you played that whole song because as we listen to that from our location and people in this town stood here at this memorial, which has grown into blocks and blocks, they all stopped and they stopped for five to 10 minutes to remember those 28 lives that were lost as each bell chimed.

It was a moment I'll never forget. It was a moment when the president took time also in the White House to commemorate the moment with a moment of silence of his own. People across this country, across the world, 28 governors asked people in their states to also commemorate that moment.

So I think it was the one point when the entire country stood still behind the people of Newtown.

You know, people here woke up this morning, Brooke, to a letter from the first lady, Michelle Obama. She penned a letter to Newtown -- it was in the local paper here. And I want to read you part of it that I think is very eloquent.

The first lady saying, "Please know that every minute of every day we are thinking of you and praying for you and holding you and your families in our hearts as you begin the slow and wrenching work of healing and moving forward. "

And that's just beginning. I mean, this is so raw. Five more funerals still today. There's a memorial service being held across the street from where I am. We're seeing children, families coming here to look. We're seeing signs like this one that really stands out to me.

Sorry, hon. Little kids behind me.

But "We are Sandy Hook. We choose love."

And this makeshift memorial is so telling because, Brooke, it's grown across the street. It's grown blocks down from here and it is just continuing to grow day by day by day.

BALDWIN: It is the adults leaving the flowers, but it's also the itty-bitty children who are coming by, perhaps (inaudible) little ones of Sandy Hook, perhaps they didn't -- they know the story. You mentioned the letter from the first lady. I know it was the first thing I read this morning.

But we're also hearing from the president today. He also -- he has a message to Newtown.



This week I called on Congress to take up and pass common sense legislation that has the support of the majority of the American people, including banning the sale of military style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and making sure criminals can't take advantage of legal loopholes to get their hands on a gun.


HARLOW: So, Brooke, that is the debate that is going to rage, especially after that NRA presser today in Washington. But for this town, for this moment, for this day, it is not about that. It is very important, but it is about the people and the victims and remembering them and commemorating them in beautiful ways just like this one, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Absolutely, Poppy Harlow, thank you so much for us in Newtown.

Wasn't actually even a presser the NRA gave, it was a statement, no questions were answered afterward. But we do need to point out the NRA also held a moment of silence at 9:30 this morning today for those 20 children and the 6 adults slaughtered last Friday in Newtown's schoolhouse.

But hours later, the NRA spelled out its own plan to prevent similar massacres in the future. The message from Wayne LaPierre: put guns in every school now.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NRA: And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school he's already identified at this very moment?

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame? The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.


BALDWIN: That statement this morning from the NRA. It launched a blistering attack blaming tragedies like the Newtown massacre on dark sides of American culture and government.


LAPIERRE: Our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill, vicious, violent video games with names like "Bulletstorm", "Grand Theft Auto", "Mortal Kombat" and "Splatterhouse", blood-soaked films out there like "American Psycho," "Natural Born Killers". Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.


BALDWIN: LaPierre went on to blame the media for what we have been seeing in terms of mass murders. We'll talk to the media critic with "The Washington Post." He's standing by for that angle with me in just a moment.

But, first, Tom Foreman, want to go to you in Washington because, you know, we heard LaPierre speaking minutes upon minutes upon minutes about how it is uniquely prepared to help, train people, arm every school in the nation. I want to know from you, how is Washington reacting now to what he said today?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'll tell you something, Brooke, Washington reacts cautiously to anything the NRA says. And I'll tell you why. Yes, there is a national sense right now of people wanting to say we should do something about this and maybe some kind of gun laws would make a difference, as the president mentioned. There has been a slight tick in the polls in favor of that.

But, Washington is aware that, for about 20 years, public opinion has been running the other way. Gallup has tracked the fact that people have generally wanted less intrusion into gun laws by the government.

But, more importantly, there is this: the NRA became the NRA as we know it today by being very savvy about its politics. And the simple truth is, even if there is a national movement right now in favor of doing something, everyone in Washington knows that there is a long time between now and when such a law would actually will be considered.

And during that time, a lot of the public sentiment can die down and more importantly the NRA can work not just the national level, but their tremendous influence at the state and local level. And remember, all these Congress members, all these senators, they do not run as national politicians. They run in a state or in a district.

And what matters to them is how the people feel in their state or district. And what is driving these polls up right now, in large part, is a really tremendous outpouring of sentiment from, yes, some moderates in the middle, but also tremendously by people who already live in largely Democratic areas, places that already favor more gun control.

That probably makes very little difference to a lawmaker who comes from a state that does not feel that way, Brooke. So how does Washington respond? Cautiously, because they know the NRA wouldn't say this if they didn't have some muscle behind it.

BALDWIN: Well, speaking of caution, where was the security today? Were you watching this? I counted at least two protesters with huge sheets, you know, messages painted on them, you know, right in front of the cameras --


BALDWIN (voice-over): -- here is one. This is a second one --

FOREMAN: Well, they're actually right in front of me. That person --

BALDWIN: In front of you?

FOREMAN: Yes, I could have reached out with my left hand and touched her. And the one before her stood up practically on my shoes. He was in a seat two seats way from me. I saw him beforehand. I thought he was some reporter I did not know. There were a lot of reporters in the room, so we didn't know them.


FOREMAN: They actually had a lot of security there and they checked badges a lot and they seemed to be trying to keep track of everyone who came into the room.

I think a lot of us were surprised, first of all, that anybody managed to slip in and, secondly, it's surprising how long they were allowed to stand up there, frankly, before the security came in and grabbed them and dragged them off. That was sort of surprising.

At one point, one journalist said that he thought one of the protesters was going to say, well, I've said all I have to say and just leave because it took them so long for them to get up there and deal with them.

The real question a lot of people asked, though, frankly, was, you know, in terms of security -- and this is just a simple security issue -- if they stood up there that long waving signs and talking, you know, all of us were saying what if they were trying to do something worse? You know, it's just a tense time. And there are tense relationships in Washington right now around this whole issue for everyone involved. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

I want to mention something -- want to go back to a point we were making, the NRA today, ripped on the national media there, saying it turns shooters into celebrities with overblown coverage. The NRA also says the media is biased against gun owners.


LAPIERRE: Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonized lawful gun owners, amplified their cries for more laws, and filled the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking.

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave?


BALDWIN: We are the media. We cover Newtown. We are still in Newtown. I went there personally over the weekend. So I want to talk about this.

I want to bring in "Washington Post" media critic Erik Wemple.

And, Erik, welcome to you. Do you think the media contributes to these kinds of mass murders?

ERIK WEMPLE, WASHINGTON POST MEDIA CRITIC: I don't. I don't think the media contributes to these kinds of mass murders. I think that the research on this alleged nexus between media saturation and mass shootings is murky and sort of indirect at best.

And I think that the media does its job when it covers the mass murders. It is indeed unfortunate that, in a town like Newtown, you have hordes and hordes of international and national local press, climbing over everybody, interviewing everybody and even now you have a meta-sort of situation where you have people asking whether the people of Newtown, whether the media saturation is too much.

So that's -- that can get a little absurd.

But I do think that the media has a responsibility to cover these things. And absent an absolutely proven link between media coverage and mass murders, the media should go on doing what it's doing.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you about something else that Wayne LaPierre brought up, about, you know, violent video games and violent movies. We thought it was interesting.

I'm sure you saw that the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America chief, former Senator Chris Dodd, he made this rare statement, basically saying, we're ready to have a conversation. We now are ready to talk about violence in the movies.

What is your reaction to that?

WEMPLE: Well, I think, yes, I don't think there is any question that there should be a discussion and debate about all of this stuff.

And to a certain extent Mr. LaPierre was right in bringing some attention to violent videos.

Whether or not they result in mass killings, you know, I think just sort of looking at it from a common sense perspective, violent video games are not something that most parents in America are happy about.

So I think that the discussion should be joined just on that basis alone.

Now, there has been some discussion on Twitter and the media about Mr. LaPierre's mentioning of this game, "Kindergarten Killer", which he seemed to connect to a media problem in terms of how it doesn't cover video games.

And this was one game that has not actually been very popular and has barely even sold at the time. So, you know, there is a lot of distortion on both ends of these things and Mr. LaPierre obviously was very passionate about what he was saying, but I would be careful about taking it all at face value.

BALDWIN: We just try to cover the facts and do capital J journalism.

And by the way, speaking of video games, we're going to be talking to two youngsters, of all places, out of Newtown next hour, who are saying to fellow kids, let's stop playing these. So we're going to talk to them actually. I'm looking forward to that interview.

Erik Wemple of "The Washington Post", thank you very much.

And now this.

WEMPLE: Oh, pleasure.



BALDWIN (voice-over): Today, many video gamers calling a cease-fire to honor Newtown's victims. But I'll speak live with two kids who are quitting the games for good.

Plus, since John Kerry's on tap to be the next secretary of state, could this Hollywood power player take his place in Congress? We'll tell you about Ben Affleck's chances.

And Russian lawmakers vote to ban American parents from adopting their own. But the final decision is up to this man. The news is now.



DANA BASH, SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You stood here yesterday and expressed confidence that you were going to pass --



BASH: What went wrong?

BALDWIN (voice-over): You hear some laughter? This is the "CliffsNotes" version for you today on the fiscal cliff story: your taxes, my taxes, Warren Buffett's taxes, all set to rise the first of the year.

House Speaker John Boehner, you saw him right there, he has suffered a huge political blow here. And as Washington empties out for Christmas, the president needs someone to cut a deal with and very, very quickly, but the question is who?

Speaker Boehner seemed last night to take himself out of the game when he couldn't persuade his own Republican Party to compromise with him, to vote to raise taxes on the richest of the rich.

The Republican Right wouldn't do it, wouldn't do that for Boehner -- and keep in mind here, President Obama is demanding even more than Boehner is on taxes. So we ask again, what now?

Stephen Moore -- Stephen Moore writes for "The Wall Street Journal," he's also on the paper's editorial board.

Stephen Moore, welcome to you.


BALDWIN: The way Speaker Boehner seemed to put it, if we heard this correctly here, it is now up to the Democrats, the president, the Senate Democrats, you know, to craft this tax and spending plan, I should say, that can please the House Republicans, right, or we -- we're off the cliff.

MOORE: Well, you know, the amazing thing about this whole debate, Brooke, which has gone on now, what, five or six weeks since the election, was held in early November. The most amazing thing, here we are on, what, December 21st and we're no closer to a resolution than we were five weeks ago.

Yesterday was a setback for getting anything done. There's no question about it.

And you know, you raised an important point, Brooke, is that the House and Senate are basically adjourned. They're gone until after Christmas. And that leaves us, what, four or five days to settle this?

BALDWIN: Ticking, right? Right?

MOORE: Well, so -- pardon me?

BALDWIN: No, I'm just saying, time is ticking away.

MOORE: Yes, the clock is ticking and they don't get back until December 26th, December 27th.

Here is my prediction to you, Brooke. I think they're going to come to resolution on December 31, maybe a few hours before the stroke of midnight. But this is no way to deal with the budget crisis, you know.

It is amazing to think we're eight, nine, 10 days away from the beginning of the year and no investor, no business, no worker knows what the tax system is going to look like. So this has added a lot of uncertainty. You see the market is down today. I think everybody is very disgusted. BALDWIN: That's what I want to -- people are disgusted. I want to ask you specifically if the business community is disgusted. I mean, what is their feeling right now? If you're calling it, you're saying they're going to come together the 31st of the year -- the end of the year, I mean, what good is that going to do anyone?


MOORE: Brooke, that's the optimistic scenario. The pessimistic scenario --


BALDWIN: -- that's your optimism?

MOORE: -- do we go over the cliff, even by the end of December we don't have a solution here. I mean, I would say a lot of people are gambling right now that we are going to go over the cliff.

Look, here's my feeling about it. I think both sides deserve some blame here, but I think that the big problem has been the president hasn't really put -- I mean, when I talked to my -- some of my conservative Republican friends, what they're saying, Brooke, is the president just hasn't been serious in any of these negotiations about cutting spending.

And before we're going to raise taxes, we want some spending cuts on the table and, of course, the president says unless I get my way on taxes, so --

BALDWIN: We understand the back and forth. We understand the back and forth, but what about the business community? You know, what about -- let's look at the Dow, guys, right now. Let's pull up the numbers on Wall Street. You see it down 145 points. I mean, is this foreshadowing to what could become --

MOORE: Yes, this is -- this is bad news for investors. No question about it, I mean, because you don't -- there's complete uncertainty.

Now I think a lot of investors think the tax increase may even be worse because, remember, Brooke, I mean, this is an important point to remember, if they don't get a resolution by December 31, as you just put it, everybody's taxes goes up, not just Warren Buffett's taxes, not just Bill Gates' taxes, your taxes, my taxes, anybody who fills out a tax form is going to pay a tax increase.

And if you're in the middle class, by the way, we're talking about $2,500 or more a year. That's a big increase that the government's going to be taking out of people's wallets.

OK. Stephen Moore, thanks.

MOORE: I wish I had better news. Yes, Merry Christmas.

BALDWIN: Merry Christmas. "Merry Cliftmas," to quote our senior congressional correspondent. Stephen Moore, thank you, I guess.

MOORE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I want to let you know just minutes ago President Obama made his first move to put together his second term national security team. We saw a moment ago here on CNN he nominated Senator John Kerry for a role Kerry really has spent his entire career planning and preparing for as secretary of state. We will take a closer look at the Massachusetts senator's career next.


BALDWIN: President Obama nominates Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. You know the deal.


BALDWIN (voice-over): The rumors have been circulating for quite a while after a political firestorm engulfed U.N. Ambassador to the U.S. (sic), Susan Rice, who had been tipped as early favorite, really, for that job.

But today Senator John Kerry's endorsement was made official, President Obama nominating Kerry for one of the highest posts, really, in the world.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very proud to announce my choice for America's next secretary of state, John Kerry.

In a sense, John's entire life has prepared him for this role. As the son of a foreign service officer, he has a deep respect for the men and women of the State Department, the role they play in advancing our interests and values, the risks that they undertake and the sacrifices that they make along with their families.

Having served with valor in Vietnam, he understands that we have a responsibility to use American power wisely, especially our military power.

John, I'm very grateful that you've agreed to take on this new assignment. I'm confident the Senate will confirm you quickly.


BALDWIN: We know John Kerry is a veteran senator. We know he ran for president in 2004. CNN's Kate Bolduan takes a closer look at the man in the moment.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): His Senate colleagues have joked about his ambition, what many regarded as the worst-kept secret in Washington. Even in recent Senate hearings, John Kerry already sounded like he was looking ahead to his future job and the anticipated battles over the State Department budget with Congress.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASS.: That must change and in the next session of the Congress I hope it will.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): He wasn't the president's first choice. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice took herself out of the running after Republican backlash.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: It was unjustified to give the scenario as presented by Ambassador Rice.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Senator Kerry knows himself about being torpedoed by attacks, accused in his 2004 presidential run of lying about his military record in Vietnam --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): -- and criticized for his 1971 testimony opposing the Vietnam War.

KERRY: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Kerry was painted a flip-flopper and out of touch, unable to grasp the struggles of regular Americans. But Candidate Kerry did put President Obama, then an unknown politician, on the national stage at the Democratic Convention.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John Kerry believes that, in a dangerous world, war must be an option sometimes, but it should never be the first option.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Following the loss, Kerry immersed himself in foreign policy.

KERRY: We stand adjourned.

BOLDUAN: Now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he's been an unofficial envoy for President Obama, helping ease tension with President Karzai in Afghanistan, and helping mend strained relations with Pakistan after the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

KERRY: We are strategic partners with a common enemy in terrorism and extremism.

BOLDUAN: But Kerry's not totally in sync with Obama. He has supported limited military intervention in Syria, something the president has resisted. Over his 30-year career, Kerry has built deep relationships with many foreign leaders.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There are very few people in our country with greater experience over a longer period of time in foreign policy than Senator Kerry.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Perhaps Kerry's biggest challenge to date is not his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, but rather following in Hillary Clinton's footsteps who has become one of the most popular officials in the Obama cabinet, both here and abroad. Kate Bolduan, CNN, Washington.


BALDWIN: Kate Bolduan, thank you. Coming up next hour, we'll talk to Wolf Blitzer about the multiple names now, of course, being floated as Kerry's replacement in the U.S. Senate, including actor and humanitarian Ben Affleck.

Calls and e-mails to the hotline of "Autism Speaks" have gone up 130 percent since last week's shooting in Newtown. Coming up next, we'll talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta who will join me here in studio to explain Asperger's and address, apparently, all the questions that are out there now.