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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Fury of Winter's First Big Storm; GOP Doesn't Back Boehner; Michael Phelps: Athlete of the Year

Aired December 21, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The massive winter storm that hit the Midwest, it's now smacking into the Northeast. We're going to track the storm for you, straight ahead.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And another day, another big fat no deal for the fiscal cliff. We go live to Washington. The very latest details.

BERMAN: And Michael Phelps picked for the athlete of the year. This is a surprise. I mean, this guy, he never wins anything.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's really nice to have you with us this morning. It is Friday, December 21st. It is early, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And the fury of the winter's first major storm is making holiday travel very dangerous, if not if not impossible. This is on the Upper Midwest. And today, New England is expected to get slammed by that storm. At least seven traffic-related deaths in four states are blamed on this crazy severe weather.

As the storm barreled through the Plains and into the Great Lakes, more than a foot of wet, heavy snow fell in parts of Iowa and also in Wisconsin. There were hundreds of flights canceled right at the height of the holiday travel, as you very well know.

And check this out. Power lines sparking. Look at that. And snapping.

BERMAN: Holy -- wow.

SAMBOLIN: And the storm's worst, 400,000 power customers in the region had no electricity. That does not sound good. That number was down to 133,000 by yesterday afternoon.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano, you are very busy tracking it all at the CNN weather center in Atlanta. What can we expect today?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This storm moving east, and it's going to impact even more people. Millions across the East Coast in the form of wind and rain, which will slow down travel, also knock out some more power. But the snow continues to come down in many spots. The video just doesn't get old here. We're talking about blizzard conditions that impacted places yesterday across eastern Kansas, parts of Missouri and through Iowa where the huge car pileup was and across Wisconsin as well.

These are some of the numbers, 18.5 inches in Middleton, Wisconsin. Washington, Wisconsin, seeing 16 inches. Madison setting a record at 13.3. And Dubuque, Iowa, right there in downtown, over a foot of snow.

Massive, massive system. The white obviously indicating the snow. And that's spiraling back around through Chicago. Strong winds off Lake Michigan. Huge waves battering northern Indiana and Illinois coastline. This will continue to push toward the east. So, more snow coming down, although the heaviest amounts will begin to wind down, unless you live downwind of one of the Great Lakes. That lake effect snow will kick into gear.

New York, a messy, messy start to your day. Philadelphia as well. All up and down the I-5 corridor, getting into Boston, where it's a bit of a mix. And across, the snow continues to come down across parts of Chicago. So, winter storm watches and advisories are posted. But the I-95 corridor will be mostly in the form of rain today.

Big travel day, obviously, for the holidays. It's going to put the brakes on Chicago, New York, Boston, all the big Northeast airports -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. As lots of people are trying to travel to those locations, in and out. Thank you so much, Rob.

MARCIANO: You got it.

SAMBOLIN: So, joining us now to talk about the conditions in Chicago is Carmen Iacullo from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Good morning to you, Carmen.

CARMEN IACULLO, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (via telephone): Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: So, let's talk about the conditions right now. What's the situation there?

IACULLO: Right now, the temperatures are under freezing, so we're watching for freeze back conditions, the fact that the temperatures didn't decline until after midnight helped out a lot with the snowfall. And there was less accumulation. But there is blowing and drifting in the outlying areas. Chicago expressways are still wet, and people need to be cautious as freeze back will occur.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, you got to be careful what you ask for, right? There has been no snow in Chicago for so long. Then you kind of get pummeled by it. I know that we mentioned this morning that there was some devastating accidents across the region there. Have you had any in the area there? IACULLO: No, northeastern Illinois did not get the same snowfall and accumulation that was experienced to the west of the state.

SAMBOLIN: And, Carmen, and how do you think that the snow is going to affect travel for people? This is at the height of the season. A lot of people are traveling by car. What do you expect?

IACULLO: Well, listening to the predictions, the rain is heading east, so they need to be cautious and add extra time and just be careful out there.

SAMBOLIN: And how about black ice? Have you been suffering from that condition out there?

IACULLO: Sporadic, sporadic. Again, the temperatures held in the region I represent. So, it wasn't as bad as has been in the past. They should always be cautious.

SAMBOLIN: And no deadly accidents, right?

IACULLO: No.

SAMBOLIN: That's actually --

IACULLO: Fortunately.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, really, really good news. Hopefully, people are heeding the warning. Thank you.

IACULLO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Severe weather in Alabama uprooted a Mercedes dealership's massive billboard and sent it crashing into an SUV. Strong winds downed power poles and other debris damaged some 50 vehicles on this slot. Check it out. This weather system is really big. The offices there were hammered. Nearly every storm window at the dealership was blown out.

SAMBOLIN: And, of course, you can stay with CNN. We're not getting too far away from this weather system. We'll continue to track the storm throughout the morning and the day for you.

BERMAN: All right. So, there's no blizzard in Washington, but there was something of a political tornado overnight. An epic, epic defeat for House Speaker John Boehner, and with just 11 days to go before the nation falls off the fiscal cliff, there's an enormous amount of uncertainty. House members were sent home last night after the speaker was forced to cancel a vote on his plan B, which would have extended the Bush era tax cuts on incomes below $1 million.

You know, it was house Republicans who abandoned him. His simple statement read, "The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. Now, it's up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff." Wow! All right. So, CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser is in Washington. Paul, I do not recall a defeat like this for a sitting House speaker. This is a big deal.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: This is a very big deal. You could say this is a big black eye, a big slap in the face for Speaker Boehner. You know, he pushed plan B as a solution to prevent taxes going up for nearly all Americans.

And, John, politically, let's be honest, the move here was a hope to shift the blame, if there was no deal to avert the fiscal cliff, shift the blame from congressional Republicans to the Democrats and to the president. Well, none of that is happening now.

It also weakens the hand of the House speaker because he can't get the votes from his own caucus to raise tax rates on only millionaires.

Here's Steve LaTourette, the congressman from Ohio, a Republican. He spoke after the vote. He's a big backer of John Boehner. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: It weakens the entire Republican Party, the Republican majority. It's a continuing dumbing down of the Republican Party, and we are going to be seen for more and more as a bunch of extremists that can't even get a majority of our own people to support policies we're putting forward. That's -- if you're not a governing majority, you're not going to be a majority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: LaTourette is retiring after the end of this year. As for the House, they're gone now pretty much until after Christmas. That's where things stand in the House of Representatives, John.

BERMAN: So the speaker said it's up to the president to work with the Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid to get a deal done. Now, walk me how through this would work.

STEINHAUSER: You know, I wish I could. Speaking to our Dana Bash last night who covered all this on the Hill. There's a lot of question marks. The speaker did tell members of his caucus last night that he would try to continue to negotiate with the president. At the same time, the big question is what happens on the Senate side? Does the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid start getting involved? What about Mitch McConnell? How involved will he get?

Here's a statement from the White House last night after the failure of that -- or after the no vote. The White House said, "The president's main priority is to ensure taxes don't go up on 98 percent of Americans and 98 percent of small businesses. The president will work with Congress to get this done, and we are hopeful to find a bipartisan solution to quickly protect the middle class and our economy." Good luck on that. You know, the Senate, they're going to be here today. You've got the funeral service in Washington for the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. A lot of them go to Hawaii tomorrow for the funeral. The Senate will probably be back as well, John, after Christmas. But who knows what's going to happen.

BERMAN: Like you said, this is really uncharted territory. Who knows how this is going to shake down. All we know is there's 11 days left to figure it out.

All right. CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser in Washington, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Is this a lethal blow to Boehner, do you think?

BERMAN: I don't -- lethal may be going far. But it really does hurt him within his own party and particularly among the Tea Party Republicans. And the question going forward, as we head into the rest of the year is, can Speaker Boehner influence his own party, his own caucus in the House? This may weaken his position.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely crazy.

BERMAN: You know what looks a heck of a lot like the fiscal cliff negotiations? The hockey season. Are they going to play hockey at all? It's not looking good.

The NHL has now canceled games through mid-January because of the labor dispute. More than 600 games have been scrubbed. That's really half the league's entire schedule for the year. Players can decide today if they want to claim the lockout is illegal and sue owners. That's just one more step in this whole mess.

But they're not playing hockey right now. Who knows when they're going to play hockey again.

SAMBOLIN: Why not cancel the season?

BERMAN: Well, I think people would love it if they would work out some kind -- first of all, people only like the hockey playoffs to begin with. They get fixed themselves by the playoff, that's really a success for most hockey fans. That's up in the air right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So not that he need a career capper, but Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps has been named male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. Phelps edged out LeBron James. It's the second time he's been honored by the A.P. The 27-year-old Phelps retired after the London Games this summer where he won four gold medals and two silvers.

So, he finished his career with 18 gold medals and 22 overall. And that, my dear friends, is more than any other Olympian ever in history.

BERMAN: That's right. Like I said, you know, Michael Phelps, he never gets the recognition he deserves. SAMBOLIN: Poor guy.

BERMAN: Poor guy.

All right. You want to talk about an Olympian dealing with other issues? A three-time Olympian admits to doing a little escorting on the side. We'll tell you who after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 13 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

One week ago today, 20 kids and six adults were getting ready for school in Newtown, Connecticut. Those 26 innocents were gunned down in cold blood inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School. This morning, at 9:30 Eastern Time, the country is invited to observe a moment of silence along with Newtown.

There's been an endless procession of grief to remember all of these victims. Three more funerals will be held today. And this morning at 9:30 Eastern Time in Connecticut and across the entire nation, a moment of silence will be observed followed by the ringing of church bells. That will happen 26 times.

CNN's Poppy Harlow is live in Newtown, Connecticut. Good morning to you, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. You know, you see the volunteers behind me here, 5:00 a.m. in the morning, they're working, trying to keep this makeshift memorial beautiful for this town. It's one of so many that has sprung up across Newtown. And at 9:30 Eastern this morning, the world will be grieving and remembering with this entire community, that moment of silence will be felt around the world.

Also, you're going to hear church bells ringing across this town, 26 to 28 times for all of the victims. The president himself, the White House says, will also observe a moment of silence at 9:30. Governors from across this country, from Pennsylvania to Florida, have asked all of the people in their state to stop for one moment and remember all of the victims of Newtown.

This is just one week, just one week since this tragedy. The pain here, I can tell you, I've been here all week, it is raw. It is still so real, as you mentioned -- three more funerals today. Some for the child victims.

So, you can't put into words the grief here. But they will be remembered today in a very beautiful way.

SAMBOLIN: You mentioned, Poppy, that the bells will be ringing between 26 and 28 times. There's been a lot of controversy about whether or not in all of this grieving, you include the shooter and his mother. HARLOW: It really depends which church or which entity is ringing the bell. Some will ring them 26 times for the 20 children that were killed, the six adults at Sandy Hook. Some will ring them 27 times to include Nancy Lanza. Some will ring them 28 to include Adam Lanza.

Michelle Obama penned a letter that I want to tell our viewers about in the local paper today that everyone will see when they wake up. I want to read you an excerpt from that letter, because she said her heart grieves, aches for all of these families. She is a mother of two. She understands the pain.

But she also said, Zoraida, that she was so touched by the outpouring of support from the first responders in Newtown, from everyone who has helped in this community. And that really stood out to me in the letter that the first lady wrote to the local paper here. And again, that will be one of the things that greets this community this morning -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Really appreciate that. Thank you so much, Poppy -- live for us in Newtown, Connecticut.

HARLOW: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: And a group of gamers planning a ceasefire for online shooters today to honor the Newtown shooting victims. This was organized by the head of Gamer Fit Nation Antwand Pearman. He's calling on all gamers to put down their controllers and stop firing virtual bullets in order to remember those who were killed by real bullets in Newtown a week ago.

BERMAN: I think that's a really interesting tribute.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it's really great. You know, I was talking to a mom yesterday in Newtown who said, you know, that the shooter, that she looks at him, she says what helps her get to this is she looks at him as a disabled little boy. And she was a teacher once upon a time. She said, we have to include him. We can't leave him out. It's an interesting perspective because I know it's caused a lot of controversy.

BERMAN: It's hard for a lot of people.

SAMBOLIN: It is. It's very difficult.

BERMAN: All right. Seventeen minutes after the hour right now.

A lot of other news going on. Let's go to Christine Romans for the headlines.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Let's talk about this big winter storm. Parts of New England now preparing for a bitter start to the holiday weekend. The deadly winter blast that barreled through the Upper Midwest heads there today. At least seven traffic related deaths in four states are blamed on the storm. Severe weather also snarled air travel. Hundreds of flights had to be canceled at the height of holiday travel. Three-time Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton said depression led her to be a $600 an hour prostitute. She said that that's huge mistake, but she says she never thought anybody would find out. Hamilton has admitted fell on purpose in the homestretch in her 1,500-meter race in 2000 Summer Games when she realized she couldn't win the gold medal.

Times are tough even if you just won re-election. President Obama is scaling back his inaugural celebration with just two official inaugural balls following a swearing in ceremony on January 21st. It's the fewest number of inaugural parties in 60 years. The president had 10 in 2009 after his first-term victory.

The shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, have inspired a new trend on social media, 26 acts of kindness. It began with NBC News correspondent Ann Curry suggested her followers could perform acts of kindness to honor the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The #26acts is now trending. And a new Facebook has received 50,000 likes of people posting pictures and description of their various acts of kindness. That's really sweet.

SAMBOLIN: Some good things have really come out of this. So, I'm happy to see that. Thank you so much, Christine.

BERMAN: I have seen to many people on twitter talking about this, the 26 acts of kindness.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

All right. It is 18 minutes past the hour. It's time for your "Early Reads", it is your local news making national headlines.

And a Newtown boy asked kids to dump the violent video games. Here he is, 12-year-old Max (ph), with the help of his father, is setting up a bin outside the Newtown Youth Academy Sports Center. He is encouraging kids to dump their violent video games in there, and he's leading the way. He's calling his campaign "Played Out."

Max says he's an avid "Call of Duty" player and he doesn't think it affected him in a negative way, but says that everything now has changed after the shooting in his hometown.

BERMAN: I think that makes a lot of people think twice about videogames.

SAMBOLIN: Really reflect and reflect on what you can do to make a difference.

BERMAN: Also, in "The Washington Times," the U.S. on alert for Islamist anger with the release of "Zero Dark Thirty." That's the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The film depicts some really harsh interrogation tactics that the film claims were used on Muslim detainees as the CIA try to track down the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden, including waterboarding and a detainee being stripped naked in front of a female CIA officer.

A senior defense official tells "The Times," the U.S. doesn't expect violent protests like the ones we saw after the "Innocence of Muslims" film. But U.S. forces, they say, are always on alert.

And for an expanded look at all our top stories, head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart. And, of course, you can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook, just search for EarlyStartCNN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So you're looking at New York City right now where the weather is not nice. I believe the scientific term for it is foggy and nasty and gross.

SAMBOLIN: I kind of liked it this morning. I felt this burst of fresh air.

BERMAN: You're a strange thing.

All right. Twenty-three minutes after the hour. We're minding your business this morning. We could see a selloff in stocks today when markets open later this morning. U.S. stock futures are down sharply more than 1 percent for all three major indices.

SAMBOLIN: Guess what's to blame?

ROMANS: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: It's because of the impasse on the fiscal cliff talks in Washington.

ROMANS: And foggy, nasty, and gross is also the scientific term for what's going on in Washington, because that's what you're going to see probably on Wall Street this morning. I mean, I'm suspecting we're going to get, have a triple-digit decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. World markets all reacting to the fact that John Boehner's plan B failed.

You're not back at square one, look, because they've laid the ground work for both positions. But, you know, it's difficult here. We're at the end of the road. You've already seen basically fallout from fiscal cliff.

And let me tell you what you've seen. You've seen tax refunds, they will likely be delayed. We've already warned about this. Payroll processors have already said they needed to start making changes last week to make sure they could keep up with any changes to payrolls. And, you know, last week is gone.

Gift giving, by the way, has soared because rich people -- and I don't know any of them personally in my family -- but they're giving money away early so that they can avoid any higher taxes on those, and early stock dividend payouts from companies. Also, when you look within, you know, the economic (INAUDIBLE), you see that companies are spending less on software and equipment because they're just waiting to see what happens with fiscal cliff.

So this is a serious deal. You're going to see it today. You're going to feel it in the stock market.

I also want to talk about the run on guns. We saw it immediately after Newtown. It is intensifying. Gun shop owners across the country are saying they're selling out of these tactical-style rifles.

I want you to listen to what Ron Rando, a gun shop owner in Newton, Connecticut, told CNN affiliate WTIC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON RANDO, RON'S GUNS STORE OWNER: I could sell more if I had them. I sold all I had. There was a kid come in here yesterday, grabbed an AR-15 off the shelf, walked over and laid it down. I mean, that thing costs 1,200 bucks. And he didn't even hesitate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: He didn't hesitate. Across the country no one is hesitating. That's in Newtown, Connecticut.

Listen to what Rommel Dionisio, a guy who studies Wall Street for a living and studies these companies for a living, told me about what you're seeing, this push toward this kind of a weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMMEL DIONISIO, SENIOR VP OF EQUITY RESEARCH AT WEDBUSH SECURITIES: More than offsetting, yes. There's been a sharp consumer preference shift in the last several years to tactical rifles, modern supporting rifles from the traditional bolt-action rifles, hunting rifles, yes, because of their -- they're lightweight, they're easy to shoot, ergonomically superior and they have a high capacity -- very same reason why the military uses these types of firearms. The consumer likes them as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: They're literally flying off the shelves right now. Some places can't keep them in stock. The whole point, of course, is that gun owners, gun aficionados, think there's going to be some sort of future restrictions on these sort of guns because Newtown. And Rommel Dionisio said it, too, Newtown is different. It changed the way America is thinking about these sorts of weapons.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: It is 26 minutes after the hour right now.

And Mariah Carey's voice and the U.S. embassy in Poland -- not two things you'd expect to go together. Well, it happens. Call it, call it a Christmas miracle. We'll have the story after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)