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Winter Storm Stalling Holiday Travel; House GOP Says No to Plan B; Interview With Rep. Michael Burgess

Aired December 21, 2012 - 05:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're tracking this massive winter storm for you this morning. Just ahead, we have the latest path of the storm and where it is headed next. Those are live pictures from Cleveland. Look at those snowflakes. Nice and large. We're going to go there live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. So, it was not a good night for Speaker Boehner or in fiscal cliff negotiations. So, while you're walking around the Christmas tree next week, Congress could be up to their ears in talks.

SAMBOLIN: And a little bit later here on CNN, profiting after a tragedy. Wal-Mart sells out of assault rifles in some of its stores around the country.

Welcome back. Good morning to you. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. It is 31 minutes after the hour. It's great to see you here. The weather is just raining here, but in a lot of parts around the country, it is just awful. The fury of the winter's first major storm is making holiday travel dangerous if not completely impossible in the upper Midwest.

And today, New England is expected to get slammed by the very same storm. At least seven traffic-related deaths in four states are blamed on severe weather as this storm barreled through the plains and into the Great Lakes. More than a foot of wet, heavy snow fell in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin.

Hundreds of flights canceled right at the height of the holiday travel season, right at the beginning when it's kicking off. And check this is out, this is some amazing picture. Power lines sparking and snapping. You can hear it. Wow! At the storm's worst, 400,000 power customers in the region had no electricity.

That number is actually down to 133,000 by yesterday afternoon but still bad. Meteorologist Rob Marciano is tracking it all for us from Atlanta. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, John. Yes. Bad timing as far as the holiday travel schedule is concerned. This is a big, big storm. And you mentioned the heavy, wet snow that's been piling up over a foot and a half in some spots here at Middleton, Wisconsin; Hartford, Wisconsin seeing 16 inches, over a foot in Dubuque, Iowa, as well.

The wind is the other big concern. Still blowing, although, the snow is beginning to wind down in Chicago. They finally broke their streak of snowless days at 280 or 290. Either way, it was a record-breaker. Not a whole lot of snow in Chicago, but you go just north of there in Wisconsin, and that's where it all piled up.

The winds are gusting in New York as well. It's going to be mostly a rain of them for the I-95 corridor, but the winds are going to be a problem. At St. Louis yesterday at the airport, 67-mile-an-hour wind gusts, in Defiance, Ohio, 55, La Crosse 40. Right now, it's blowing in Ohio. And the temperatures feel like wind chills are in the teens.

In Dayton alone, it's blowing at 40 miles an hour. So, that's the blowing snow is causing serious bad travel conditions. And again, mostly rain here across New York, but the airports are going to be a mess, plus pounding on the roadways. So, get where you have to go today, but pack your book of patience as we like to say

BERMAN: Be careful. All right. Rob Marciano in Atlanta, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: They can watch us at the airports, right?

BERMAN: That's right. We're having to see --

SAMBOLIN: 24/7. 24/7. That's right.

Thirty-three minutes past the hour. Parts of Ohio are bracing for up to eight inches of snow. This is over the next 24 hours, but the major concern there is high winds. Forty-five-mile-an-hour gusts are possible.

Victor Blackwell is weathering the storm from Cleveland. Those are some big snowflakes.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are big snowflakes. And this is coming. The storm is coming. These flurries started about 3 1/2 hours ago, but so far, no accumulation. The winds that Rob just talked about, occasionally, we get a pretty strong gust, but nothing that's consistent that will stop the traffic at Cleveland- Hopkins International Airport.

We checked with them. No major delays. No cancellations from overnight into this morning, but there have been some cancellations. We know hundreds of them, and delays, up in the Midwest because of this storm. City officials here are watching this very closely as John said a few moments ago.

Seven deaths across four states blamed on this storm, including two in Iowa. On Wednesday, there was the blinding snow that caused a 30-car pileup. And we know that two people died in that storm. We just checked this morning. About 13,000 customers in Des Moines still without power on this very, very cold morning.

Here in Cleveland, city officials know that this will get worse as the day goes on and as we go into Saturday. The mayor says that the city is prepared with more than 100 drivers with the trucks, 50 trucks going around the clock to get snow off the roads once it starts to accumulate. And there are 22,000 tons of salt to clear the roads.

So, yes, big snowflakes. The wind right now is kicking up. And they know that this winter storm, as we go in to the first few hours of winter, will get worse -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Victor Blackwell, we're going to continue checking in with you. Thank you.

And of course, you can stay with CNN. We're not getting too far away from this weather system. We're going to continue to track the storm throughout the morning and throughout the day and bring you all of the latest details.

BERMAN: We're also tracking all the developments in Washington. It could be back to Plan A for Speaker Boehner or just plan panic. This after his own Republicans deserted him in his Plan B legislation that will extend Bush era tax cuts for those making under $1 million. Republicans largely shunned the cameras after they left last night at the Capitol.

Now with just 11 days to go until the nation hits the fiscal cliff, the question is, what now, where, how, and with whom is a deal ever going to be made? I'm joined now by Congressman Michael Burgess. He's a Republican from Texas. He's also a medical doctor. He's the chairman of the Congressional Health Caucus. Good morning, sir.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: Good morning. How are you all?

BERMAN: Were you in that room last night? I mean, the question so many of us have right now is what on earth happened?

BURGESS: To short answer to your question is yes, I was in the room. I don't know the answer to the longer question that was your follow up. It was unlike anything I have seen in my brief ten years here at the nation's capitol. I will tell you it was not what I expected. I've been in these situations before where there's a tight vote and a last-minute conference is called.

Generally, it is to whip people into shape sort of thing, but this was not that. And, I do wonder, you know, this whole thing being developed off in a room somewhere where no one was involved from the Congress. That's what's tricky about this. And then you come back within two days, three days' time, you've got to sell it to people. You know, it's something that you show the deal to me and it's, no, that's not something I could be for.

I will tell you this. I spent the last 48 hours talking to people at home and talking to Tea Party leaders, talking to municipal leaders, state leaders and just regular rank-and-file folks. And, their comments to me were always the same. They would say, stay strong. And I would say, what do you mean by that?

They would say, well, don't cave. Well, what does that mean? They said, well, cut spending and that is, you know, the bottom line message that everyone delivered to me. I said, OK, but we're not talking about spending. This is the tax piece. And when I would explain things like the permanent relief from the alternative minimum tax, the certainty of tax rates for everyone who earned under a million dollars a year.

Actually, people began to listen to that and say, well, you know, that's not so bad. But I guess with the timeline involved, the speaker and the House leadership just did not have time to develop that story. And you know, here's the news flash for you. We don't always communicate that well on the Republican side.

BERMAN: Wow. So, you think it's a lack of communication. It's fascinating to hear you talk about being right in the middle of this confusion, even having a hard time communicating to your own voters about it. Let me give you a couple of different takes on what went on and what went wrong. The first is from "The Wall Street Journal."

Its editorial board this morning writes, "With a narrow deal on taxes, Mr. Boehner figured he could live to fight another day on spending, but it's a measure of the mistrust the president has engendered that many Republicans didn't want to give up even this much on taxes in return for nothing at all."

That's "The Wall Street Journal" today. Is the president to blame here or is this more an issue of Speaker Boehner not being able to get his own Republicans in line?

BURGESS: Well, I don't know if it's a case of the president being to blame, but this is clearly what the president wanted, and that's been obvious to me for some time. The president has wanted the tax increases that are going to start on January 1st. He's wanted the cuts to defense that are going to kick in with the sequester.

He'll come back and protect some of the cuts that are on the domestic side, but I really believe this is what the White House has wanted all along. I've talked to more senior members in the past couple of days, people who've served with five presidents. And they said they've never seen a president not engage on something with this much importance. And I think that's telling.


BERMAN: The president has proposed tax cuts, you know, raising taxes only on those making $400,000 or more. He's also talked about significant changes to the CPI, which would change Social Security benefits, reducing them over the long term. So, he has made some proposals here.

BURGESS: Very, very limited bits and pieces. You know, I don't remember LBJ. I wasn't up here when he was president, but I remember him from back in Texas. He was famous for getting the opposition on the phone and wearing them down. I mean, the president has a lot of power. And unfortunately, in this case, it was only between him and the speaker.

And that really was -- again, it was -- that was a difficult part of this. These types of things should happen in our hearing rooms, on C- Span. You all should be able to cover them. It shouldn't be in some secret room down the White House. Very difficult job for the speaker to go down there and go up against the full majesty of the president of the United States and expect to come out a winner.

BERMAN: Let me give you one more take on what happened last night. This comes from a Republican Congressman, Steve Latourette of Ohio - granted, he is leaving Congress soon, but this is how describes what happened.


REP. STEVE LATOURETTE, (R) OHIO: It weakens the entire Republican Party, the Republican majority, and it's the 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 that we're putting forward. If you're not a governing majority, you're not going to be a majority.


BERMAN: Your reaction?

BURGESS: Well, look, very, very difficult for the Republican House to be a governing majority in many ways. In 2010, the voters sent us a majority in order to be a restraining order on the Obama administration and some of their policies they'd done in the first two years of the first Obama administration.

You know, the president has a choice. If he wants that to continue for these next two years, then he very much can have that. At the same time, I do think the president is going to have to show presidential level leadership, not partisan leadership. And that's what we've seen these past couple weeks. But he is going to have to engage with members of Congress.

He can't keep shutting us out. And remember, there are 435 House members. Look, I don't know what will happen next. I rather expect Harry Reid will send something back over to us. But remember, tax bills have to originate in the House of Representatives. This is going to be a tough slog. You know, maybe there's some good news in all of this, though.

The fact that the deficit is so high and the deficit is what is the most destructive feature in our future, the president has talked about wanting to go back to the Clinton tax rates. Well, now, he gets every one of them. The problem is, you also have Obamacare taxes heaped on top. So, those people who see their dividend taxes go from 15 percent to 44 are in for quite a shock on January 2nd.

BERMAN: Congressman Michael Burgess, I really do thank you coming in and talking to us this morning. A confusing morning, epic in many ways. Thanks for joining us. BURGESS: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: And in other news this morning, Wal-Mart is selling out of assault rifles at some of its stores. I want to repeat that because this is incredible. Wal-Mart is actually selling out of assault rifles, this after 26 people were slaughtered with an assault rifle in Connecticut. That story after this quick break.


BERMAN: So, while public opinion appears to be shifting some on gun control in the immediate aftermath of Newtown, Wal-Mart stores are selling out of some rifles. According to Bloomberg, searches for five kinds of semi-automatic rifles on Wal-Mart's Web site showed them out of stock at stores in five states.

You can't buy them online, but you can see if they are available in your area. Rival, Dick's Sporting Goods, suspended sales of modern sporting rifles this week. The Wal-Mart's spokesman said the chain plans to continue to sell guns, quote, "safely and responsibly."

SAMBOLIN: So, this women that you are about to see are not mad, but they do want war. It is a group of mothers motivated by the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They're banding together to push for stronger gun laws.

They want their group, Women Against Assault Rifles, or W.A.A.R., to have as much effect on gun legislation in America as a group, M.A.D.D., has had on drunk driving laws. I met up with the group of these motivatred mothers yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never cried so much, never. They would not let me go to her school. They would not let me take her out. They could not answer the phone. We had no idea what was going on.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Mita Thomas (ph) is not a Sandy Hook mom. Her nightmare happened just three days after the massacre when her first grade daughter's school in Richfield, just 20 miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary, was locked down after someone reported a suspicious man dressed in black wearing a mask and carrying what appeared to be a rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never felt so helpless. And, when I could finally get her, I only now understand what those parents in Newtown must have felt. And it is something that should never, should never happen to a parent.

SAMBOLIN: The threat turned out to be nothing. A masked man was arrested, but he was carrying an umbrella, but that scare has propelled Mita, founder of the parenting Web site, City Moms Online, even further into her mission to end gun violence, a mission that began on December 14th, the day of the Newtown tragedy.

Mita rallied her subscribers to take action, to strengthen the nation's gun laws.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do know that a couple of our subscribers have nieces and nephews that were -- that passed. People in our organization are going to funerals every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's power in numbers and emotion. And, this feeling that we have to protect not only our families, because we can sit here today and say we're lucky, but we might not be lucky next month. We might not be -- and this cannot be a trend that continues.

SAMBOLIN: But how to make our children safe, that's a dialogue these moms continue to have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me, a gun is not a foreign object, which I feel like maybe to some of you guys it is. That doesn't mean that I think that it shouldn't be limited and there shouldn't be limits placed on what is sold and what people are allowed to own. There really is no need for an extended capacity magazine. Anything bigger than a standard clip, I don't get it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that's an enormous and very important first step, but I think there's so many steps beyond that. I think the real -- the formula for me that I see in my brain as very clear, less gun availability equals less gun violence.

SAMBOLIN: But what they do agree on is a federal ban on assault rifles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all have very young kids. There are more kids coming into this world, and we still have a lot of time to fix it, to put in a lot of effort and to put in resources to put our voices together to leave them a better place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not a one-month fix, it's not a one-year fix. This is a decade-long fix. And sure, one week after this tragedy, we're all still shaking. But how are we going to keep this discussion, how are we going to keep it sustained for the next six months, for the next year to make sure that our politicians know that this is not going to just go away come next election time.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): The members of W.A.A.R., Women Against Assault Rifles, which was actually just officially started yesterday, have already been taking decisive action. They're meeting with Connecticut congressman, actually met with Jim Himes to discuss new legislation and the Brady campaign also to organize a million moms march in Washington, D.C.

This is what they have scheduled. They have a march planned on March 14th in Hartford, Connecticut. That will be the three-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting. And ladies -- I say ladies because this is a movement of women -- to find out more about W.A.R., you can check out their Web site,

Women across the country have had a very visceral response to this, right? And it was palpable in that room. This organization has 5,000 women, strong. They're trying to make it a national organization so they can have the same kind of impact that M.A.D. had on this country.

BERMAN: And they want to take action right now.

SAMBOLIN: Right now. And they know it's a long-term commitment. They totally understand that as well. I wish them all the luck in the world.

BERMAN: It is -- it's 50 minutes after the hour right now. I want to give you a little news that will make you smile this morning. Check out these clever high schoolers who helped a classmate's dream come true. She's legally blind. She wanted to know what driving a car is like, and they helped make it happen.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-three minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with our top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right. Big snow storm, folks, in part of New England preparing for a better start to the holiday weekend.

A deadly winter blast has barreled through the upper Midwest, heads there to the Northeast today. At least seven traffic-related deaths in four states are blamed on this storm. The severe weather also snarled air travel. Hundreds of flights had to be canceled right now at the height of holiday travel.

The House is in recess this morning, not back until after Christmas. The fate of negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff up in the air. House members were sent home after Speaker John Boehner suffered a major political defeat, forced to cancel a vote on his so-called Plan B, which would have extended Bush era tax cuts on incomes under $1 million. He lacked support from Republicans and worldwide markets are down on that this morning.

Feel good story right now. It's every high school kid's biggest holiday wish, a license to drive. Well, students at one school in Washington State made that wish come true for one classmate, even though she's legally blind. Ali (INAUDIBLE) is legally blind after a rare eye disorder gradually erased her vision.

She's only able to see tiny lights. So, her senior class strung Christmas lights transformed the school parking lot into a driveway, guided by a driver's ED teacher, Ali drove for the first time on her 18th birthday.

Isn't that cool?

BERMAN: Awesome. Good for them.

SAMBOLIN: We're always talking about teenagers and, you know, the terrible things they do. And look at that. That is incredible. I love that. ROMANS: Random acts of kindness. We like it.

BERMAN: Check this out.


BERMAN: This is diplomacy at work, ladies and gentlemen. U.S. Ambassador Steven Mull and his staff at the U.S. embassy in Warsaw in Poland are wishing everyone Happy Holidays with this video. They're awesome. U.S. and Poland staff members joined in their own video viral version.

This is Mariah Carey's version of "All I Want For Christmas Is You." I like their video, much more than Mariah's. This has received more than 100,000 hits on YouTube, so far. Look at that. They have moves at that embassy.

SAMBOLIN: They know how to have a good time, huh?


SAMBOLIN: So much fun.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Fifty-five minutes past the hour. But first, from stocking up to hooking up.


SAMBOLIN: How people are spending their last day on earth? I'm working.

BERMAN: That's right.



SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with Mr. John Berman. We're taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning. It's a big one.

BERMAN: And nothing is bigger than this. Apocalypse now. That's right. Today is the day the world is actually supposed to end according to some people's interpretations or misinterpretations of the Mayan calendar. Even though NASA and many experts say they're nuts, you know, the world we don't think will end today as the case may be.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know. You just never know. It's not the end of the day yet. Like we said, it's December 21st, and we're still here, at least for now. The late night comedians had some fun with the end of the Mayan calendar, that is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": By the way, ladies and gentlemen, according to the Mayan calendar, Friday is the end of the world. I think starting a little early.


LETTERMAN: Friday is the end of the world, and I was thinking about this. You know what? There is a sign of the apocalypse. Here's a sure sign of the apocalypse. The New York Knicks are in first place. I'm telling you, that's not the end of the world.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Boy, it was cold. It was snowing in Nevada last night. You know that? They got snow out here. It was so cold. I was shivering like a Mayan heading for the fiscal cliff. That's --


LENO: It doesn't make any sense, really.

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Now, I hate to be a buzz kill, but according to the Mayans, the world is ending tomorrow.

Of course, for me, it ended with the series finale of "Gossip Girl".


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Well, guys, here's what's going on. After three years and six seasons, the final episode of "Jersey Shore" aired tonight.


FALLON: Or, as the Mayans put it, so we're off by one day.