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NRA Under Fire; Interview with Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Obama to Make Statement on "Fiscal Cliff"; Obama Taps Kerry as Secretary of State; Fiscal Cliff Blame Game; Shedding Light on Asperger's; Washington Honors Daniel Inouye; Russian Lawmakers Pass U.S. Adoption Ban; Massive Storm Moving Across U.S.; Church Bells Ring for Newtown; Children Reach Out to Newtown

Aired December 21, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a deluge of criticism after the NRA calls for armed security guards in every single school in the United States.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.


BLITZER: This hour, we get reaction from the head of the Democratic Party, the Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Also, House Republicans in disarray. The speaker, John Boehner, heads home with no deal on the fiscal cliff and not enough support for his own so-called plan B. But now what?

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

We begin with the National Rifle Association's defiant rejection of any gun restrictions in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings. Instead, the NRA is calling for armed security guards at every school, every school in the country.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now.

You were at that speech that Wayne LaPierre gave today announcing the NRA's reaction to what happened a week ago today. Tell our viewers how it went.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, they kept a very low profile in the days immediately after the shooting. They typically do that, but today they came out to say they had some things to say and they sure did.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Despite protesters, the president and public opinion increasingly pushing against the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association sent a sharp message through its leader, Wayne LaPierre: No retreat.

LAPIERRE: 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.

FOREMAN: In a wide-ranging statement, LaPierre condemned the violence in Connecticut, Colorado, and other places, but steered the blame decisively away from guns or gun law, indeed accusing Washington of rank hypocrisy for relying on armed guards to protect the president and Congress, while calling such actions inappropriate elsewhere.

LAPIERRE: Yet, when it comes to our most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless.

FOREMAN: While promoting a plan to recruit and train volunteers as a part of what the NRA calls a national safety shield program, LaPierre also lambasted legislators who have put laws into place restricting guns around schools.

LAPIERRE: And in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The NRA has blood on its hands.

FOREMAN: Despite twice being interrupted by protesters, LaPierre went on to attack the media for making killers famous in the news and glorifying them in movies and video games.

LAPIERRE: A child growing up in America today witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. 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?

FOREMAN: Almost certainly, part of this muscle flex was to remind Congress members who might be tempted to join calls for gun reform that the NRA has enormous influence, not just nationally, but also in state and local races.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: The national polls can show an overwhelming majority of people in favor of certain gun control measures, but Republicans know that turnout is small in their primaries and the NRA members will be there and may very well take it out on them if they vote in favor of gun control.


FOREMAN: The bottom line of the NRA statement today was just that, that they are not backing down a bit from their basic position, which they have defended for a very long time. And they expect a lot of lawmakers to stand by them, both Democratic and Republican, Wolf, precisely because they know so many of them may have to run in districts where as long as they don't say anything about gun control, they will be safe, but if they speak out in favor of it, they may pay a political price.

BLITZER: Did he express any openness at all towards tightening up some of the laws of the land as far as assault-type weapons, for example, or the high-capacity ammunition clips?

FOREMAN: Not a word.


BLITZER: What about background checks at gun shows?

FOREMAN: The closest he came to any kind of talk about looking into the backgrounds of people was the idea that there should be a national registry of people with mental illness.

But, no, there was not one word said about additional legislation that would restrict guns or gun owners at anyplace. And none of the people who were there for the NRA, no matter how we all try to get them to answer any question, would answer a single question. They say they will answer questions next week. Why they couldn't answer now, I'm not entirely sure, but they would not answer any...


BLITZER: Yes, that was a little strange.

FOREMAN: And even though many of us said, are you open to any discussions about those issues, over and over again they simply walked by and would not answer.

BLITZER: He wants armed guards at every school in the United States.

But there was a mass killing at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Now, does he want armed guards at every movie theater in the United States?

FOREMAN: All he talked about was the schools right now. And I think the notion being schools are places where children do have to go.

There's still questions even about what you define as a school. Would every university constitute a school? And if they did, would you need guards at every building at a university, or is he talking mainly about public high schools and elementary schools, grade schools, that sort of thing?

It sounds a little bit more like the latter. Nonetheless, there's a question of, could you have that many people? Could you train them well enough and deploy them all over the country, even if you wanted to? That's obviously what is going to be debated an awful lot.

BLITZER: Yes. A couple of disruptions at that speech he was delivering as well.

All right, Tom, thanks very much. We're going to have much more to talk about, guns, the NRA. In a few minutes, we will get reaction live from the head of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She has got strong views on these issues.

But right now, there's another big story unfolding, the political chaos up on Capitol Hill. After last night's stinging rejection by his own party, the House speaker, John Boehner, today has no so-called plan C for avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff of tax hikes, spending cuts that hit in just 11 days.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now from Capitol Hill with the key question.

Dana, where do we go from here?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the speaker insisted that he is not giving up on talks with the president, but the reality is that since his plan B blew up, everybody is searching for a plan C. That might not include the president and the speaker.

But that plan C may include going off the fiscal cliff.


BASH (voice-over): The morning after his embarrassing fiscal cliff debacle at the hands of his own GOP caucus, the speaker emerged with the understatement of the year.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's not the outcome that I wanted. But that was the will of the House.

BASH: Rather than hold the vote and lose, badly, the speaker abruptly pulled his plan B, a bill to keep taxes are current rates for families making under $1 million.

John Boehner's strategy had been to protect Republicans from political blame if everyone's taxes go up January 1. Boehner's Republican allies lashed out at colleagues who rebuked their speaker.

REP. STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: It weakens the entire Republican Party, the Republican majority. 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.

BASH: What made the speaker's sting even worse was his confidence hours earlier.

(on camera): You stood here yesterday and expressed confidence that you were going to pass...

BOEHNER: Sure did.


BASH: What went wrong?


BOEHNER: We have -- listen, there was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes.

BASH (voice-over): That's why Democratic sources tell CNN one emerging endgame idea is to avoid the stigma of raising taxes. This scenario, however, would mean going off the cliff at the end of the year.

After January 1, when everyone's taxes go up, the new Congress sworn in on January 3 could vote to cut taxes, a much easier vote to cast for Republicans.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It's time for Republicans to work with us to find the middle ground.

BASH: Senate Democrats are discussing two other scenarios, a fallback position. Do the bare minimum on tax cuts, preserve them for the middle class, then extend other tax cuts like on the estate tax or try to go big and pass the deficit reduction package of tax increases and spending cuts the president offered the speaker.

The problem with any Democratic plans that avert the fiscal cliff is Democrats would have to find Republicans in the Senate and House willing to raise some taxes.

BOEHNER: Merry Christmas, everyone.

BASH: Something the GOP speaker learned the hard way is not easy.


BASH: Now, the House is adjourned until the Thursday after Christmas, next Thursday. The Senate very shortly will do the same. Wolf, that means that Congress will have five days before the end of the year, December 31, to figure out what they are going to do.

BLITZER: The speaker and almost everyone else, they are either leaving or they have already left town, is that right?

BASH: That's right.

The speaker is gone from the Capitol. We believe he's likely to leave town. And in terms of the rank-and-file, the House, they are gone. And Senate, most of them, many of them are actually going to go to Senator Daniel Inouye's funeral. And that's in Hawaii on Sunday.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Dana. We will stay on top of this story. The huge ramifications remain.

The Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she is about to join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to get her reaction to the NRA's call for armed every security guards at every school in the United States. And later, a new possible clue about the mind-set of the Newtown, Connecticut, killer.


BLITZER: Well, there's been no shortage of criticism over the National Rifle Association's call for armed security guards in every school in the United States.

A new Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans actually like the idea of increasing police presence at our schools. In fact, that option got a little bit more support than increased funding for mental health care, cutting down on violence in entertainment or banning the sale of assault weapons.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM is the chair of the Democratic National Committee, the Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: And just so you know these numbers, how effective -- this is the Gallup poll.

How effective would these approaches be in preventing mass school shootings? Increased police presence, 53 percent said very effective, more government funding for mental health, 50 percent, less gun violence in entertainment, 47 percent, banning sales of assault weapons, 42 percent.

You heard what Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association said to do, bring in more armed guards, security guards, police officers, if you will, in every school in the country, including -- there's a lot of schools in your district.

What do you think? Is that a good idea?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I mean, my reaction as I watched the press conference today was that the NRA, I would say that they were tone- deaf, but it's beyond that. They are just deaf.

I mean, they have completely ignored, don't understand, don't grasp how deeply wounded this nation was over the Newtown tragedy, over the tragedies that have collectively built up in our consciousness and across the spectrum of how people feel about gun rights. That all across that spectrum, people in America want us to come together and solve this problem and make sure that we can, in a rational, commonsense way get weapons of war out of the hands of the average every-day person who can come into a school and blow away 26 people.

BLITZER: But, Wayne LaPierre's argument is that if there's a police officer outside, visible police or security presence, armed presence, that potentially could deter killers from going into an elementary school and killing kids. SCHULTZ: We have officers in schools across this country. In fact, during the Columbine tragedy, there was an armed officer and he was outgunned. That is -- the solution to making sure that we can avoid gun violence and make sure that a gunman can't go into a school and mow down a whole bunch of students and teachers is not to put more weaponry into the school.

We have school resource officers in Florida and their presence is important for a variety of reasons, not just so that there's protection but so that you can make sure that safety in general is at the top -- kept top of mind.

But to say today, for the NRA to say -- remember, they built their press conference as a meaningful input to make sure that tragedies like this never happen again -- to say that we should arm security guards and put them in school and then blame everybody else except that there are two high-powered guns on our streets is just unacceptable.

BLITZER: One of your best friends is former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, she was shot, severely injured in Tucson, January 2011.

SCHULTZ: Yes. January 8th.

BLITZER: As you well remember, the president went there and he said this at the time. I'll play the clip.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.


BLITZER: Were you disappointed that the shooting of Gabby Giffords and the others didn't then propel him to do what he is now doing in the aftermath of the killings in Connecticut? In other words, begin a process to get some real legislation to deal with violent guns -- with gun control in the United States?

SCHULTZ: I think because how deeply rooted the emotions are about the Second Amendment and the issue of gun rights and gun control that there had to be a moment in time, like the one we have now, to make sure that across the spectrum of how people feel about this issue that Americans are coming to the table and saying, enough is enough. And the president was right to pull together a working group, ask for quick action.

We have a House task force led by Mike Thompson, who is a supporter of the Second Amendment. We're going to come together and quickly build consensus on how to address this issue.

BLITZER: But you know the criticism from a lot of gun control advocates, you should have done it then, after Aurora, after Tucson, there were other incidents that propelled him to do what he is doing now?

SCHULTZ: You know, I think it is important to take advantage of a moment in time so that you have the best chance of making sure we have a real and deep impact on this. Getting these weapons of war out -- off the streets, not so readily available -- Wolf, in my home state, you can go online, find a gun that you want, a high-powered weapon, arrange to meet somebody in the parking lot of a shopping center, buy the gun out of the trunk of their car, walk away, no questions asked, no background check, no waiting periods.

BLITZER: But you know the House of Representatives, there's a significant Republican majority and plenty of Democrats who don't want any tighter gun restrictions as well.

SCHULTZ: Well --

BLITZER: Although some of them are beginning to change their views -- realistically, can any significant legislation be enacted any time soon?

SCHULTZ: We have to try. We have to come together and build consensus across the country about these different measures that need to be taken.

Some of it is going to make sure that we get weapons that no one needs for any lawful purpose off the streets. Some of it is going to be making sure that people who belong in that database, whether they have been adjudicated, mentally ill, or have committed a crime or are a felon, don't belong in a situation where they can buy a gun or obtain, that they are in that database. And some of it is going to be making sure that we educate people.

There's a whole spectrum of things that we need to look at, including that -- you know, I know that my husband and I never allowed our kids to play with toy weapons for a reason and, you know, those violent video games, although I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, you do need to make sure that we have a reasonable approach to who and how young people can access those violent video games.

BLITZER: Yes. On that, you and Wayne LaPierre may be on the same page when it comes to violent video games --

SCHULTZ: Oh, I don't think I'm on the same page. He blamed it on everything but that.


SCHULTZ: Those are on the streets and available.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Today, President Obama announced his choice for secretary of state. We're taking a closer look at what John Kerry will face when he succeeds Hillary Clinton at the State Department.


BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The president of the United States is getting ready to make a statement.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Tell us what the White House has just announced, Jessica.


The president will be coming into the White House briefing room to make a statement about the fiscal cliff. We're not getting any more guidance on exactly what the president will say, but I can tell you that one of his advisers, David Plouffe, held a conference call with some of the president's top supporters today and told them that this is a time when the nation will be focused more on the fiscal cliff and it's a time to get the word out that the president has done everything he can do and is working hard on a solution, and that they want to deliver a message to the American people that the president is working to compromise, that he has done what he can and he wants to help the middle class.

So I believe we can expect the president to try to deliver this message also in the briefing room, trying to say that it's the Republicans who have been unwilling to negotiate and the president is trying to reach a deal. Clearly, it's a messaging opportunity, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know the president and his family were planning on spending time during the holidays in Hawaii, his home state. Do we know what, if anything, they are doing about that trip?

YELLIN: That's not been announced yet, but since the Congress is leaving, it would seem -- or since the House of Representatives, it would follow, the president would go to Hawaii for a period of time, would be my expectation. He could go sometime in the next few days, and then have Christmas with his family, open the gifts in Hawaii, and then come back shortly after Christmas to try to cobble together a deal quickly before the New Year, if that can be done.

BLITZER: They've got until January 1st to do it.

He was in the Roosevelt Room earlier in the day making a major announcement as well. Tell our viewers about that.

YELLIN: That's right. He used this opportunity to get one cabinet announcement under his belt. But he waited long enough to let -- it took long enough that Susan Rice first dropped out under pressure. That left John Kerry as the last one standing and it's clear here at the White House the president and his aides expect Kerry's confirmation to go very smoothly. You can even see and feel that in the way the president announced John Kerry has his choice to be secretary of state.


OBAMA: Over these many years, John's earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world. He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training. He has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans. I think it's fair to say that few individuals know as many president and prime ministers or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry. And this makes him a perfect choice to guide American diplomacy in the years ahead.


YELLIN: Wolf, with his 30 years in Washington and Kerry's comfort with the ways of the Senate, John Kerry might not be a natural partner for the president, but the two men have come to respect one another, especially when the president has dispatched him to work on issues in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sudan. But especially as they jousted with each other during debate prep for many hours in the Nevada desert and at Camp David -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stand by to hear from the president, right at the top of the hour, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, he'll be in the White House briefing room to make a statement on the fiscal cliff. You'll be there as well. Thank you very much, Jessica.

John Kerry's nomination taps what has been a tumultuous effort by the White House to find a successor to Hillary Clinton.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has a closer look now at the senior senator from Massachusetts.


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

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (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), MASSACHUSETTS: That must change. And in the next session of the Congress, I hope it will.

BOLDUAN: 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), SOUTH CAROLINA: It was unjustified to give the scenario as presented by Ambassador Rice.

BOLDUAN: Senator Kerry knows himself about being torpedoed by attacks, accused in his 2004 presidential run of lying about his military record in Vietnam.

GEORGE ELIOTT: John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.

BOLDUAN: And criticized for his 1971 testimony of opposing the Vietnam War.

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

BOLDUAN: Kerry was pointed 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 National Convention.

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

BOLDUAN: 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 helped mend strained relations in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

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

BOLDUAN: But Kerry is 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are very few people in our country with greater experience over a longer period of time in foreign policy than Senator Kerry.


BOLDUAN: 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 abroad and here. Kate Bolduan, CNN, Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Remember, we're standing by to hear from the president of the United States right at the top of the hour. He'll go into the White House briefing room to make a statement on where the fiscal cliff negotiations stand right now. Stand by for that live coverage coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The NRA says the answer to guns in schools is more guns.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since when did the gun automatically become a bad word? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There's a lot of reaction to what Wayne Lapierre of the NRA said today. We're going to discuss that and more. Our "Strategy Session" is next.


BLIZTER: A live picture of the White House, you can see the flag flying at half staff because of what happened in Connecticut last Friday. The president is getting ready to go into the briefing room.

We'll have live coverage at the top of the hour. He's going to make a statement of where we're all going because of the fiscal cliff negotiations. They seem to have collapsed. We'll hear from the president on the very latest. Stand by for that.

But let's discuss what is going on in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen and our CNN contributor, the editor-in-chief of, Erick Erickson.

Since we're waiting to hear from the president on the fiscal cliff, Erick, I'll play for you what John Boehner said today. He is obviously deeply disappointed that his so-called "Plan B" that he tried to get the House of Representatives to approve last night collapsed even without a vote. Here's what he said.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: 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 a perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes.


BLITZER: And you wrote this on You said, the Democrats are going to construct a deal that the GOP cannot except because the Democrats know that the they are going to get the blame.

The only way for the GOP to not get the blame is to do exactly as the Democrats want, which the GOP will not do. Here's the question. Are Republicans in the House of Representatives specifically, not necessarily in the Senate, are they unrealistic as to what is doable to avert the fiscal cliff?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think they are unrealistic as to what is doable or not, Wolf. I think they just didn't like the way John Boehner was going about negotiating with the president putting them in much more of a box and they thought they needed to be in.

And there are a lot of Republicans who think that, you know, John Boehner hasn't really kept his words to conservatives. In the primary season, for example, I talk to two members of Congress who said they are still very much aware that Eric Cantor and John Boehner backed Republicans who weren't as conservatives as maybe even some incumbents.

They didn't remove some conservatives from key committees. So there was a backlash. I think it was more about John Boehner than about the plan. I think they don't want to raise taxes. They hold that in, but it was John Boehner.

BLITZER: Do you think that Democrats, Hilary, should be a little bit more open minded about making sure that 99.81 percent of the American people don't see a tax rate increase January 1st? Should they go along with Boehner's proposal that people earning less than a million dollars a year won't see a tax hike?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You're talking about where the president had said he wanted tax hikes for people above 250 and 400,000 -- Speaker Boehner wants to say a million. Look, I think that Democrats are actually open-minded to where those numbers fall down.

I think the president in particular has expressed a lot of flexibility on that score. The real issue is, how do you get to the overall savings and I think what Democrats don't want -- and I don't think the president does either -- is to say, you know what, we're going to protect the top 4 percent or 5 percent of the country's tax cuts.

But we're going to take it out of Medicare and Social Security for the poor and middle class and that's, I think, the real issue. You know, I think a lot of other progressives like me would like to see defense cuts be much more significantly on the table. There are other places to get money.

But I do think that at some level Boehner and the president and now Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell who are very much at the table given what happened in the House last night are going to have to say, you know what, we're not going to win the right of our parties, we're not going to win the left.

We've got to do something that gets, you know, 118 Democratic votes and 100 Republican votes in the House and we've got to get those, you know, middle in the Senate, too. That's really the only way.

BLITZER: Easier said than done. Quickly, Erick, do you think the country is going to go over the fiscal cliff, January 1st, everyone, middle class, everyone's tax rates are going up?

ERICKSON: You know, I think it wouldn't surprise me if they did and ironically because of the shifting baselines, both sides can claim some sort of better level of wanting to cut taxes on everyone.

And I just -- I'm more inclined to think we're going to go over the fiscal cliff and argue over adjusted baselines, which no one in America will understand. But policy wonks in Washington will have a field day over it.

BLITZER: Are we going over the cliff, Hilary?

ROSEN: I don't think so. I think that the Republican calculation that the Democrats and the president want to go over the fiscal cliff to blame Republicans somehow is wrong. I think the president very much wants a deal and will go far to get one.

BLITZER: Hilary and Erick, thanks very, very much.

This week, Connecticut's chief medical examiner disclosed he has been told that the Newtown, Connecticut gunman was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. We're about to take a closer look at this neurodevelopment disorder characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, repetitive patterns of behavior and more. Stand by. We'll update you with what is going on in Newtown.


BLITZER: The shooter in the Newtown investigation, what was going on with the shooter, Adam Lanza's mind? Acquaintances of the family say he had Asperger's Syndrome. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look now at exactly what Asperger Syndrome is.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Asperger's is a type of autism. Doctors call autism a neurodevelopmental disorder, not a mental illness. That's important. It is something you're born with, and it does tend to run in families.

A little bit history, the condition was first described by a doctor named Dr. Hans Asperger in 1944. He made this key observation. Listen closely. People with Asperger's and he was focused primarily on children, are socially isolated.

They have problems with communication. There is something off in their interactions with other people. They can miss social cues. Take this example, if someone walks over and says hello, most of us naturally say hello right back.

A child with Asperger's, that doesn't come as instinctively, they lack what you might call social intuition. Another symptom, people with Asperger's tend to become extremely focused. They're obsessed with details.

One example, Temple Grandin, she has Asperger's and she's written six books. She is a top expert in designing facilities for livestock. There are some crucial distinctions.

One, children with Asperger's do not have language problems. Their speech often develops normally. Also by definition, people with Asperger's have average to high intelligence and it seems to be common in the tech world, more common.

Not to mention actress Daryl Hannah, author Tim Page, he won a Pulitzer Prize. There is a common misconception that people with Asperger's lack empathy. Now if you look closer, you'll see that this isn't necessarily true.

In fact people with Asperger's tend to be bad at recognizing emotions in other people. But research and experience show this, they do relate to those emotions. In fact, it can be extremely intense, almost like they feel too much for other people even animals.

Temple Grandin, she became famous for developing humane livestock pens. She could put herself in the animal's place. She says she could feel their pain. We also that Asperger's is not associated with violence like the Connecticut school shootings.

People with Asperger's can be easily frustrated and children are prone to tantrums, but there is zero evidence that they are more likely to plan violence or want to hurt others.

In fact, they are much more likely to be targeted to be bullied themselves. Now come may Asperger's won't technically even exist anymore. In the new diagnostic manual, it's just part of autism disorder.

We don't really understand what's different in the wiring in the brain of someone with these conditions, but I hope someday we can unlock those secrets and I hope it can help a lot of people out there. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BLITZER: And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, President Obama's deeply personal tribute to the man he says inspired him to go into public service.


BLITZER: The president will be walking into the briefing room at the top of the hour to make a statement. We'll have live coverage.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, meanwhile, paid tribute to the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye. Lisa Sylvester is joining us now. She has got that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama gave the eulogy at the memorial service for Inouye at the National Cathedral. The president, a Hawaii native, called Inouye his earliest political inspiration crediting the late senator for his career in public service.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We remember a man who inspired all of us with his courage and moved us with his compassion, that inspired us with his integrity and who taught so many of us, including a young boy growing up in Hawaii that America has a place for everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SYLVESTER: Inouye was the second longest serving senator in U.S. history. He died Monday of respiratory complications. He was 88 years old. His body will be returned to his home state of Hawaii tomorrow. His funeral is set for Sunday.

And a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children warranted parliamentary approval despite several protests. The measure is largely seen as retaliation for a U.S. law punishing human rights abusers in Russia.

It faces another vote before it can be signed into law. Russia is one of the top sources for international adoptions over a 12-year period more than 45,000 U.S. adoptions came from Russia.

And on this first day of winter, a powerful winter storm and one of the busiest travel days of the year. It's all adding up to be a big headache for those trying to get out of town for the holiday.

CNN I-Reporter Danny Murphy sent us this video from Hazelton, Iowa. This storm that hammered the Midwest, it's now on the move and CNN meteorologist's Alexandra Steele is tracking it for us. So Alexandra, how bad could it get for holiday travelers?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's been rough and it's rough tonight. Here's a look of what is happening with the current airport delays, predominantly in New York, LaGuardia and also at JFK, it's all the winds. That's really the biggest culprit and Boston as well so delays from LaGuardia to Newark to Boston.

San Francisco has had four-hour delays. Now three and a half hours and it is weather-related there, too. Ft. Lauderdale is having a volume issue. But here's the big picture. This is the exiting storm, this rain that is leaving.

Skies are drying out, but temperatures are going to drop precipitously. Here's the big story and this is where the travel will really get tough, in Western New York, so Cleveland, Eerie, Rochester, Buffalo, six to 12 inches of snow coming for them.

So for the weekend, this storm exits tonight so Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, clears out for tomorrow and Sunday although tomorrow, it will still be windy.

There's that heavy snow in Western New York. So driving I-90 through the weekend is really difficult in Western New York. But as we head towards Sunday, this is the biggest travel headache from Seattle all the way down to San Francisco.

Northern California is into some very heavy rain and winds for the next couple of days -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yes, it sounds like everyone is going to have to really be patient as they try to get home for the holidays.

STEELE: Yes. SYLVESTER: Thank you very much, Alexandra. So I know people have folks coming into town or if they are leaving, try to get somewhere. It's not going to be always easy, but you know, we'll see, hopefully it won't be too much of a travel headache -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Patience is very important. Lisa, thanks very much. Remember, the president is in the briefing room momentarily.


BLITZER: Church bells rang out at 9:30 a.m. Eastern marking exactly one week since the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting occurred. People paused to honor the 20 children and six women who were gunned down.

Lisa Sylvester is joining me once again. Lisa, cards have been pouring in from children from all over the world as well.

SYLVESTER: Wolf, you know, it's letters from children, from their parents, from all around the U.S., the world. There are a lot of heavy hearts in Newtown, a lot of sadness with this entire story. But something sells coming out of all of this. That he is that there is still a lot of goodness in the world that is now being directed at that town in Connecticut.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a perfect B.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): The 4-year-old Kaelyn takes her time working hard to get each word right.


SYLVESTER: She's writing a letter.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Dear parents, I know that you are upset --

SYLVESTER: A letter to the parents of the children killed in the Newtown shooting. She and her mother live in Maryland. They have never been to Newtown. In fact, they have never been to the state of Connecticut, but they wanted to show the town that they care.

KAREN CLARK-REDDON, MOTHER: We're writing letters just to let them know that our hearts are with them, that they are in our prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because I want to make them cheer up.

CHRISTINE DUGAS, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE, NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT: Right away, we started seeing mail volume coming in that began with a few hundred and now it's thousands per day we are receiving.

SYLVESTER: In the middle of all of the sorrow, the sadness, and the heartbreak is something else compassion -- letters, cards, and books pouring into Newtown. DUGAS: I don't know if they feel like strangers. I think they feel very connected to the tragedy here, but they are coming in from as far away as England, Sicily, Australia and every corner of this country. So they may not have personal knowledge of the families here, but they certainly feel their pain.

SYLVESTER: Kaelyn only knows what her mother told her, that a bad guy hurt and killed children, but she offers this message.

KAELYN CLARK MIDDLETON, 4 YEARS OLD: Dear parents, I know that you are upset but your children now fine in heaven. Love Kaelyn.

SYLVESTER: With her letter, she is sending two pictures, her vision of a rainbow.


SYLVESTER: And they have received so many letters, they have now set up a special post office box, that is message of condolences for Newtown, P.O. Box 3700, Newtown, Connecticut, 06470. That is a special Post Office box specifically set up for letters of condolences.

One thing the post offices says send all of your love and prayers. They don't want perishable goods. It's such a heart warming story to see that little 4-year-old girl writing the letter.

She doesn't even know anybody in Newtown. She doesn't even know where Newtown is on the map, but yet she felt so compelled to do this beautiful thing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is heart moving, heart wrenching, I should say that. Lisa, thank you.