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Government on Vacation for Holidays, Fiscal Cliff Still Looms; NRA Calls for Armed Guards at Every School; White Christmas Forecast; Newtown United Taking on the NRA; Long-time Connecticut Radio Hosts Helping Newtown Residents Heal

Aired December 22, 2012 - 09:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. It is 9:00 on the East Coast, 6:00 am in the West. Thanks so much for starting your day with us. Victor is on assignment.

Take a look here. These are live pictures of the White House and Capitol Hill this morning as the clock ticks down on tax hikes and spending cuts that could hit all of us in just ten days. The people who could be working out a deal on the fiscal cliff impasse, well they're not there.

President Obama and the First Family are in Hawaii for the holidays and lawmakers have gone home. Let's check in with CNN's Emily Schmidt. She's in Washington, not Hawaii.

Emily, good morning. So when will we see everyone back in Washington to try and work out a deal?

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Randi, it's a good question. Everyone has left town. They did so yesterday. And now they're saying they'll be back again after Christmas. So we know it's going to be if there are any negotiations that happen at least a few days that they would have to be done long distance.

And there is a lot of work it seems still to be done. We have heard from President Obama and from House Speaker John Boehner over the past few hours. And it sounds publicly as if they are still quite far apart. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every member of Congress believes that, every Democrat, every Republican. So there is absolutely no reason, none, not to protect these Americans from a tax hike. At the very least let's agree right now on what we already agree on. Let's get that done.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What the President has offered so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem and begin to address our nation's crippling debt. Instead he wants more spending and more tax hikes that will hurt our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHMIDT: So where do we go now? Well a senior Democrat source has told CNN there are a couple of three Senate options that could happen. One of them we could go over the cliff and watch what happens, the next push for a fallback measure. And the third option push for a broad deal.

You see that is a wide range of things on the table, Randi, and particularly when you think of the date today and that we have just so few days left before this deadline that was imposed that was supposed to be kind of a doomsday scenario.

KAYE: Yes. And in the higher taxes in the paychecks, how concerned should we be about that if there's no agreement?

SCHMIDT: One of the toughest jobs out there right now is the person who has to fill out payrolls for their companies because they don't know what to do with all this impasse going on. The IRS has not told them how much they should be withholding for their employees. That means we don't know how much our companies are going to withhold for us.

The biggest problem is we don't know what's happening with the tax rates. The only real certainty at this point is if something were to happen and we went over the cliff we would see the social security payroll tax holiday would go away. That would be two percent for every American on the first $113,000 that they made for someone making $50,000 a year, about $87 less a month you'd have in your paycheck. That's real money for a lot of people and we have not yet seen if it will be there or it will not after January 1st.

KAYE: Yes. The thing is though that even if Boehner and Obama get to a deal they still have to sell this to another 200 plus people.


KAYE: And with Boehner's Plan B never even getting to a vote the question is will he have the Republican support for a deal that he does hopefully make with the president.

SCHMIDT: I think that's a question a lot of people are asking because if he couldn't get his caucus behind him on Plan B when he had said, sounded so certain that that would be something that would pass. It brings into question how much power he has, not just for his power as speaker, but his power to get something through the House when it has so many Americans on the line waiting to see what their paycheck will look like in a couple of weeks. A lot of Republicans say this is not the end of the line for him, but it shows that these parties have a lot of work to do. We keep talking about these sound bites that sound so much as if we had played them from just a month or a few months back, a lot to be done in the next few days.

KAYE: Yes.

SCHMIDT: And everyone is not in Washington to work it out at the same table. KAYE: Now it might be a little more heated, but the to the comments and the conversations certainly the same. Emily Schmidt in Washington for us, Emily thank you.

Well besides the fiscal cliff Washington is abuzz. We'll talk about gun control. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are on board, but there's one big roadblock to getting a new law, the National Rifle Association. The NRA has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington and yesterday they set a defiant tone.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: (voice-over) The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invest in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or from a minute away?


KAYE: So the NRA has a plan and that plan is to put armed guards in every school. And they've called on Congress to make it happen. They've even started their own initiative to promote it. CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti joins us now from New York. Susan, good morning, so not quite what some people had hoped to hear from the NRA. We were all awaiting this big statement and that's what we got.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Randi. Well a lot of people had hoped that in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School the NRA would offer some concessions and possibly depart from its hard line stance against gun control, but as you know that did not happen. NRA leadership made no mention of proposed assault weapon ban, or background checks or even restricting the size of high capacity magazines. Now Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says armed guards are not the answer and will not protect children.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D) CONNECTICUT: The NRA statement today is sadly and shamefully inadequate, calling for more guns and rejecting real action against gun violence at a defining historic moment for our nation demanding courageous leadership. The NRA has declined to step forward as a credible and constructive partner.


CANDIOTTI: And it was billed as a major news conference. However, after making a lengthy statement attacking the media, violent video games and music videos the NRA did not take any questions from reporters. Protestors did interrupt the statement with anti-NRA messages on a couple of occasions.


PROTESTOR: NRA, stop killing our children. It's the NRA and the assault weapons who are killing our children. That's our (inaudible).


CANDIOTTI: Now eventually after those chants those protestors were led out of the room by security. Randi?

KAYE: And, Susan, is there any sense of whether armed guards, - we're talking about arming teachers. We're talking about armed guards.

CANDIOTTI: That's right.

KAYE: Is there any sense of whether armed guards would make a difference and could protect children?

CANDIOTTI: Well for example Senator Blumenthal apparently doesn't think so. And plenty of parents won't be comfortable with having more guns in schools. Now for example in the shooting at Columbine back in 1999 you might remember that there was an armed guard at the school. Thirteen people died.

And at the Red Lake High School in Minnesota the shooter killed an unarmed guard who was stationed at a metal detector. Still there are plenty of gun rights supporters who think the NRA's proposal will make school safer and that gun control is not the answer -- Randi.

KAYE: Very interesting debate. We'll continue to follow it. Susan Candiotti, nice to see you, thank you very much.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you.

KAYE: And just days before Christmas, this.

Just looking at that makes me cold. The system that brought this misery to Iowa has moved east. It is bringing inches of snow to Western Pennsylvania and Upstate New York today. Those folks are used to maneuvering around the snow drifts, but how's the holiday travel for the nation? Well meteorologist Alexandra Steele is joining me this morning to answer that and of course maybe tell us who will see a white Christmas.

What do you think, Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right, well lot's of kids' dreams coming true, right? We haven't had a white Christmas like this really kind of the geography of this, this many areas around the country having a white Christmas. And meteorologically White Christmas means there's an inch of snow on the ground Christmas morning. So it doesn't have to be coming down. It just has to be on the ground at least one inch.

And look at the breadth and depth of this, right? Blizzard conditions are gone now, the video we just saw. Things have settled down. The winds are calming down in the Northeast, but take a look at this, the northern tier of the country from Upstate New York. Western New York had a brown ground last Christmas. So from the Twin Cities, to Billings to Denver it's almost every ski resort from Snowshoe in West Virginia, the Holiday Valley in Western New York to Aspen, and Vail and anywhere you can imagine, Alta we are all seeing beautiful conditions.

So that is the white Christmas scenario. Let me show what will happen around the country on Christmas Day though. Here in the Northeast 37 degrees in New York City, from New York to Boston we actually could see a few snow showers, but temperatures are going to be cold. The winds as strong as they are today will have abated by then for sure. Here in the Southeast it looks like a little bit rain and I'll show you why.

This area of low pressure there and is going to bring up moisture from the Southeast, so it could be rain for Birmingham and Atlanta, but it could be snow in Oklahoma City and have to watch even Nashville, could see some rain, but we could see a little mixing of snow if that cold air gets deep enough.

And in the Northern tier of the country cold, no question about that, five in Fargo, plenty of snow on the ground, no snow falling in Minneapolis, but obviously a white Christmas, rain from Seattle to Portland on Christmas Day and then finally though San Francisco, Los Angeles, California which is so wet today, finally dries out for tomorrow and will be dry for Christmas.

So forecast for today, kind of two pockets of concern if you're traveling, the Northeast, again those Great Lake effect snow areas will get pounded with four to eight inches of additional snow. And it will be pretty blustery here in the Northeast as well. The Southeast today clear skies, still windy conditions although those winds abating, not as strong as they were yesterday, and to the west another rough day today in San Francisco if you're traveling, all the way from San Francisco to Seattle today the rain, but finally Bay of San Francisco gets a break as we head toward tomorrow and Tuesday, Randi.

KAYE: Yes. And as you said a whole lot of kids are going to be happy with that white Christmas.

STEELE: Oh yes.

KAYE: Good for them.


KAYE: Alexandra, thank you.


KAYE: Well neighbors in Newtown are coming together, trying to put an end to gun violence, why lawmakers are warning them that they'd better hurry up because time isn't on their side.


KAYE: Welcome back.

A group of neighbors in Newtown, Connecticut is coming together after last weeks' massacre to take on Washington, and that means taking on the NRA. They call themselves Newtown United, their mission to reduce gun violence and prevent other communities from ever having to live their same nightmare.

This morning, we're putting gun control in focus and earlier I spoke with Bill Toomey, who helped put together that group, along with his daughter, Sierra.


BILL TOOMEY, MEMBER, NEWTOWN UNITED: What we've heard, not just from folks in the community, but from folks all over the world is that people were deeply touched by what happened here. And they do not want these events to go - to have happened in vain and that we should really try and do whatever we can to lend our voice to the national debate on this issue around gun violence.

It's not just about gun control. There's a lot of other issues associated with it and we want to bring people together in the community as well as across the nation to really make a difference and make sure that we do whatever is necessary to protect our children.

KAYE: And some of those voices that you want to bring together and that certainly need to be heard are voices like your daughter right there, and the young people who could be victims in these mass shootings. Sierra, good morning to you. Your school was on lockdown on Friday during this shooting at Newtown at the elementary there. What conversations are you having with your friends about the issue of gun violence?

SIERRA TOOMEY, MEMBER, NEWTOWN UNITED: We were very confused and upset. We were just trying to figure out what was going on. And it was kind of upsetting afterwards after we found out what had happened. And we didn't know how to react.

KAYE: And, Sierra, I'm sure you're aware that -

SIERRA TOOMEY: I'm going to try to bring high schoolers into Newtown United and we're going to try to try to make a difference.

KAYE: I think that's so important and that's wonderful that you're doing that. People are debating whether teachers should have a gun in the classroom. Sierra, how do you feel about that?

SIERRA TOOMEY: I think that the teachers should focus on teaching instead of carrying a gun because if they're trying to focus on keeping us safe at the same time as teaching then it's kind of hard for them to do both at the same time. So if they could do other things like keep the doors locked at times and just try to - we can come up with other ways and stuff.


KAYE: And next hour we will continue to put gun control in focus when we talk to Virginia state delegate, Bob Marshall, on his new bill to protect schools in his state. And we want to remind our viewers by the way that we did some leg work. We reached out to 43 senators of the incoming 113th Congress who have an A or an A+ rating from the NRA. Not one of them agreed to join us this morning.

How does the healing begin and where? For those close to the Newtown tragedy it can begin with familiar voices playing an unfamiliar role.

And we're getting so many tributes for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting into CNN from our iReporters. We want to share this one from San Diego.


UNIDENTIFIED IREPORTER: It's a tribute to the schools because I have two kindergartners in school now. So there's just no words that you can say for it.



KAYE: Twenty-one minutes past the hour now, welcome back. Yesterday the nation paused to remember the victims of Newtown one week after the shooting massacre in Connecticut.



KAYE: So how does the healing begin after an incident so horrific? In Connecticut, people are turning to familiar friends, friends they used to turn to for a laugh on the morning commute. The conversations now though are much, much different.


CHAZ, WLPH RADIO HOST: Chaz, AJ mornings. We almost felt we'd like to call it a town hall meeting held in a frat house. Friday was strange. We went from in the morning doing one of the most happy, upbeat, fun shows of the year, next year's going to be even better, to in the afternoon doing the saddest show of our careers. And he was one of the first responders to the scene.

CHAZ: How are you?


CHAZ: Never in your life could you imagine you'd pull up to a scene so horrific.

NEWTOWN FIRST RESPONDER: Absolutely not. There are certain things that people just shouldn't see.

AJ, WLPH RADIO HOST: Every moment it was getting worse and worse and you couldn't help but feel, OK, did we reach the bottom?

NEWTOWN RESIDENT: My sister is the behavioral therapist, Sandy Hook Elementary.

CHAZ: Is that right? Is she OK?

NEWTOWN RESIDENT: We don't - we don't know. We haven't heard from her.

CHAZ: How long ago did she start there?

NEWTOWN RESIDENT: It's just her second week there.

CHAZ: She's probably very busy right now.

NEWTOWN RESIDENT: Oh and absolutely.

CHAZ: Yes.

NEWTOWN RESIDENT: She probably will be very terrified when she gets home, but right now her priority is her children.

CHAZ: And Monday we had her on the show and she was not OK. I'm so sorry for your loss.

NEWTOWN RESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. We're all surprised and shocked.

AJ: There's almost like a threshold for a nightmare. This left nightmare in the rearview mirror.

CHAZ: My heart goes out to those parents because they'll never be the same.

AJ: The fact that folks were able to call in and get it out of their system, to talk about it instead of keeping it bottled in I think it helped them and it helped us.

CHAZ: Jim in Sandy Hook.

JIM, NEWTOWN FATHER: I'm a father of a third grader attended the school. So you can imagine how our worlds have been turned upside down.

AJ: Frank in Shelton.

FRANK, SHELTON, CONNECTICUT: Hey, how are you doing, guys? A very close family friend of ours lost his son.

AJ: Gretchen in Seymour.

GRETCHEN, SEYMOUR, CONNECTICUT: You bring hope to all of us who remain a little bit hopeless.

AJ: Barry in Hait (ph) today.

BARRY, CONNECTICUT RESIDENT: I don't know how any of these parents are doing what they're doing.

AJ: A tough day after a tough day, and then another tough day and then a harder day.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And I'm sure it's tough as these piece in (ph). And I just can't change it over what has happened.

AJ: Scott in Roxbury.

SCOTT, ROXBURY, CONNECTICUT: A very close friend of mine, his son was one of the victims.

AJ: Mary in Shelton.


AJ: We're hanging in.

MARY: As we all are, really tough.

AJ: It is.

MARY: Really, really tough.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And at the cemetery also there was probably two to three hundred firefighters.

AJ: They're all lined up along a funeral route.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: They're having their service for his son today in Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: There was a lovely poem. Can I share it with you?

AJ: Can you?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Please don't cry. We're OK. We went on a field trip today. It's really nice so I think I'll stay and hold your spot until your field trip day. I know Christmas is here and there's toys to be given, so please tell Santa to send them to heaven.


KAYE: Wow. Chad and AJ began broadcasting their morning show from Milford, Connecticut nearly 11 years ago. We'll be right back.


KAYE: Checking our headlines now in what was a very poorly guarded secret President Obama officially nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was believed to be the first choice, but withdrew her name after several members of Congress attacked her response to the deadly attacks in Benghazi.

And by a nearly unanimous Kerry and his fellow senators approved $60.4 billion in emergency funding for states affected by Super Storm Sandy. The House of Representatives takes up the funding measure next week. A former U.S. marine who was imprisoned in Mexico for four months has been reunited with his family. John Hammer was released yesterday partly thanks to work from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Hammer was imprisoned on a questionable charge after police found him with an antique shotgun.

The NRA is calling for armed guards in schools. That is their plan to prevent gun violence in schools, but coming up next hour I'll talk with one Virginia lawmaker who has another plan. He says arm the teachers.

Thanks for much for watching today. I'll see you back here at the top of the hour. I'm Randi Kaye.

"YOUR BOTTOM LINE" starts right now.