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U.S. Inches Closer Toward Fiscal Cliff; NRA: Any New Gun Laws Won't Work; The Business Of Guns; National Gun Control Debate Heats Up; Tornado Threat For Christmas Day; A White Christmas In The Forecast; Two Firefighters Shot To Death At House Fire; Senator Crapo Arrested For DUI; Egypt's Opposition To Appeal Vote; Last Minute Shoppers Hit Stores; Bad Weather Could Delay Shipments; Christians Gather In Bethlehem; Pope Prepares For Christmas Eve Mass

Aired December 24, 2012 - 10:00   ET

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Stories we're watching. It's the rush to get to the store for those last-minute gifts and some 17 million people are doing just that today. If you're one of them, some good bargains could be coming your way.

Teetering on the fiscal cliff, eight days to go, nobody is in Washington and nobody is talking.

It may not be what you expect, the price of certain guns doubling in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, to match the enormous demand for assault weapons.

And wounded veterans working through Christmas as they recover from their injuries, their thoughts though are with friends overseas who couldn't make it home for the holidays. NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. Thank you for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. With the president and Congress spending Christmas away from Washington, prospects seem pretty bleak for a deal before the fiscal cliff deadline on December 31st. Retiring Senator Joe Lieberman puts the potential failure in historic perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I feel that it's more likely we will go over the cliff than not and if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal, consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history.

SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all these additional tax revenue for new programs. He gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for, for years and he gets to blame Republicans for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president in Hawaii. She joins us live now from Honolulu. So, Brianna, people are talking as though going over the cliff is a reality already. What are you hearing?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is what we're hearing. You know, there's a lot of blame going around and obviously that is some public posturing.

But when it comes to the reality of whether going over the cliff is a possibility, it's not just what we're hearing publicly, but that's also what we're hearing privately from Democrats and Republicans.

And also right now it's important to focus on this sort of not encouraging fact, Carol. There are no discussions going on right now between the folks who need to work out some sort of deal here.

The White House and Senate Democrats are not in touch with House Republicans and Senate Republicans at this point and that's key because the Senate is going to be reconvening on Thursday.

Anything that gets through Congress to prevent the fiscal cliff would need to pass the Senate and the House with both Democratic and Republican support. We're also expecting that President Obama will likely return to Washington, D.C.

At this point, it seems more a matter of when and not really matter of if and then right now the plan that the White House is trying to push forward is to deal with the tax hikes for those earning $250,000 or less. It appears those spending cuts that are the other part of the fiscal cliff will likely set in.

And then what happens there will maybe be something that Democrats and Republicans try to deal with in the coming weeks, in the coming months. That means even come say the end of the year here or if we go over the cliff and there's some quick resolution, it's not for everything and we'll be dealing with a lot of these problems for some time -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So what's the president doing in Hawaii?

KEILAR: The president has definitely been getting in some R and R. He arrived here obviously early Saturday morning. He played golf with some of his buddies. He went out for dinner with his wife, the first lady and some friends.

Yesterday, he attended the burial ceremony for Senator Daniel Inouye, a long time member of Congress and then he went for a hike in the afternoon with his daughters.

This may be his one chance for a vacation and you may recall he didn't get one this summer. He decided not to go on his normal vacation in the election year. So this is really it for him -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Brianna Keilar reporting live from Honolulu this morning.

The gun control debate is intensifying following the Connecticut's school shooting. The NRA's executive vice president, Wayne Lapierre, made the circuit on Sunday morning. He went on NBC's "Meet the Press" saying, call me crazy for wanting to put armed security officers in school, go ahead because I believe that's what we must do. The NRA's president, David Keene, told "Face the Nation" on CBS, a ban on assault weapons will not stop mass killings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NATIOAN RIFLE ASSOCIATION: If we're willing to debate the whole question of the semi automatic, so-called assault weapons, we have debated it before. We had an assault weapons ban for ten years. We had what Senator Feinstein is suggesting. It was allowed to expire. The FBI, the Justice Department and others who study it said it made no difference.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE V.P., NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: If it's crazy to call for putting police in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Despite the National Rifle Association's opposition to any new gun laws President Obama insists inaction is not an option when it comes to protecting children.

"The New York Times" is reporting some guns normally selling for around $650 on gunbroker.com were going for more than $1,000 in recent days. Many gun shop owners say sales are enormous. They are booming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking at like AR-15 or M4, something I'm more familiar with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Army veteran, Ricardo Herrera, is in the market checking out the lone star gun show in Fort Worth, but the price was not right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are going anywhere for $1,000 more. So they kind of priced me out of the market.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A gun dealer tells us that an assault-style weapon that a week ago ran around $900 now runs from $1,500 to $2,500.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are still plenty of assault rifles, but they are taking advantage of the people. They are pricey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gun stores are seeing big crowds as Herrera found out when he visited one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we got there, it was only two customers. But within like 15 minutes the place got crowded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The rush to arm disgusts former Navy military police officer, Devon Hart. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I saw the pricing and I saw an overwhelming inventory of assault rifles, I was like, OK, so we're trying to cash in on the Connecticut thing here. I'm saddened by it so I couldn't buy anything because I'm really turned off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut, the assault weapon debate is on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave the assault rifles and all that stuff to the law enforcement, military law enforcement. Let's stick with the basics. Shotgun, rifle, the 9-millimeter, the hand gun, that's really all the power you need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to take my chances and wait until they start debating on this. It's a gamble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Therawstory.com says Brownell is the world's largest firearm supplier sold three and a half years worth of ammo magazines for the AR-15 in just three days. The country, as you know, remains divided on the issue of gun control while leaders in Congress decide on the best way to have that conversation or what action should we consider.

CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is in Washington. So what are lawmakers saying? Are some of them sticking by their guns and saying there needs to be more gun laws in this country or are they softening their stand now?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I do not detect a wide number of Republicans softening their stance when it comes to gun rights. But at the same time, they don't seem to be running towards and embracing the idea that Wayne Lapierre of the NRA laid out on Friday, which is to put armed police officers at every school in this country. Not even close.

In fact, listen to what two Republican senators said about that idea yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We had an armed guard in Columbine. We had an assault ban. Neither one of them worked. We're talking about preventing mass murder by non-traditional criminals.

People who are not traditionally criminals, who are not wired right for some reason and I don't know if there's anything Lindsey Graham can do in the Senate to stop mass murder from somebody that's hell bent on doing crazy things.

SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all these tax revenue for new programs. He gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for, for years and he gets to blame Republicans for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now that's obviously John Barrasso talking about the fiscal cliff, the other big story here in Washington. But he also said yesterday, Carol, that he thinks that the whole concept of putting any armed police officers at schools should be done at the local level, if at all.

Because, you know, that the big push at the NRA is to make it a federal program and it should be funded by the federal government by Congress. So it does not look like there's going to be a lot of support for that right now.

I've been struck talking to Republicans sources. Republican sources at how turned off a lot of people were by Wayne Lapierre on Friday. Not even with his message, but more so with the tone and the way he delivered the message.

I talked to one Republican in Congress who said that it seemed like it was a time war. That he was very aggressive and he didn't seem to be sort of getting the sentiment of where we are right now. It didn't go off very well.

COSTELLO: OK, so listening to Lindsey Graham saying, you know, there's not much we can do to stop someone who is not wired right and talking to the number of lawmakers that you have talked to, after the first of the year when Dianne Feinstein says she's going to introduce this bill, how likely is it to pass and how likely is anything to happen as far as gun control is concerned?

BASH: Well, there's no question that the sentiment has shifted. We have been reporting on Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia who was an avid supporter of gun rights saying that he's flipped and he wants there to be gun control measures, maybe even supportive of assault weapons ban.

But he is a pretty safe senator when it comes to the politics of his state. He could probably be senator for life if he wants to, he's very popular. There are other people who are going to be up for re- election in two years who are not as safe, who are from gun rights states so to speak.

Many of them are Democrats. So I think it's still going to be an uphill battle. There's no question about it. It goes back to what we have been talking about since this horrible tragedy happened, which is the main reason why Democrats have been virtually silent until the Newtown tragedy is because it's bad politics.

Many of them believed and have believed that for the past decade or, bad politics in rural or red states to even talk about the idea of gun control. Not so much because of the money that the NRA puts in, but because they are very powerful in ginning up membership. It's very big, four million people out there.

And they are pretty powerful and they go out and vote in a lot of the key districts and states.

COSTELLO: Dana Bash, reporting live from Washington this morning.

Northern Californians are slogging through another day of wet and windy weather after two storms slammed the area this weekend. The rain and high winds causing major flight delays and travelers in Washington State are facing major trouble this Christmas Eve after officials were forced to close a major highway due to terribly snowy conditions.

Our meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is here now to tell us what more we can expect as Christmas approaches.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Carol, unfortunately, we are still looking at some stormy conditions, but this time it's across the south. In fact, right now what we're looking at is very heavy rain south of the Atlanta with frequent lightning strikes.

You're probably wondering how does this impact travel not only for drivers, but also for those that are flying because already we're getting reports of airport delays in Atlanta there about 15 minutes now but expect them to increase.

We're also anticipating delays not too far away in Charlotte, Chicago and the Midwest. And snow, this may be good news for those of you that are planning a ski vacation for the holidays, but it could slow you down with airports delays potentially.

Another big threat for tomorrow, Christmas Day, is dangerous conditions. What I'm talking about is the threat for tornadoes, possibly some strong ones with damaging hail and strong winds as well. This is all across areas into Louisiana and Mississippi and as far to the east as Atlanta.

The storm system that's going to create all of these travel troubles for Christmas Day is still the one that's bringing the snowfall to the west. But as the snow drops into Texas, it will pull colder air in behind it tapping into moisture from the gulf. That will create some very heavy rain.

You can see our precipitation forecast by Tuesday afternoon. We're looking at heavy rain across much of Louisiana into Southern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Then as we start talking about the day after Christmas, that storm system slides further to the north.

So you're likely to see more snow the day after Christmas in places like Oklahoma and Arkansas and then we'll watch for the storm system to work its way to the northeast.

And what that means is we're going to see the colder air moving eastward as well and we're likely to see snowfall as we go into the day after Christmas for a places like Boston and into New York.

But overall travels tough in the southeast so be careful out there. The rain is coming down heavy and hard in the southeast. COSTELLO: Good advice for us. But Santa, nothing slows Santa down. NORAD as you know is tracking Santa. We just said he was in China. He was in China just 15 minutes ago. There are 1.3 billion people in China.

Santa has already managed to gift every single one of those people there and now he's in the Philippines. He'll whip through the Philippines. So kids, get ready. Get that milk and cookies going. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: It's 16 minutes past the hour. Time to check on our top stories. Firefighters responding to a blaze in New York were shocked this morning. The two firefighters were killed and at least two others were wounded in the incident. Fire spread to a second house in the neighborhood, but gunfire stopped firefighters from battling that blaze.

Senator Michael Crapo apologizing for his action surrounding a DUI arrest. The Idaho Republican was arrested early Sunday morning in Alexandria, Virginia. Police say his blood alcohol level was 0.110. The legal limit for drivers in Virginia is 0.08. A court date has been set for January 4th.

Opposition groups in Egypt challenging voting results on a new constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood says 64 percent of Egyptians voted in favor. Official results are due later today. The voting came amid-street battles between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opposition protesters. Opposition groups said they were kept out of the drafting of the constitution.

Chile has issued a red alert that a volcano could have a significant eruption. The alert, the most severe in the nation's warning system, is for a volcano in the Andes Mountains near Argentina. Dangerous mudslides could accompany that eruption.

Back here in the United States, while many Americans are rushing out to the malls today to do some last-minute Christmas shopping, more people are deciding to skip the long lines and do their shopping online. The digital information provider Com Score said shoppers spent nearly $3.7 billion during the first 51 days of the holiday season. That's up 16 percent from just a year ago.

For those who waited until the very last minute to shop the old fashion way, they are going to get plenty of company. About 17 million expected to pack the stores today. That's according to a poll by Consumer Reports. Many of them might find really good bargains.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Hi, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. What do you think? When you get off work today, are you going to battle the crowds and do a little last minute shopping?

COSTELLO: I am done. It's a miracle I know, but I am done.

KOSIK: Well, you are one of the few because a lot of people who aren't finished. Yes, as you said, 17 million are expected to pile into the stores today. Consumer Reports put out a survey that it conducted from December 10th through 17th, and it found 67 percent of shoppers are not finished yet shopping, 14 percent have yet to start and we're hours away from Christmas.

Yes, you'll probably find a lot of bargains, toys, winter clothes, other items that retailers want off the shelves by January. But believe it or not that's not what last-minute shoppers are going to be looking for.

Well, over half told Consumer Reports they are going to grab a gift card because they want to get out of the crowds out there today. Wine and liquor, they are popular last-minute choices, 27 percent will give cash and 4 percent says got to give an IOU this year, couldn't get you a gift just yet -- Carol.

COSTELO: I can't believe that. I would be so mortified. I wouldn't even say that. I would say I forgot. We're going to have bad weather. You heard Bonnie tell us minutes ago that tornadoes are out there maybe a snowstorm or two. How might that affect deliveries?

KOSIK: So it's not going to be a huge concern for deliveries, but you can expect some delays for packages making it in time for Christmas. FedEx issued a service adviser saying it expected some delivery issues in seven states including Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

But it also says the contingency plans are in place. There weren't any service advisories on UPS or postal service web sites. Now you have to remember that the surge in online shopping, that has a direct impact on the shipping business.

These shippers, they have had a huge increase in volume this holiday season. They have had some of their best and busiest single days ever. UPS says it made 28 million deliveries last Thursday.

FedEx says it moved 19 million packages on its busiest day. Even the postal service says it moved a whopping 658 million pieces of mail on December 17th. The weather is going to complicate issues a bit. Your packages still get there, just maybe not all of them on time -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Just so they get there. It's the thought that counts, right?

KOSIK: Exactly. That's what IOUs are for.

COSTELLO: Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

Doomsday tourists who flooded Guatemala thinking the end of the world is near caused irreparable damage to the ancient Mayan temple. According to a report more than 7,000 people flocked to the area on December 21st, some of them getting out of control. They climbed up the temple for the ultimate experience. They are not allowed to do that and caused lasting damage. A protester calls the NRA's Wayne LaPierre a bully and explains her reason for disrupting the NRA big presser on Friday. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Christians around the world are getting ready to celebrate Christmas, which of course, marks the birth of Jesus. Here's a look from Bethlehem, where people are beginning to gather for midnight mass at the Church of the Holy Nativity.

Bethlehem described, of course, in the bible as the birth place of Jesus. Two million people make the pilgrimage to the church in Bethlehem each and every Christmas.

Pope Benedict XVI is also preparing to deliver his Christmas Eve mass in just a few hours at St. Peters Basilica in Rome. The pope has a new book out debunking what he calls several myths about how the nativity unfolded. The accepted date for Jesus' birth is several years off. He points to a blunder by a 6th Century monk for the mix up.

Now is your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, should Hollywood rethink violent movies? This Christmas Eve the stars unite for gun control in this new public service announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Columbine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Virginia Tech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tucson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aurora.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fort Hood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oak Creek.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: This plea to get guns off our streets includes Jamie Foxx who stars in a new movie "Django," a violent spaghetti western, which opens on Christmas Day. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Fox said he thought of his own children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE FOXX, ACTOR, "DJANGO UNCHAINED": It tears you up because it's really getting dangerous. We have to do something and I think now I feel that everyone is really pulling together and we have o to make some serious change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: That's something that may include a discussion of violence in movies. Foxx told Monsters and Critics, we cannot turn our back and say violence in films or anything we do doesn't have a sort of influence, it does. But Foxx's co-star, Samuel L. Jackson, does not see it that way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR, "DJANGO UNCHAINED": I don't think one has anything to do with the other. It's a western. It's a period piece about slavery. America has a violent past. One thing doesn't have anything to do with it. It's not life-imitating art.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: It's art imitating life, although we tend not to glorify murder or make clever jokes after killing in real life, at least we hope so. Following Sandy Hook, Hollywood delayed or limited screenings of "Django Unchained" and other violent movies out of respect.

But the violence is help postponing a movie that glorifies violence enough? The talk back question today, should Hollywood rethink violent movies? Facebook.com/carolcnn or you could send me a tweet at carolcnn.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me this morning. It's 30 minutes past the hour. Here's some great Christmas news. After a month in a Mexican prison, a former U.S. Marine reunites with his family.

Jon Hammar was on his way to a surfing vacation in Costa Rica back in august when he was arrested by Mexican authorities on a questionable gun charge. U.S. lawmakers stepped in on Hammar's behalf helping secure his release.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is recovering in the hospital. A spokeswoman says Britain's iron lady is doing absolutely fine after undergoing surgery last week to remove a growth in her bladder. The 87-year-old Thatcher is expected to remain in the hospital through Christmas.

Congress and the president have stopped trying for now to avoid the fiscal cliff. They are home for the holidays and really not all that optimistic about a Christmas miracle to prevent us from falling off the fiscal cliff.

The protester who disrupted Wayne LaPierre's statement on Friday, his big presser, says her actions is in response to the NRA chief's call for armed guards in every school.