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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

The NRA Doubles Down; NRA Opposing New Gun Restrictions; Cost Of Putting Police In All Schools; Egypt's Opposition Plans Fight; Christmas In The Hospital; Senator Affleck Of Massachusetts?; Tebow Had It With Jets?; Holding Out For Moore; Fired For Being "Irresistible"; The True Cost Of Christmas; Holiday Travel; Christmas With The First Ladies

Aired December 24, 2012 - 07:30   ET

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


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: -- good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. It's great to be here, great to with you, Alina. I am Dana Bash in D.C. Thanks for joining us on this Christmas Eve morning.

Well, a big controversy over comments from the National Rifle Association is growing louder this morning. The group doubled down on its controversial statement following the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

CEO Wayne Lapierre not giving any ground at all. He says all schools should have armed police officers. Here is what he said on NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: If it's crazy to call for putting police and security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. I tell you what the American people -- I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I want to bring in Richard Feldman. He is the former political director of the NRA, now the president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. Thank you very much for joining us on this holiday. Appreciate it.

The first question is, you know, before the NRA gave its statement on Friday, you said that you thought that they might do something other than what they did. Maybe even say that they supported banning high- capacity magazine rounds. Were you surprised that they didn't do that and did call for even more guns?

RICHARD FELDMAN, FORMER NRA POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, I think the first thing we need to do in this country is take a little step back and start being nicer to one another. Let's lower the rhetoric, we're all Americans, all in this, and we all want to resolve the problem.

No one wants to see the kind of horrific massacre that occurred last week. We have different ideas and, in fact there are many things that we can do right now as a nation without Congress, without regulation. We can go ahead and harden those schools. We can put ballistic doors into our schools.

It only costs money. We can change our system in many ways. We need to have an effective Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, one that's run by serious leadership. We need to increase funding for our nippon system. We need upgrade our NICS background checks --

BASH: Those are all interesting ideas, but what about to my question, which is were you surprised, given the fact that you thought your former employer, the NRA, would go ahead and say, yes, maybe we should ban these high-capacity clips that they didn't do that?

FELDMAN: I never said -- didn't have any idea what they were going to say. Wayne LaPierre threw out an idea, which wasn't actually that much different from what Senator Barbara Boxer has proposed with the National Guard. Let's sometimes separate the message from the messenger.

And this Christmas season, let's all recognize, where we're in together. There are some solutions, but it's always about balance between and amongst, risks and freedoms. We have to find the right balance and we have do the things that are going to have an impact on now, not 40 or 50 years into the future.

BASH: You know, my day job is covering Congress and as Wayne LaPierre was speaking and certainly afterwards, I was talking to Republicans, these are pretty avid gun rights supporters, who were shaking their heads saying, what was that?

They were really disappointed, some of them, and not just in the message that Wayne LaPierre gave, but also the tone. One Republican told me it was like a time warp. Do you think that was a problem?

FELDMAN: Well, again, you know, I don't even want to comment about the tone. Let's talk about the issue. The issue is, what can we as Americans do to prevent this kind of horrific tragedy from ever occurring in the future?

BASH: OK.

FELDMAN: I applaud President Obama and his -- and Vice President Biden. We offer our expertise on technology and the intricacies of firearm politics. We will work with the Congress. I have some experience here.

I am the guy that negotiated the child safety lock arrangement with Bill Clinton. There are things we can do and we can do now rather than debate endlessly over the things that divide us instead of moving forward on the many things that we're already in agreement on.

BASH: OK, now you were -- when you worked for the NRA, you were its political director. So you know something about --

FELDMAN: Regional political director. BASH: Regardless, you knew a lot about its clout in politics. Do you in all candor still think that the NRA has the kind of clout that it did back in the '90s when you were involved in those really high- profile debates and legislation like safety locks, assault bans and so on?

FELDMAN: Well, when I did the safety locks, I represented the firearm industry, but people make a mistake. It's not the NRA leadership that really has the clout. It's the membership. Essentially that's what democracy is all about.

What the NRA does so well is organize and motivate their people to get out in elections. If you're arguing against what they do, you are arguing against democracy. We're in this fight together, instead of dividing America, let's come together for a change. We can.

BASH: I want to talk a little more though about the proposal that Wayne LaPierre made to put armed police officers in schools. It's gotten tepid support from Republicans and that's probably an understatement. Listen to Wyoming Senator John Barrasso yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: I think decisions about schools ought to be made at the local level. I would not want a national effort to say you have to do this at schools. I think local education decisions are best made at the local level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So even the -- people who should be the biggest supporters of this idea to not only put armed police officers in schools, but to fund it Republicans in Congress, they are hands off, what does that tell you?

FELDMAN: Well, there are lots of ways we can approach these issues and it really requires a multidisciplinary approach. What works in an environment in New York City isn't going to work in rural America, and there are 6,000 or 7,000 school districts in this country.

One size doesn't fit all solutions are pretty clear. There are many things we can do, we can do now. Let's not let those things that divide us, prevent us from moving forward in the things we're on agreement on now.

BASH: Let's keep talking, though, about what the NRA does want to do right now, which is put armed police officers in schools. You know, there was an armed deputy assigned to Columbine in and around the time of that massacre. His name was Neil Gardner, and he was monitoring students just off campus when the students started shooting. He was one of the first to respond.

I want to read to you what he said after the Newtown massacre. He said if you live through a school shooting, you understand you don't really need these weapons. I don't know why a normal person would need an assault rifle. Virginia Tech had its own police force. Others did too. Do you think that this and again, we are talking about what you've been saying over and over, which is we need to do things now.

This is what the NRA wants to do. Given the history of there being armed -- all kinds of armed guards at schools where there were shootings, do you think it will really work?

FELDMAN: Well, you know, when we call 911, we don't want to disarm security guard showing up to help us. Now, there are many different things we can do. That perhaps is appropriate in some situations. I believe New York City schools. Many of them already have security officers that are armed. That's not the whole picture.

If we focus just on the firearm, we miss the opportunity to address the larger problems here with our mental health system, which is in shambles in this country, and what is really comes down to is money. Where are we going to put our priorities, in the military overseas or right here with our own people in America?

BASH: Well, thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate it especially on this holiday. Thank you for your insights.

FELDMAN: Thank you.

CHO: Dana, other headlines to tell you about this morning.

We expect to find out the official results of Egypt's constitutional referendum vote today. The unofficial results of the second round of voting published by state-run media show a commanding 64 percent of Egyptians approved the constitution, which was drafted by an assembly dominated by Muslim Brotherhood. An opposition spokesman says several cases have been filed in administrative courts to challenge that vote.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will spend Christmas in the hospital. She is recovering from a surgery last week to have a growth in her bladder removed. Thatcher's spokeswoman says she's, quote, "absolutely fine."

But given her age, she is staying there for a couple more days. The 87-year-old Thatcher retired from public life after a stroke in 2002. She has suffered several strokes since then.

Well, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is the president's choice for secretary of state and lawmakers expect him to be confirmed pretty easily. Who will replace John Kerry though in the Senate? Well, how about Ben Affleck, the actor and director wasn't saying no when he was asked about a possible Senate run on CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: I do have a great fondness and admiration for the political process in this country. A big deal for me to come down and be on your show I've watched so much. But I'm not going to get into speculation about my political future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Wow, that was a pretty political answer. He has already got that down. He says he is happy being involved with politics from outside the government and has a lot on his plate right now, including three children. So he says he might not leave, especially after starring and directing in a pretty popular movie like "Argo."

CHO: There is an Oscar campaign under way. I might just have to go to the capital and work alongside you if that happens, Dana.

Meanwhile in sports, he's had it. ESPN is reporting that Tim Tebow refused to play yesterday after being snubbed for the Jets starting quarterback job. The Jets were embarrassed against the San Diego Charges and starter Greg McElroy sacked 11 times. League sources also tell ESPN that it's a virtual certainty that Tebow's hometown team, the Jacksonville Jaguars will scoop him up next year.

Ashton Kutcher has filed divorce papers, but his estranged wife, Demi Moore, is apparently holding off on signing them. TMZ says Moore is ready to get divorced, but holding out for a big divorce settlement.

The "Two and A Half Men" co-star has had a successful career as a sitcom actor and has made a fortune investing in technology companies. Kutcher cited irreconcilable differences when he filed for divorce from Moore.

BASH: Well, you think beautiful people have no problems? Listen to this. A woman was fired for being, quote, "irresistible." And she is now talking. Melissa Nelson worked as a dental assistant for more than 10 years.

She was fired because her boss and his wife felt she was a threat to their marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled the dentist acted legally when he let her go. She spoke to CNN's Don Lemon yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's right. The last couple of days have just been an emotional roller coaster. I'm trying to stay strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I don't even know what to say about that, Alina. I really don't.

CHO: The back story is that apparently they were exchanging text messages outside of work. The wife got wind of it in late 2009 and then in early 2010, she was fired.

BASH: That's different from being irresistible. That's an important point.

CHO: Anyway, ahead on STARTING POINT, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese are laying. It turns out that can really add up, the big dent the 12 days of Christmas would put on your wallet.

BASH: And Christmas with the first ladies. We'll take you inside the White House with the team that helps decorate all of those beautiful rooms for the holidays.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: You know those 12 days of Christmas? Well, it turns it would cost you a pretty penny if you actually tried to buy those turtle doves, or lords are leaping as a gift. Richard Quest has the true cost of the 12 days of Christmas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD QUEST, HOST, CNN'S "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": So you have decided to be very traditional in your Christmas presents this year and you are going to buy the 12 days of Christmas. You know all the items that are in the song. Well, PNC Bank has worked out how much it would cost and it's 5 percent more expensive this year than last year this is why.

Let's start with a partridge in a pear tree up 11 percent. The cost of feed, housing, storage, pear trees, all raised the cost and then you have those five gold rings. You know the price of gold has been very high. As a result, it's up 16.3 percent. Those gold rings are pretty pricey.

So onto the living things, six geese a laying up 30 percent because of storage and feed stuffs. The seven swans are swimming, up 11.1 percent. What about those humans? What about, for example, the maids are milking, unchanged. They're manual labor, unskilled.

Once you get to the drummers drumming, up 5.5 percent. How much does it all cost? If you buy the whole lot, the 12 days of Christmas, $25,431, a rise of just about 5 percent. Now as for the true cost because, remember, some of them you have to buy again and again, look at that, $107,000. That's a whooping rise.

And don't forget if you buy it online on the internet, it's even more expensive because of shipping and handling. Finally, the cost of buying Christmas every year, just look at the way it keeps getting more and more expensive.

Overall, when you put the 12 days together, the 12 days of Christmas, you can see it's not a cheap business. You will be buying again and again and again. Richard Quest, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Two things. Nobody sells a story like Richard Quest, one and two, that is a tragic sweater.

BASH: You know, I was actually talking about that with our producers as we were watching it. You know, I had will say, though, only Richard can pull off a sweater like that. As a fashionista like you, I would imagine you were cringing. CHO: The only thing I'll say is that I think it's pretty slimming -- maybe only at home.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, first ladies known for going all out decorating the White House for the holidays. They get a lot of help. Just imagine trying to decorate the White House.

We will talk to Colleen Christian Burke, whose long time dream came true when she was called to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to glitz things up. She wrote a book about it, too and that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to Starting Point. A big storm out west is delaying some travel plans on this Christmas Eve. Want to go straight to Bonnie Schneider who has the forecast for us. Bonnie, it is looking like a wet Christmas or maybe a white Christmas.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. In the south, it's coming down hard right now. Across Birmingham, Alabama, frequent lightning strikes and a lot of that wet weather will turn more volatile for Christmas Day. This is where we're looking at the possibility of tornadoes and damaging winds, even hail.

It's going to be a stormy one for parts of the gulf coast. Right now current temperatures are cold. It is 49 degrees in Nashville, but temperatures are even more cold, in fact, bitterly cold in the northern plains, where we have negative numbers in North and South Dakota right now.

Watch out for those severe storms overnight tonight in Texas and snow in parts of the Great Lakes -- Dana.

BASH: So you're an expert, which one are you going to be looking at to get Santa's whereabouts, NORAD or Google maps?

SCHNEIDER: You know, I haven't used -- I've used NORAD all the years I've been a meteorologist. So I might try both and I'll see who tracks Santa better. That might be a whole other project tonight to do.

BASH: All right, we'll get that from you tomorrow. Thank you, Bonnie.

CHO: All right, Dana, thank you. Bonnie, thank you.

The national Christmas tree at the White House is a long-standing tradition, and each first lady comes to the White House with different style and traditions, but they do get help, lots of it.

In 2008, Coleen Christian Burke's long time dream to help decorate the White House came true, and that experience inspired her to write the book, "Christmas with The First Ladies."

Coleen is with us here in the studio this morning. Great to see you. Good morning. Merry Christmas. You're so festive. So let's talk about how you got to the White House and became part of the decorating team in 2008. It began with a letter and then another one.

COLEEN CHRISTIAN BURKE, AUTHOR, "CHRISTMAS WITH THE FIRST LADIES": And another one.

CHO: And then hundreds of letters, but you had no connection to the White House. You just wrote these letters, hoping to get in?

BURKE: I and made some phone calls. Thank goodness for computers, and I like to joke that President Obama got to the White House faster than I did because it was really a hobby that just kind of took on a life of its own, and I have children. So I wanted them to see me pursuing a goal and not getting discouraged. In 2008, it worked out.

CHO: I always say no is the only first answer on the way to yes, right?

BURKE: Right, exactly.

CHO: So this experience, which we'll talk a little bit more about in 2008, inspired you to write the book. I want to look at the images first. I think as the public, the image we're used to seeing is that White House Christmas tree arriving at the White House, right?

BURKE: Exactly.

CHO: This is this year's Christmas tree. A lot of -- when that tree arrives, though, that's really when the work begins. Tell us about it. What goes into decorating the White House for the holidays?

BURKE: It's an enormous undertaking, and I like to say the first lady is the commander in chief of Christmas. It's her vision. We execute it, but it's done with almost military precision. They start thinking about these themes in February and March of the year before, and then a lot of work actually happens off-site where you're pre-building and assembling everything.

CHO: I was really surprised to hear that. It makes sense, I guess.

BURKE: Right. We can't do everything in the White House. But then, once the decorations are all put together, they are moved to the White House, and there's an enormous two-day install that goes on.

CHO: Lots of furniture is moved. You're eating meals on the floor.

BURKE: You're sitting on cardboard boxes. It's like moving day at the White House. You kind of look around and chuckle because it's not the normal White House experience.

CHO: What an experience. Let's get to some of the photos in the book. I want to begin. You mentioned themes. Let's look at this photo of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy in front of the nutcracker theme. Talk about why this photo is important.

BURKE: This is important because Jackie was the first, first lady who said, if we're having all these people for the holidays, let's have a theme. Let's think about it. Let's put some thought into it. Ever since Jackie Kennedy's first year as first lady, we've had a Christmas theme.

CHO: And the theme this year?

BURKE: Joy to all.

CHO: Wonderful.

BURKE: Mrs. Obama loves the themes that really reflect what's important.

CHO: Right. I want to look at another photo of Nancy Reagan with Mr. T.

BURKE: That's a good one.

CHO: Dressed as Santa. I love it and she really loved the idea of bringing celebrity Santas to the White House, right?

BURKE: Right. Mr. T and Nancy Reagan, what's more '80s and he was one of the celebrities --

CHO: Shoulder pads.

BURKE: Larry Hagman was also a celebrity Santa. And one year the president dressed up and surprised her, and he was the celebrity Santa.

CHO: Also want to talk about Laura Bush because this was the year you were there in 2008.

BURKE: Yes.

CHO: I want to look at that photo and also talk about your experience, very traditional looking White House under the Bush White House, right?

BURKE: Yes. Mrs. Bush, very elegant, very beautiful decorations. She copied her mother-in-law's signature look, the snowy trees in the grand lobby throughout the White House. When we were working on it, they'd say more snow, less snow, more snow. The First Lady had a vision, and she really communicated it to us, and we finally got it right. It was perfect.

CHO: Very quickly want to talk about Bo, the first family's dog.

BURKE: He's a real celebrity at the White House. This year we have Bo-flakes. If you go through, you should find the ornaments that have Bo's paw prints on them. There are always Bo sculptures and Bo cookies. He is a big, big part of the White House at Christmas.

CHO: Coleen Christian Burke, the book is called "Christmas With The First Ladies, The White House Decorating Tradition From Jacqueline Kennedy To Michelle Obama." What a great idea. I wish you the best of luck with this book and Merry Christmas. BURKE: Merry Christmas.

CHO: Thanks so much.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, eight days left to make a deal. Does President Obama want to go off the cliff? Why some say that's been the plan all along. We will talk to Grover Norquist, president of "Americans for Tax Reform," top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)