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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Tornadoes in Alabama; Interview with Congresswoman Nan Hayworth of New York; Matt Damon's Mission

Aired December 26, 2012 - 06:30   ET

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


BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Memphis getting snow, heavy amounts of snow for the heartland, which included Paducah, Kentucky, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

And then I mentioned a foot plus. So, here's where that's happening, through central and upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, Scranton hit hard, as well as into much of New Hampshire, pretty much the whole state, and Vermont. Boston is a little bit, New York City a little bit. So, not too bad. You'll certainly manage with that and notice again the Jersey Shore and further off to the Atlantic, spared from the storm, which is good news.

But this is going to come in for many people traveling this week, really bad timing, you know, as we look toward the holidays. But here's a look at what happened so far: we already have a foot of snow on the ground.

And I want to point out in Arkansas, how unusual this is to have snow on Christmas Day, yesterday falling. It only happens once a decade, let alone see this much snow. North to Little Rock, 10 inches of snow. Little Rock rarely sees measurable snow. Only about once every 10 or 11 years, as I mentioned, and to see this much, that only happens really once in a lifetime. So, it's very unusual to see snow in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, on Christmas Day and so much of it.

Current temperatures behind the system are very, very cold. So, the snow that's on the ground in Texas and Oklahoma and even Little Rock will be sticking this morning. If you have to get out, you're heading to the stores, give yourself extra time if you're traveling as well because that snow will be cold and solid. I'm not expecting it to melt very much as we go forward.

So, Alina and Drew, we're watching the storm system for today. Again, the eastern part of the South, extreme Southeast, impacted by severe weather. Blizzard conditions to the heartland and snow heading right up to the Northeast. So, a very busy holiday week.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: That's something that really caught our attention, when you said a little bit of snow in New York City, Bonnie. What's a little bit of snow?

SCHNEIDER: Just a couple of inches. You know, I'm from New York, too. So, I'm thinking, that's not too bad, we can handle it.

But when you start driving Upstate New York, it will be over a foot, and that's going to be a lot.

CHO: Well, welcome to New York, Drew Griffin.

SCHNEIDER: Right.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: That picnic later today is off, Alina.

CHO: OK.

GRIFFIN: A tornado that tore through downtown Mobile, Alabama, knocked out power to nearly 26,000 people, as well as a local hospital. Several buildings, including a high school, a church, and almost two dozen homes were damaged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I prayed to God as loud as I could and I was just praying for my safety. And I knew that the church was shaking. I just prayed that the church stayed put.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: The church is still standing, but the damage as you saw, is widespread.

On the phone with us now is Mobile's Fire-Rescue Department's public information officer, Steve Huffman.

Mr. Huffman, thank you for joining us.

I know that at least one of the churches, Trinity Episcopal, suffered a lot of damage. Part of the roof is gone, front wall of the parish is gone, and they just went through a $1 million renovation. And thank goodness it didn't happen when the church was packed.

But as daylight breaks there in Mobile this morning, what is going to be your biggest challenge in terms of cleanup?

STEVE HUFFMAN, MOBILE FIRE-RESCUE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): Well, we had public works crews working throughout the night, as well as Alabama power crews working to restore power in those affected areas. These guys -- I mean, unfortunately, this was not anything new to us.

Now, tornadoes are, but we're used to hurricanes. So we deal with power outages and things like that in emergencies such as this. Our guys are well-trained to respond to these types of incidents.

GRIFFIN: Steve, how rare is it to have these tornadoes at this time of the year? And nobody hurt, so you must have had pretty good warnings out there?

HUFFMAN: We have been told a couple of days ahead of time to expect, you know, some severe weather to include tornadoes, and I think everybody was prepared for that. Of course, we were expecting a lot earlier than what had actually happened. But that's the way weather is. We had a tornado come through just last week, and, for us, this is kind of rare for this part of the county. We're -- rarely have tornadoes in the city itself and to have two within a five-day period is pretty unusual.

CHO: What are you hearing, Mr. Huffman, about threats of more tornadoes today? Is that a real possibility? If so, are you prepared for that?

HUFFMAN: Well, we're prepared if that happens, but I have not heard that we will be experiencing any more weather like we had yesterday.

CHO: That will be very good news.

HUFFMAN: The temperatures have certainly cooled down, the wind blowing pretty hard outside, but we can live with that.

GRIFFIN: Steve, thanks a lot. Remarkable that nobody in Mobile was even injured.

People really were prepared.

CHO: They were. They heard the sirens and they took shelter, which is exactly what we want to hear.

All right. We want to move to Washington now, where we're six days away from the fiscal cliff. The president will leave Hawaii very late tonight to come back to Washington, D.C., to be in town as the Senate and House reconvene tomorrow.

GRIFFIN: Congresswoman Nan Hayworth from New York is here, Republican, to join us.

I don't know what to ask you, we keep counting down the days waiting for a deal. And I know you guys are waiting for a deal, too. But -- I mean, what are the odds -- I shouldn't say the odds, but what realistically -- where is the Republican Party now and coming together and signing anything?

REP. NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK: Well, we want to get the job done and we did -- you know, in August the House passed and not just with Republican votes, but with Democratic colleagues as well, we passed extension of all the '01 and '03 tax relief, pending full tax reform so that we can get the economy to grow again, because the common link we all have is that we want to see 23 million unemployed or underemployed American goes back to work. The only way to do is to provide relief to employers, small ones, big ones.

The president has talked corporate tax reform, lowering corporate tax rates, the highest in the world, that's terrific. But we also have the majority of small businesses that do 2/3 of the new hiring in the country from small businesses. A majority of them will be caught up in the net if, as the president's proposed, we allow '01 and '03 to expire for people making $250,000 and more.

CHO: Point taken, Congresswoman. But, you know, the polling has consistently shown that most Americans back the president. And the president, of course, insists that wealthy Americans should pay more in taxes.

HAYWORTH: Yes.

CHO: In fact, a new CNN/ORC poll just last week found that just over half of respondents believe that Republicans should give up more in any solution, and consider the party's policies too extreme. Listen, the president was elected on the promise that he would raise taxes on everyone making more than $250,000 a year. The Republicans couldn't come to an agreement on having the ceiling at a million.

If we go over the cliff, isn't the president in a position to blame Republicans? Aren't you concerned about that?

HAYWORTH: Well, Alina, we are trying to make the case as strongly as we can. If you look at the polling, of course, around the time of the election, the president certainly was re-elected, but not primarily on the basis of his fiscal policies, but on the basis of his being relatable, if you will, to the American people. That's important.

We're trying to make the case because we know that down the line, you know, it's like trying to repeal the laws of physics. The laws of economics tell us, in fact, $250,000 for families, $200,000 for individuals. That's a big burden on small businesses in this country. That's going to show up in an economy that's not going to grow.

We'd like to see at the very least -- and this is one of our challenges -- let's see real spending reforms, let's see proposals from the president that actually take advantage of the fact that he has extraordinary political capital and could really bring our federal government to the right size. He's got public support to do that. We would really like to see serious proposals from him about that. We haven't seen that yet either. Spending is a huge problem.

GRIFFIN: Yes.

You know, we talk about these polls a lot. I'm going to ask you two questions really, because do Republicans who are elected in their districts by people who I'm guessing don't want taxes raised on anybody --

HAYWORTH: Right.

GRIFFIN: -- really care about a national poll?

HAYWORTH: Well, we care about every constituent we serve in our district. And we care about, certainly I can speak not just for myself I'm sure for every American. These -- these things make sense and when you raise taxes on employers, when you raise taxes on businesses, small ones, bigger ones, they are not going to have the resources to hire. They're not going to be able to do as much.

CHO: But we're looking in six days of going over the fiscal cliff. We're looking at $600 million in tax increases and spending cuts.

HAYWORTH: Nobody wants to do that. Right.

CHO: Nobody wants to do that, I think we all agree. And yet, over the weekend, there were no talks by all accounts between the president and members of Congress.

HAYWORTH: Well, the Senate went away.

CHO: The president was playing golf in Honolulu.

Listen, I was working on Christmas.

HAYWORTH: Sure.

CHO: With all due respect, should Congress have taken a break?

HAYWORTH: No.

CHO: I mean, there are huge implications here.

HAYWORTH: You know, Alina, we have to wait on the Senate at this point. And that's -- that's our challenge. We did send a bill to them in -- a couple of months ago in August. Although now, it's four months ago. We sent a bill to them saying, hey, let's extend '01, '03 for the time being so we can work on real tax reform. They need to send that back to us.

It's true Speaker Boehner brought another bill for consideration to the House majority.

CHO: But that's just --

HAYWORTH: And they rejected it.

CHO: That's just moving the hot potato around. Nothing is getting done.

HAYWORTH: Well, we need the Senate to come back. The Senate -- really, if you look at it, the House has passed a budget for three years in a row. The Senate has not passed a budget. I mean, what family in the United States can make its way if it doesn't have a budget?

And yet, this is what we're facing with the Senate. The Senate went away for part of the holiday season. And the House can't act until the Senate comes back. As I understand it, the Senate is coming back tomorrow, I believe it is, and the president is coming back. So, that's a positive sign. We're ready to go to work.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Realistically -- we're talking to Brianna Keilar who's out in Honolulu with the president, realistically, can there be a grandiose bill that will attempt to solve our spending, deficit problem, within the six-day framework? Are we just talking about a band-aid?

HAYWORTH: Right. Realistically, I -- personally, I don't think we're going to get the big plan in the next six days. It would be great if we could.

CHO: The whole enchilada.

HAYWORTH: Right. The whole enchilada.

But at least if we can get an appetizer -- no, seriously -- if we can get assurance that realistic work is being done to provide tax relief, regulatory relief. You know, the two big laws passed previously in 2010. The Affordable Care Act, well-intentioned, but a very challenging law, very costly, and Dodd-Frank -- those are posing problems, too.

CHO: Earlier this week, we spoke with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. As you know, you signed the pledge not to sign taxes.

HAYWORTH: I did.

CHO: He supported Speaker Boehner's Plan B.

HAYWORTH: Right.

CHO: And said it wouldn't violate his pledge.

Here's what he told us earlier this week. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: I think in fact, that Plan B was a good step in the right direction towards protecting and continuing the tax cuts for everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYWORTH: Yes. Well, if you look at current law, current law says as we all know, part of the fiscal cliff, that the '01, '03 tax relief measures are going to expire on January 1st. So, at that point, everybody's taxes go up. We all know that. We all want to forestall that.

CHO: But how high are you willing to go?

HAYWORTH: Well --

CHO: If not a million, than what?

HAYWORTH: Well, let's bear in mind that every new tax burden we apply has consequences for the real economy and for growth, so the very best thing we could do, the very best thing we could do is we're not increasing taxes --

CHO: They don't want to agree to that.

HAYWORTH: Exactly. So, Alina, we're just -- you know, we're going to -- I would imagine we're going to work our way, you know, and make the threshold. If that's where people have to go, we'll make the threshold as high as we can. Because the more relief we provide, the better of we'll be.

GRIFFIN: It's just come down to an argument over where this tax rate is going to fall, though. I'm not seeing any kind of answers as to our real fiscal problems because --

HAYWORTH: Agree.

GRIFFIN: -- the tax rate, no matter what it is on the rich or not on the rich is not going to solve the big huge impending doom.

HAYWORTH: You're absolutely. And, Drew, you've said, that's right.

So, the latest proposal from the president, of course, did not have the kind of long and short-term and midterm spending reform that we need. The federal government right now is it, as we all know, spending more than a trillion dollars year upon year since the president took office, more than a trillion over budget year upon year. That has to stop.

GRIFFIN: And you are putting faith in Harry Reid to come back with some proposal that will meet that in the next six days? I mean, I'm just trying to gauge where you were at out there.

HAYWORTH: It's a good question. Senator Reid, throughout these past two years, has not worked in -- in any very productive way with the House majority. And we do in the House represent the American people, at least as much as the Senate majority does, and we do need to work together.

And you are absolutely right. We've had roadblocks and obstructions and ignoring the bills that we sent over time and time again until something absolutely has to get done to prevent the federal government from completing shutting down. That's not acceptable. The American people should rise up, express their thoughts about that as well.

CHO: Representative Nan Hayworth, Republican from New York, always great to see you.

HAYWORTH: And to see you, too, Alina.

CHO: I'm glad you got the memo on the red today.

HAYWORTH: Yes.

GRIFFIN: You're hitting the train.

HAYWORTH: Actually, I'm ready to go back to Washington at a moment's notice.

GRIFFIN: Thank you for coming. My pleasure.

HAYWORTH: My pleasure.

GRIFFIN: Well, there's nothing else like it in the world. Here's the bad part: China has it, and, well, we don't. We'll explain that one, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: It is 47 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to date on the morning's top stories

Unfortunately, tornadoes tearing up parts of the south overnight. Three deaths being blamed on the storm, so far. Electricity is a big problem. A 186,000 people without power in Arkansas. More than 27,000 out in Alabama and thousands in the dark in Mississippi and Louisiana as well.

CHO: A beast of a snowstorm is crippling parts of the Midwest. Blizzard conditions are in the forecast today for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Some places could see a foot of snow or more.

And just look at this. Look what it looks like here in Indiana. Live look at Seymour, Indiana where it is coming down pretty hard. We had a better shot earlier, but they're going to get a ton of snow today and it's blizzard conditions there right now.

GRIFFIN: Yes. That looks like a meteor shower.

CHO: And China has launched the world's longest bullet train line. The first one left Beijing just this morning, zipping down at nearly 25 -- 200 -- not 25 -- 200 miles per hour. It should make the 1,400- mile trip, roughly the distance from New York to Key West in about eight hours.

Regular trains like the ones we have here in the U.S. take more than three times that long. It is all part of China's plan to develop a large high-speed rail network by 2015.

GRIFFIN: Christmas surprise from Jessica Simpson. She is pregnant again. She confirmed it with a holiday photo on Twitter. Simpson tweeted a photo of her daughter on the beach with the words, big sis in the sand. She gave birth to her first child, Maxwell, in May.

CHO: Congratulations to Jessica Simpson.

Meanwhile, as the famous actor, Matt Damon, has traveled much of the world, there's one particular trip he took that changed his life. He talks about that and more in my one-on-one interview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Welcome back.

When Matt Damon isn't busy shooting movies, he's spending the globe helping the less fortunate, and would you believe, nearly one billion people around the world struggle to find clean water, things we are used to like faucets and toilets. Damon began his quest to change that about six years ago after he met a 14-year-old girl on a trip to Zambia.

I spoke to him recently as part of my special, "Big Stars, Big Giving." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: It's very hard for us to understand. You wake up in the morning, if you're thirsty, then there's a faucet right there. There's one in the bathroom, there's one in the kitchen, and clean water comes out of all of them.

CHO (voice-over): But for nearly a billion people around the world, a billion, there is no affordable access to clean water. More than double that number lack proper sanitation.

DAMON: Every 20 seconds, a kid under the age of five is dying, losing their life, because they do not have access to clean water, and it just doesn't have to be that way.

CHO: So, in 2009, Damon and world-renowned water expert, Gary White, founded Water.org.

DAMON: We're approaching it differently than many other organizations.

CHO: Their mantra? Wells are great, but charity can't help everyone, so why pioneered a concept called water credit.

GARY WHITE, CO-FOUNDER, WATER.ORG: So, we knew that women in India, for instance, were going and paying 125 percent interest on loans to loan sharks so they can build a toilet. And so, we said, let's take microfinance and layer it in here and get people access to affordable loans so they can buy that toilet so they can get that water connection.

CHO: Depending on where are you, that could mean a faucet in your own home or a toilet with clean running water.

Water credit is working. White says loans are being repaid at a rate of 98 percent in places like Haiti.

DAMON: That was my first grass runway.

CHO: What Damon And white are trying to eliminate is the need to walk for water, taking time away from work or school.

The water is there.

DAMON: Yes. All that time that you're wasting going and standing in the line, you now have to go to your job. It's the difference between hope and looking forward to a better day and an existence that just basically is about, you know, scavenging for water.

CHO: But how do you get people in the western world where water is plentiful to care?

DAMON: You know, we've talked about different ways to do that maybe involving humor.

CHO: Take Ben Stiller. He gets attention for his foundation, Stiller Strong, by producing hilarious videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Damon, he claimed water. How do you claim water? Aquaman?

CHO: Consider this, Damon talks about water on YouTube, 4,000 hits. This video with Sarah Silverman?

(SINGING)

CHO: Viral. Damon says his strong suit is getting people to care.

DAMON: Because there's a lot of kind of low-hanging fruit so to speak. There are so many people that we can help.

CHO: Do you see a solution in your lifetime?

DAMON: Yes, we do. In fact, that's why we're here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (on-camera): I really, really enjoyed talking to him, you know? He says that this whole concept of water credit has actually helped a million people so far around the world have affordable access to clean water. He says it's a good first step. They've got 880 million more people to go, but that he believes this concept is really working, helping people get affordable loans so they can put a toilet in their home, put a faucet in their home.

And again, you know, he says a big challenge is getting people in the western world to sort of wrap their minds around it with something we can't really fathom or understand, but, he's really taking this on as his cause, and you know, and it seems to be working. He's making a difference.

Tomorrow, I am talking to Matthew McConaughey, who has his own foundation, and we'll be chatting about that tomorrow.

GRIFFIN: How do you get these gigs?

CHO: Charm, sure.

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: Hey, the severe storm system has spawned all those tornadoes on Christmas is moving east, and we're tracking that coming up.

CHO: Plus, your local Starbucks getting into the fiscal cliff debate? How you'll notice when you get your morning coffee, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)