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Mubarak Moved to Military Hospital; Powerful Storm Slams Northeast; War Could End in Months; Five Days Until Fiscal Cliff; Putin Plans to Sign Anti-U.S. Adoption Bill

Aired December 27, 2012 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We're keeping you updated on the news here in the United States and around the world. Here's what's going on right now.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak being transferred to a military hospital for medical treatment. According to state run TV, the country's state prosecutor ordered the transfer. Now, Mubarak is serving life in prison for his role in the killing of demonstrators during Egypt's recent revolution. Ian Lee, he is in Cairo.

Ian, what are we learning about Mubarak's condition right now?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, right now he's in stable condition and he's had three fractured ribs after slipping in the bathroom. The general prosecutor ordered that he be taken from Tora Prison to a military hospital here in Cairo for better treatment, more specialized treatment, for his condition. His lawyer told us that he has been angry with the fact that Mubarak hasn't been getting the treatment he believes he deserves in the prison hospital, so he's glad to see that Mubarak is moving to the military hospital.

MALVEAUX: And , Ian, do we expect that anybody is really responding or reacting to his condition? Does anybody paying any attention to him now that he's serving life in prison?

LEE: Well definitely he was such -- he's such a large figure in Egyptian society, people still talk about him on a daily basis. People will be watching this closely.

I also want to bring up, on this last -- on December 23rd, his lawyer appealed the ruling against his life sentence and we're expecting an answer or a -- the court to rule on that later next month. And that will be a big day for Egyptians as well. So people are definitely watching his condition, as well as his ongoing court case.


MALVEAUX: And, Ian, is it possible, last question, is it possible that because of his medical condition that he could be released from prison per say and like stay at home and be -- or stay at the hospital and be cared for in some other way serving his term?

LEE: It would be very unlikely because the decision would be so unpopular. People are by and large very happy to see him behind bars. They do believe that he is responsible for the killing of protesters. I don't think any political figure would want to make that sort of decision to have him go home and live the rest of his days out on bed rest. But I just want to throw out there that his father is rumored to have lived over 100. And Mubarak is still in his mid-80s. So this is a man who has longevity in his family.

MALVEAUX: All right. Ian Lee, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

President Obama back in Washington today to tackle the so-called fiscal cliff. He landed about 30 minutes ago. You see him getting off of Air force One. The president cut his vacation short to deal, of course, with this economic crisis. According to a tweet from a White House spokesman, the president spoke with all four congressional leaders before leaving Hawaii for Washington, and the Senate is reconvening today.

Now, the automatic spending cuts and these tax increases that make up the fiscal cliff, they are set to take effect in just five days. We're going to have much more on the fiscal cliff crisis, the effort to reach some kind of agreement, later this hour. We're going to go live to Capitol Hill for the very latest as the Senate returns to work. That is coming up in about 20 minutes.

And President Obama's going to have another cabinet position to fill for the new year, the head of the Environment Protection Agency. We learned just a short time ago, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is stepping down after the president's State of the Union speech in January. Jackson starting with the agency as a staff level scientist back in 1987. But during her tenure as administrator, she tackled pollution problems in poor communities, also industrial officials over global warming, oil drilling and coal regulations. All those things on her plate. Jackson says she is confident that the EPA is headed in the right direction.

Winter storm causing some real headaches. Millions of folks in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, we are looking at heavy snow, torrential rain, strong winds creating a dangerous travel conditions from here, Washington, D.C., all the way to Maine. Snowfall is especially heavy in northern New York and New England. Up to a foot of snow could fall there. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is urging folks to stay off the roads if possible.

Snow is extremely wet, it is heavy, raising the risk of falling tree limbs. Also it makes shoveling the driveway, sidewalk a lot harder. We all know that. Though the winter storm is not expected to leave the region until tomorrow.

Not soon enough, though, for millions of people who are trying to catch a plane for the holiday week, but they can't. More than 360 flights have been canceled so far today. Now that is on top of the more than 1,700 flights that were scrapped yesterday. There are also plenty of delays. The longest at the airports in New York and Boston. But people flying out of Washington and Philadelphia can also expect some delays. The same winter storm system that is covering upstate New York in snow, sent tornadoes ripping through the deep south. I want you to take a look at this. This is an incredible scene. This is from surveillance cameras at a Walgreens. This is in Mobile, Alabama. You have cars and trucks tossed around like toys in the parking lot.


JOSH HOLMAN, ASSISTANT STORE MANAGER: I've never been in a war zone, but I'm sure this is what it looks like. There's a bunch of tin, all this stuff that is lifted off these buildings every year, which is lying in our parking lot. I'm just thankful I was alive because, I mean, if it had been a hundred yards the other way, it would have ripped through the middle of the store.


MALVEAUX: Tornadoes also ripping up parts of Pearl River County, Mississippi. Two dozen homes there were damaged or destroyed. At least 25 people were hurt.

I want to bring in our Chad Myers.

Chad, I can't imagine you realized it was going to be such a busy day during the holiday week here, but we are talking about just severe weather across the country. What do we see in the next 24 hours?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's still going to be -- I don't want to use the word severe, because that's reserved for hail, tornadoes, damaging winds. But severe in a sense of, we're going to have the wind with us. Forty to 50 miles per hour, slowing down all the airports from Boston to New York City, even maybe as far south as Baltimore as wind gusts are still 30 miles per hour there.

The big delays right now are at Lt. Lauderdale, but that's some construction. We have New York, LaGuardia and Newark at an hour 10 to an hour 25, and that's just in and out delays. So if you're coming in and your late, your plane that you want to connect to may still be there because it's late leaving too. So I guess just kind of takes some patience and get there.

I was in Miami just a couple of days ago and had to be evacuated from the south terminal with a bomb threat of some type. So then you have 2,000 people all having to go back through security at the same time. That's when we needed a lot of patience, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: That's a lot of patience for folks I can imagine there. Thank God, Chad, I get to stay here for a couple more days. Don't have to worry about all that travel mess, at least for a little while.

MYERS: Right.

MALVEAUX: Chad, I want you to see this story, because this caught our attention. This is really pretty amazing.

MYERS: It is. MALVEAUX: It's also kind of scary. This is video out of China. This is an enormous indoor aquarium that, without any warning, suddenly shatters. This is in Shanghai. This is where the aquarium, it's very popular with those in the mall here. It's got turtles. It has sharks. And that is 33 tons of glass and water all over the place. Amazingly nobody was injured -- nobody was killed, rather, but 16 were hurt. Tell us a little bit about why you suppose this happened. Does this have anything to do with temperature or how do people explain this?

MYERS: I will never look at an aquarium the same again, right, after seeing that. A big wall of water. This was a ten-inch piece of plate glass that exploded, literally. People that were there said there was just a crack. All of a sudden, after the crack, the water rushed out and it sounded like an explosion.

What they believe -- what investigators now believe happened here is that the tank had very warm water in it. The outside temperature, and although this is in a mall, this was the outside-facing glass. You can see there are trees there right in the left of that shot. So this was in the cold part of the mall. Kind of the outside exposure. Temperatures got down into the 20s. Not like it had never been in the 20s before, but this here, with the warm on the one side, which is the water, the cold on the other side, they believe a fault in the glass, a crack in the glass, a scratch in the glass, something -- they can't find it obviously because the glass is destroyed -- cause that to happen. And 15 people were injuries. All the fish and all the sharks, unfortunately, did lose their lives.

But, you know what, I don't think that they're going to rebuild it. They said, nope, we're not going to do this again. To dangerous with this warm/cold. And they do think that it was a change from the warm to the cold that, across that glass, the glass couldn't take it and it snapped.

But I was at Atlanta's this Christmas down there and the aquariums down there are inside and outside, but it was warm on both sides.

MALVEAUX: Yes. it's the kind of thing that you go to the aquarium and you imagine that actually happening, you know, like the worst possible scenario. To see that this morning, that that could actually occur, really kind of scary there.


MALVEAUX: But thank God it's just an aberration. It doesn't happen often. Chad, thank you very much.

MYERS: No, it's been there two years. It's been that cold before. But this was the first time for that, obviously.


MYERS: We'll see you tomorrow.

MALVEAUX: All right, thanks, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

MALVEAUX: All right, we'll see you.

Want to bring -- the diplomats push for an end of the civil war in Syria. Watch this. This is actually the scene from the ground. Peace cannot come fast enough for civilians in Syria.

Well, Russia may soon ban American adoptions. Many are opposing the ban, including this young woman, who has an inspiring story about her own adoption.

And a fashion cult (ph) cut from a different cloth. We're going to take you to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a look at the competition to keep up appearances.


MALVEAUX: This is Syria today. Government warplanes bombed the city of Homs. Witnesses say similar air strikes happened in Aleppo as well. At least 80 people are reported dead across the country today in air strikes like these or in street fighting. Now, these two little boys, twin brothers, were among the more than 160 people killed in Syria yesterday.

It is so tragic. This is where they died. The man who shot this video says that Syrian military artillery hit their home. It happen just a few miles from where more than a hundred civilians died in a government air strike just a few days ago.

Well, the man sent to Syria to try to negotiate an end to the civil war says it could be over in a few months. That is what he is saying. U.N. Peace Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is meeting with both sides in Damascus, the president as well as the rebel leaders. Now he says he speaks for the United Nations, not just these two countries.


LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. PEACE ENVOY TO SYRIA (through translator): Some said in Syria and outside Syria that I have come here to market a Russian/American project. I wish there was a Russian/American project. There is no Russian/American project, and hence I did not come here to market it.


MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Richard Roth. He's our senior United Nations correspondent.

And, Richard, Brahimi is somebody who's very well respect, but he also seems very optimistic here. When he says he thinks the civil war could be over in a few months, what is behind that?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's trying to be practical. I think it's like saying the differences in the U.S. Congress over the fiscal cliff could be settled if. That's what he's really saying that in this press conference today in Damascus, that the elements are there under a plan world powers agreed to back in June. But, of course, getting agreement from the Assad side and the rebels and those fighting the government, that's a big, tall order.

He's an experienced negotiator. He's putting this out there. There seems to be a little bit of momentum with a flurry of talks in Moscow, a key ally of Syria, and some shuttle-type diplomacy. But he still said and lamented that Syria is deteriorating rapidly. The situation is horrible. And as he said there, there's no U.S./Russian special plan. There may be some discussions on options. Can will there be a transitional government formed and then elections. But we're still not at that stage yet, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Richard, do we think that he's offering or bringing anything to the table that Kofi Annan did not, who failed in bringing these sides together?

ROTH: Well, he -- yes. And in failed, it may be a matter of timing. There -- certainly, the violence hasn't ebbed, 40,000 reportedly dead. Brahimi has not had that success either, but he's plugging away.

He's been the man-in-the-field for the U.N. from Haiti to Yemen. He's not going to give up at the moment, but it appears that the key is that Russia perhaps may be pulling slightly away from President Assad, wanting to get something resolved here.

But, yet, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov a few minutes ago on the wires was saying that the plan that Brahimi said could bring some type accord within months, those chances are decreasing.

So, this same game's still going on on the diplomatic front.

MALVEAUX: And we have seen this, Richard, and you've seen these pictures, too, and we've had reporting from Mohammed Jamjoom and others, Arwa Damon, as well, the civilians who have died in the air strikes outside of these bakeries, lining up for -- just to get bread.

The amount of casualties, I mean, in the hundreds now. Just looking at the carnage and the numbers and just the lives lost, does that make this peace talk and this deal even more urgent, that people are saying, look, something's got to give here, something's got to be done?

ROTH: And we've seen in other crises that no matter how high the death count, nothing happens. But sometimes there's movement after one heavily visualized, televised atrocity, such as we had in Sarajevo, sometimes.

But even Brahimi is saying let's focus on this death count. He's saying there's 4 million internally displaced in Syria. People are starving. People are taking up -- chopping up desk for wood for their families.

He said, today in Damascus, this is the meaning of what's happening in Syria. There are half a million refugees. He's not losing sight of this, but President Assad doesn't seem to care that much for what's happening to his own citizens.

And the people who want to topple him are going to use every means possible to dispose of him. They're not ready to agree to any peace deal as long as Assad is in the picture, even as a figurehead, it appears, before any elections.

MALVEAUX: All right, Richard, please keep us posted. Appreciate it.

It is back to work for President Obama. He's cutting his vacation short. The Senate has now reconvened. Time is running out to avoid the big tax increases, the spending cuts that everybody is asking, can we make a deal?


MALVEAUX: We're just five days away from the tax hikes, the spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but we are four days away from another financial challenge. That is the debt ceiling.

Now, compared to reaching your limit on your credit card, essentially, in a letter to Congress, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that the U.S. is going to reach its borrowing limit on Monday.

He says, quote, "I am writing to inform you that the statutory debt limit will be reached on December 31st, 2012, and to notify you that the Treasury Department will shortly begin taking certain extraordinary measures authorized by law to temporarily postpone the date that the United States would otherwise default on its legal obligations."

The extraordinary measures will create about $200 billion worth of "wiggle room," essentially. That is equivalent to two months of borrowing.

Now to the other financial crisis that could mean higher taxes for all of us. Will Congress send the country over the fiscal cliff or are lawmakers going to come up with some sort of deal and hit the brakes?

Well, the Senate returned today, hoping to come up with some kind of agreement, but the clocking.

Dana Bash is following the developments on Capitol Hill. And, Dana, I imagine we're all working here, right, over the holidays and I guess we're going to be working as long as they are working. Hopefully, they're getting something done.

We heard from House Speaker John Boehner earlier today. Where is this? Clearly, it looks like now it's in the Senate's hands.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It is absolutely in the Senate's hands, has been effectively since the House Speaker failed to pass his so-called "Plan B" proposal last week.

And so what is going on behind the scenes right now, Suzanne, is the Senate Democratic leader is trying to figure out if he can cobble together enough votes, which would mean he would have to have probably significant Republican crossover to get enough votes to at least pass a bare minimum of what the president calls his "scaled-back version" which is essentially the president's tax plan to allow everybody's taxes to go up above household incomes of $250,000.

But even for that, the Senate majority leader is not very optimistic. Listen to what he said.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The Speaker has just a few days left to change his mind, but I have to be very honest, Mr. President. I don't know, time-wise, how it can happen now.


BASH: So, there's a time issue because we're only five days away, but most importantly, there is a political and a process issue.

The political issue, we've talked this over the last few days, Suzanne. It's just a question of whether or not there are enough lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, willing to take a vote which would effectively be used by their opponents from within their own party, potentially, but across the aisle, to say that they took a vote of increased taxes. Or -- so that's the political issue.

And then the process issue that we're trying to figure out right now is, if there is some kind of legislation that they can pass, probably just dealing with the tax issues, whether or not Republicans will allow it in the Senate to pass with a simple majority or whether it will have to be passed with what we see most pieces of legislation around here, a 60-vote threshold.

So, that's being worked out as we speak. Republican leaders say we can't even talk about it until we see the bill.

MALVEAUX: Dana, do we have any sense? Are they optimistic or pessimistic that they're going to get even something done, even if it's a stop-gap measure, some temporary measure before the new year?

BASH: Well, you just heard from Senator Reid that he is pessimistic.

I will also tell you that he has told me personally before that he is probably one of the biggest pessimists on the planet, but I think in this particular case he has good reason to be pessimistic.

The one thing that I think is important to also note is that what Reid is telling people privately, I'm told, is that he doesn't even want to bring anything up for a vote unless he is sure it will pass both houses of Congress and one of the reasons for that is the political one, that he doesn't want -- he knows that even Republicans won't want to take a vote to effectively increase taxes for no reason, that they won't be able to go home and say, I did it just because I wanted to make sure that most Americans kept their tax cuts in place.

But also because of the markets. They really feel here that, if they take a failed vote and then we still go over the fiscal cliff, it will make the market reaction even worse than it would be if the fiscal cliff just happens, which is already not going to be a good scene probably.

MALVEAUX: All right, Dana, thank you very much. We're going to get back to you in the next hour, see if there's any progress that has been made. Thank you, Dana.

Their adoption of a Russian child was almost complete. Well, now, an American couple is watching their dream crumble.


MALVEAUX: Americans trying to adopt children from Russia, they're on edge after President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning all adoptions to the U.S. He plans to study the final text of the adoption ban, but right now he sees no reason why he should not sign it.

If he does, the impact is certainly going to be felt here in the United States where hundreds of Americans have adoptions that are pending right now.

Rafael Romo talked to a family in Georgia.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jenny and Aaron Moyer describe Natalie as the sweetest four-year-old boy you could ever meet.

AARON MOYER, ADOPTIVE FATHER: He's our son. In our hearts, he's our son.

ROMO: Natalie lives in an orphanage in Russia where the Moyers visited him a few months ago with the intention of adopting him.

JENNY MOYER, ADOPTIVE MOTHER: We know that there's an orphan crisis, particularly with children with special needs in that area of the world, and that is something that we are open to and the child that we are pursuing, Natalie, has Down's syndrome.

ROMO: But even though the adoption process is nearly complete, the Moyers who live in Georgia are facing what could be an insurmountable obstacle.

The Russian parliament has approved a bill to bar American couples from adopting Russian children. President Vladimir Putin has indicated he will sign it into law.

ADAM PERTMAN, DONALDSON ADOPTION INSTITUTE: If what they say is going to happen really happens, those families are not going to be able to adopt the kids even if all the legal processes already have been in place.

But much more important, let's focus on the children. What it means is those children will remain