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Obama Returns To Tackle Fiscal Cliff; How The Fiscal Cliff Affects You; Gun Control Debate Rages; Shark Tank Shatters At Mall; Major Storm Hammers Northeast; George H.W. Bush In Intensive Care

Aired December 27, 2012 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: -- all of us. We are talking about the tax increases, the spending cuts that make up the fiscal cliff. President Obama, he cut his Christmas vacation short to deal with this crisis. He arrived back from Hawaii just a short time ago, and the Senate also returning to work today hoping to come up with some kind of agreement. But time is running out.

Jessica Yellin, she has the latest from the White House. We have got Dana Bash who is following the developments on Capitol Hill. I want to start off with you, Dana. What do we know about a possible compromise on the Senate side and what they might be proposing in fairly short order?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Compromise, I'm not so sure we'll see that. But I was told by a Republican senator and Democratic senator that the president indicated in his conversation before he left for Hawaii with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, that he, the president, is expected to send a piece of legislation up today with his scaled back tax plan. That's something that the president outlined in general terms on the Friday before he left for Hawaii, and since then what we've been hearing from Republicans, particularly Mitch McConnell's office, is we can't talk about whether we can pass anything until we actually see the legislation. So, our understanding from these sources who are familiar with the call and familiar with the process is that the president will put the plan in legislate language.

What is the plan? Well, obviously, the president's tax plan that he campaigned on really for five years which is to let the tax cuts expire for households making more than $250,000. He also mentioned, in his press conference, he would add unemployment insurance. The thinking here is that he would potentially also add extending the estate tax cut. The estate tax has been at a relatively low level for the past 10 years or so, and it expires also at the end of the year. That would be kind of a little bit of a sweetener for Republicans, but, you know, this is all, you know, toing and froing right now trying to find out if it is possible to pass anything to at least keep most Americans' taxes where they are before the end of the year when everybody's taxes go up.

MALVEAUX: And, Dana, we heard from Senator Reid earlier today. He essentially said they were dealing with a -- in his words, a dictatorship. Are we expected to hear from either him or any other players on this from the Hill in terms of trying to move this forward, whether it's publicly, in the public arena, or privately?

BASH: We are. We are told we should expect to hear from the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. The Senate is in, the House is not in yet, but the Senate is in and he will likely take to the floor, we're told, at some point this afternoon, and give a status report from his perspective. And, you know, what we're talking about right now in the Senate is whether or not the Democrats, if they do attempt to pass something, if they're going to have to get to the 60-vote threshold, meaning if they're going to need to break a filibuster or if the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, will be able to get something -- get agreement from his Republican conference to --


BASH: -- just have a simple majority vote. That is sort of what they're talking about right now. And it's important to emphasize that Senator Reid has told people privately if he does not think that any piece of legislation, particularly this one that the president is sending up today, can pass both the Senate and the House, he doesn't want to bring it up because he doesn't want to, A, make people walk the plank politically and, B, spook the markets even more with a failed vote.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you. Again, I want to bring in Jessica here. The president landed two hours ago. What is he doing either behind the scenes or will he do something publicly to move this forward?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, there's no public event for him planned, and I don't expect to see him out today. Dana is reporting that he's going to send something up to the Hill. You know, it might not be a piece of written legislation, perhaps it could be his proposed basic terms which he laid out last week and which is sort of an understanding up on Capitol Hill and here at the White House.

The bottom line, I should make it clear, that we have not confirmed that here at the White House. It has been silence on our end as they are, no doubt, working privately behind closed doors. They do not want to leak anything at this point, as you know, in these kinds of -- at this sort of stage when things are so delicate, they don't like to talk to us at all, Suzanne. So, right now --

MALVEAUX: Not surprising.

YELLIN: -- all the -- right, all the discussions are going on, I guess, between them and up on Capitol Hill. But the bottom line, from the White House's perspective, is we know what the president will not do and that is he will not agree to raise taxes -- sorry, to keep taxes low on upper income Americans. That is the one absolute he has made clear is a nonnegotiable. And so, they have to find term -- a way to come to terms that -- the bottom line for the White House is senator McConnell they argue has to agree not to filibuster and has to --

MALVEAUX: Yes. YELLIN: -- find a way to get all his members to agree not to filibuster. Can he do that? It's a big unknown.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jess, thank you very much. We're going to be watching very closely. Both sides, they want to -- say they want to avoid the massive tax increases, the spending cuts that make this fiscal cliff. They can't seem to get past the blame game here. If there's no deal, how is it going to work, how we're all going to feel? People are struggling.

I want to bring in our CNN Contributor John Avlon to talk a little bit about this. He's senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." John, you know, it's almost like we keep playing this game over and over again. It's a movie we keep seeing. And they come up to the very edge and then they get something done. But we're talking five days now which seems pretty pathetic. Do we anticipate that this is -- this is going to be worked out, even if it's the last minute, last minute, that something is going to get done?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, that is the hope. But, you know, you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And there's been an increased tone of pessimism on Capitol Hill. I mean, Harry Reid saying, just late last night, that, you know, he wondered if there was enough time to get this done. Well, folks, this is the most anticipatable political problem. We've known this cliff was coming for months and yet the Capitol Hill in Washington seems to be taking this at the last minute hoping they can throw a hail Mary in the last couple of days. This is serious stuff. They haven't been talking. They haven't been dealing. Now, the president's apparently going to put forward some kind of a scaled down plan. But the agreed hope is (INAUDIBLE) would've produced a grand bargain. That seems highly unlikely. And that is not good news for any kind of long-term bi- partisan deal to deal with the deficit and the debt.

MALVEAUX: And, John, we know -- we've heard from a Florida Congresswoman earlier today on CNN who talks about the fact that there is such gridlock now that it is very difficult to even imagine how that would be unlocked. I want you to hear what she said.


REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: It's just about the scoring political points. And I know that the American people are tired of that. They're tired -- they're tired of all of us, I understand that. We just make used car salesmen look good. That's the only -- that's the only group that is below us. But we've got to get our act together and prove to the American people they we can regain the trust that they once had in us and get the job done. And, as you say, not kick the can down the road, they want us to really work this out. I hope we do.


MALVEAUX: What do you think, John? I mean, do you think that there is a possibility here for either side to come out looking good and accomplishing something? AVLON: Look. There is that possibility. We've been close to a deal before. Monday of last week it looks like President Obama and John Boehner were coming much closer, both making significant concessions that would alienate their base. That's what's required to get something done. Everyone's got to give a little bit and the extremes on both sides might not like it. but that's the only way we're going to break this gridlock.

Here's the problem. With only a couple of days left in the calendar, and the special centers arguing, many of them, that no deal is better than a bad deal, from their perspective. That kind of common ground looks further and further. And the real tragedy, the real absurdity, Suzanne, is that we were told that because nothing was ever going to get done in Washington during election year, that we'd just kick the can to the lame duck. And then, because the politicians would be free from the pressures of reelection, they can finally find a way to reason together. Well, that hasn't happened. That shows just how much the rot has sunk in in Washington. The paralysis because of this high bipartisanship.

So, I hope that people listen to the Congresswoman, but there's not a lot of rationale reason with optimism with just a couple days left.

MALVEAUX: And, John, real quick. If this does not get worked out, what are we talking about, the potential impact for all of us?

AVLON: This is the most important thing for folks at home to appreciate. This is not just about Washington paralysis. This is about your pocketbook. If you're a family that -- married with no children, under the age of 65, and you make $57,000 a year, your taxes are going to get hiked by two grand. If you make $106,000, your taxes are going to go up by $4,200 overnight automatically. That kind of broad-based tax hike plus deep spending cuts, that could take the economy and even possibly pus hit back in recession from the recovery that we're finally beginning to enjoy. So, this is not academic, folks. This is your wallet. This is your money we're talk about.

MALVEAUX: All right. John, thanks for --

AVLON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: -- spelling it out, keeping it real. Obviously, we're going to be taking a look at whether or not anything gets done. Five days. We're talking about five days. Thank you, John.

AVLON: Almost two weeks after a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut, the debate over gun control of course continues. The National Rifle Association wants to see armed guards in every school. Earlier today, NRA president, David Keene, defended the idea in an exclusive interview on CNN.


DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NRA: We're not urging that teachers be armed but in some schools, school districts and teachers are armed today. And the if the school district and the teachers want to do it that way, that's really up to them. But what has to happen and what should happen is that in every school district, administrators, teachers and parents should sit down and ask what's needed to protect t the students in that school? Some of them will want police offers there. Others of them will want private security guards. There may be some places where they want volunteers to do it. We're willing to work with everybody on those questions.


MALVEAUX: In Utah today, 200 teachers are due to begin special firearms training. They're going to be practicing with plastic guns to learn how to carry concealed weapons in their classrooms. And in Arizona, the state attorney general is proposing arming school principals or a designated employee. Well, Arizona attorney general Tom Horne is with us from Phoenix. And tell us, first of all, about your proposal, what you think will help keep your schools safe.

TOM HORNE, ATTORNEY GENERAL, ARIZONA: Well, I'm trying to find the golden mean. On the one hand, some people proposed letting teachers, in general, bring guns to school when they want to. I feel that would create more dangers than it would solve. On the other hand, I think we shouldn't do nothing. If there were a repeat of Newtown that could've been prevented, we would regret doing nothing. So, my proposal is to designate one person, the principal or someone he designates and then we're offering to give him training in marksmanship, in judgment, when to shoot, when not to shoot, how to secure the gun in a locked, safe place, to give intensive training. And I've offered to give that training for free to the schools. One person, the principal or someone he designates and so that there will be one person on campus trained, able to deal with a situation if it arises.

MALVEAUX: What happens if the one person who is trained, that you put all this investment in training is not there at the time of a potential school shooting?

HORNE: Well, it may be that after we've trained one person per school, we may look to more than one person, but we're starting with one person because of the number of schools we have. I've got 36 investigators who are sworn police officers. Three sheriffs have agreed to participate. I'm expecting more sheriffs to participate. So, depending on how many we can train, we're offering to do this for free, you know, we could have substitutes in the schools prepared to do this as well.

MALVEAUX: Isn't this a slippery -- isn't this a slippery slope though? Because you look at the past situations, there was an armed guard at Columbine when the gunman opened fire. At Virginia Tech, there was the university police force that was responding. I mean, there doesn't seem to be evidence that because people are armed that it necessarily stops violence in schools.

HORNE: No, it doesn't necessarily and, obviously, there's no perfect solution. But it would be a shame if somebody went into a school and started shooting people and shot a lot of people over a continuous period of time if that person could've been stopped by somebody with a gun and a gun and who was trained how to use it. That would be a terrible tragedy and I don't want to have a tragedy occur where everybody regrets that we didn't do something when we could've done something.

But what we do has to be sensible. So, I don't want to go to the extreme of having teachers, in general, having guns to school which could cause more dangers, but I don't want to do nothing either. I'm looking for the perfect middle ground where you do what you can to solve the situation, but you don't create more problems than you're solving.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in -- this is the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers issuing this joint statement. They are opposed to any plan that would arm a teacher or somebody inside of the school. This is -- this is what the president, Randi Weingarten, had to say, that schools must be sanctuaries not armed fortresses. Anyone who would suggest otherwise doesn't understand that our public schools must first and foremost be places where teachers can safely educate and nurture our students. There doesn't seem to be an appetite or a lot of consensus or support from teachers when it comes to introducing weapons inside of the schools.

HORNE: I think they were -- they were dealing with the proposals to have teachers, in general, be able to bring guns to school whenever they want to and they see that as a danger, and I also see that as a danger. So, I'm in agreement with them on that. What I want to do is provide free training for a designated person to be well-trained to deal with a situation that might arise. We would like them to be safe sanctuaries, but we found out that sometimes a bad guy can penetrate and you want someone who can deal with it in that case. Now, I'm not requiring anything of anybody. If they do want it, they don't have to have it. But if they do want it, I'm offering this as a free service that we will provide to the schools.

MALVEAUX: All right. To Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne, thank you very much. We appreciate your contribution to the debate.

Going nowhere fast, holiday travel now on hold as a wet and nasty winter storm slamming the Northeast and stranding thousands of airline passengers. Plus, shoppers running for their lives when a shark tank shatters at a mall.


MALVEAUX: Heavy snow, driving rain, fierce winds. A winter storm hitting the Northeast has it all. It is creating dangerous driving conditions from Washington, D.C. to Maine.

It is no better traveling by air. About 2,000 flights have been canceled over the last two days. Northern New York getting some of the heaviest snow. As much of as a foot. Ines Ferre, she is in Syracuse, New York, where there's a lot of snow there.

Hey, Ines, how you doing?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Suzanne. Yes, it's still snowing here. Nothing compared to what we saw earlier this morning, though. And you can see some of the snow that's piled behind me. This is snow from a nearby ice rink, as well as some of the streets here. And what the city is doing is piling all this snow, putting it into trucks and then taking it, clearing it out of this area from downtown Syracuse.

Now, for the city, they've had plows coming in through here in 12-hour shifts throughout the evening and throughout the day. It's been almost two years since Syracuse has seen a foot of snow all in one shot, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: How is the travel? We see there are some cars that are getting around there. Are people able to move a bit about or is it kind of slow going?

FERRE: They are moving about even though Governor Cuomo has asked people, if they don't have to travel on the streets, to not be on the streets. But for a lot of people, it's sort of business as usual here. We spoke to one local who told us that, well, this is winter time for them, so they're sort of used to this. And there's also some ski reports in the area. So they actually welcome this kind of weather. A lot of people will be skiing today, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Yes. We see a lot of people having fun too. Ines, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

I want to bring in our own Chad Myers from the CNN weather center.

And, Chad, you told us today that this is -- it's not severe weather. It's Syracuse weather, right?


MALVEAUX: I mean this is December, upstate New York. They get snow.


MALVEAUX: How badly is it to get around and move around today in light of all the snow that's piling up?

MYERS: Yes. When the lake-effect snow machine really fires up and you get these streams of heavy, heavy snow that could put two, three and four inches of snow down an hour, that's when you get stranded. The people of Buffalo -- and I grew up right there, Cheektowaga, New York, right there. So that snow here, we wouldn't even get school canceled unless there was six inches of snow on the ground that came in overnight.

But here's Syracuse right there. There is more snow coming in. But the bulk of the heavy snow has now moved up into Vermont and New Hampshire and also into Maine and even into New Brunswick and the Atlantic Canada area there.

Still a significant day for snow, but not in the places that really we're going to make travel just really, really treacherous for many people. Sure it's going to be bad for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, but that's still -- some of those people just want the snow because they want to go play in it. You know, it's the whole thing. Watch what you ask for because sometimes when you ask for snow, like right here in this purple area from Maine to New Brunswick, that's 20 inches of snow or more that's going to come down in the next 48 hours.


MYERS: The ocean now -- it's almost like ocean effect. The ocean's still very warm, obviously melted, it's not frozen. It's picking up that water, that moisture from the ocean, and throwing it on land in the form of big, heavy snow.

MALVEAUX: All right. Chad, I grew up in the D.C. area, and just an inch of snow and we were off -- off of school.

MYERS: Oh, yes. Oh, I --

MALVEAUX: We were kind of wimpy about the whole thing, actually. It was great.

MYERS: Yes, I worked for the weather service. Yes, one inch of snow on the beltway, forget about it. You're not going anywhere.

MALVEAUX: I want you to see this -- this next story, Chad. This is -- cold -- it's weather is to blame for this, causing this enormous fish tank to suddenly crack and shatter. This is an aquarium. This happened in Shanghai, China. This was massive. You're talking about 33 tons of acrylic glass aquarium. Just exploding, throwing glass, water, live sharks all over the street. More than a dozen folks were actually hurt. And all the fish died. And officials think that what happened was cold air on the outside of the tank, warm water on the inside weakened the glass. It couldn't handle the water pressure.

Chad, is this -- is it kind of like, you know, when you have a glass, you put it in the dishwasher, it comes out, it's hot, and then you pour something really cold in it? How do we compare this? How do we understand what happened here?

MYERS: Certainly you could use that -- that analogy, yes. What happens is that because we had cold air that came in, in the format of a cold front, not a margarita, but a cold front. Because we had that come in, that was on the one side of the glass. That was trying to contract that glass on that side because cold things make -- cold air makes things contract, like a thermometer. The alcohol goes down in the thermometer or the mercury goes down because it contracts. On the other side of the glass, the water was still warm where the sharks were swimming. So you have one side getting smaller, one side staying or getting bigger, and the glass didn't like that at all. And you can see that that glass had been there two years now. Ten inches thick. And people did get hurt. They got cut by this glass.

MALVEAUX: Yes. I mean it's a good thing that this is the kind of thing that doesn't normally happen. I mean this is really an aberration, would you say? MYERS: Yes. You know, the Atlanta Aquarium is the most amazing place I've been in a long time and they have this huge picture window. I don't know, it must be 30 feet tall, 80 feet wide. And you look at it and you go, wow, I hope all that water says back there. But the water -- you know, this glass that they have is like 36 inches think. You can see how thick this is. And so, obviously, the strength of materials there is good enough in all of the other aquariums. Obviously you don't hear about this very often.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Thank God. I mean it's the one thing you think about, though, really, when you go to the aquarium and it's like, God, I'm so glad they're on the other side and this is not going to break.

MYERS: That's a really big shark.

MALVEAUX: Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

MALVEAUX: He has been in the Houston hospital for more than a month and now former President George H.W. Bush is in intensive care. We're going to tell you how he's doing. We wish him in his recovery.


MALVEAUX: He was hoping to be home by Christmas, but former President George H.W. Bush is still in an intensive care unit at a Houston hospital. Miguel Marquez is outside Houston Methodist Hospital, where the former president has been since November 23rd.

Miguel, how is he doing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, his condition is guarded in intensive care and his spokesman says the reason they put him in intensive care was because doctors wanted to keep track of several things going on with the former president. He has been here for a little over a month. He is 88 years old. He does have a fever that he can't quite kick, but they're treating it with things like Tylenol and other things say his spokesman. So it's not that serious. A family friend spoke to John King last night. Says that he's in good spirits and he's getting better and they expect him to get out fairly soon, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Do we know who's there at the hospital with him?

MARQUEZ: Well, his family certainly lives here. Barbara Bush, his wife, is here. Dorothy came in from Maryland. One of his sons, Neil, was here. One of his grandsons, Pierce, was here. So he has friends and family coming through the doors and still being able to see him, you know, surrounded by folks that he's known here in Houston for many years.


MALVEAUX: Miguel, do we have any sense of when he might be released? MARQUEZ: That is the big question. I mean it's very tough for him because he came in, you know, beginning of November to do some physical therapy related to an unrelated condition and then he went home for Thanksgiving and then he got -- he checked back in with a bronchial infection. And he's just not been able to sort of get over that and kick it entirely. Thought he was going to get out right before Christmas and then this little fever kicked in. They're saying soon. And they hope that he gets through all of this soon and that he's able to get out and move on with his life. The reason they put him in ICU, though, again, is so they can keep track of everything more minutely and finely so that they can hope to get him out and back home very, very soon.


MALVEAUX: All right. We wish him the very best in his recovery. Thanks, Miguel.

Hosni Mubarak is moving to a military hospital. The former president of Egypt is serving a life sentence in Cairo in a prison hospital. Well, Mubarak's lawyer tells CNN that his client fell this month in a prison bathroom, breaking some ribs and hurting his head. Mubarak's lawyer didn't say anything else about the former president's health. Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for 30 years until his overthrow last year. He is serving life in prison for his role in the killing of demonstrators during Egypt's revolution.

And Nelson Mandela, he is out of the hospital. The 94-year-old former South African president was admitted to a hospital in Johannesburg. That was 18 days ago. Well, he was treated for a lung infection, underwent gallstone surgery as well. He's going to continue to receive treatment at home. Mandela has not appeared out in public since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Toyota agreeing to a $1.1 billion settlement in a class action lawsuit. We're going to tell you who benefits and what kind of changes are going to be made.