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Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Gun Control Debate; Update on George H.W. Bush

Aired December 27, 2012 - 15:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Don Lemon here. Brooke is off today.

We will get first to the fiscal cliff. Five days away from the big tax hike. As you probably know by now, the president pulled the plug on his holiday trip to Hawaii. He arrived back in Washington shortly after 11:00 this morning in hopes of prodding Congress to lock in taxes as they are right now for all but the wealthiest 2 percent.

A Republican source had told us that the president would be sending a proposal today to Capitol Hill, but now the House is telling us, no, that is not the case.

I have got Jessica Yellin standing by. She's our senior White House correspondent. And then we also have Dana Bash, who is standing by, and she is there on Capitol Hill.

OK. Jessica, what is the mixup here between sending a plan and not sending a plan by the president?


The bottom line is both sides want to take action and before Senator McConnell decides whether or not he's going to filibuster this measure and whether the other Republicans in the party will filibuster, they have to see the details in the proposal. Will there be an estate tax provision?

How will unemployment -- which is expected to be extended -- will it be paid for, unemployment insurance? What spending measures will be in this and spending cuts, et cetera? There should be more details spelled out. They would like to see more details. And the question is, where will that come from?

Will it come from a phone call from staff here at the White House? Will it be spelled out by the staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? All of that is yet to be determined. Perhaps some in Senator McConnell's office believe it will come from different sources and there is a lot of potential for confusion with such little time left and so much pressure on the line.

Dana might have more information.

LEMON: A lot of, if this happens that happens, if this happens that happens. You are right. Hey, Dana, I want to go to you because just across the wire just a little bit ago that the House may be coming back into session on Sunday, but do we know, is there any movement towards getting there? Is that confirmed?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes, we do have it confirmed. In fact, that is why I was a little late. I apologize.

There is a conference call going on right now with House Republican leaders and the rank and file where they are discussing the next steps. That is something they announced moments just ago to Republicans, that they should prepare to come back to Washington, to be here on Sunday to reconvene before the end of the year, before that deadline approaches.

That does not necessarily mean that there is going to be anything for them to vote on. But they're certainly -- the Democrats have taken advantage politically of the fact that the Senate -- that the Democratic-led Senate came back today and the House is not yet here. The Republicans in the House say it's because the ball is in the Senate's court, which is true, but the optics of the House not being here maybe is not so great.


BASH: So they are coming back on Sunday.

LEMON: Yes, you are right. It's all about optics. And if they are not there, it's easy for one side to say, hey, listen, we went over the fiscal cliff because you weren't at work and we were here in Washington working. That's what they are trying to get across here by coming back on Sunday. Maybe it doesn't look as bad that they were not at work earlier in the week.

But, listen, I want to you listen to something that Harry Reid said this morning. He's a top Senate Democrat, as you know. Take a listen.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: John Boehner seemed to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on firm financial footing.

It's obvious, Mr. President, what's going on around here. He is waiting until January 3 to get reelected as speaker before he gets serious with negotiation.


LEMON: OK. Dana, discuss. You don't have to translate that. It's about the blame game. Right?

BASH: Yes, of course it's all about the blame game.

Sort of digging through, I know you were talking to Jessica about what any scaled-back piece of legislation would look like and reports that we got from Republicans that the president told Mitch McConnell or suggested to Mitch McConnell that he would get the details he's looking for. That's where -- from the perspective of Republicans right now, where things stand.

The president publicly said before he left for his vacation in Hawaii since everything else was deadlocked, despite everybody's efforts, because of that, what he wants to happen is for at the very least for Congress to pass a tax cut extension for 98 percent of Americans, his plan, which he campaigned on for five years.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, spoke to the president, as did the other leaders before the president left Hawaii. And what McConnell aide -- a McConnell aide is still saying is that the impression he got is that the White House would or at least some Democrat, whether it's the White House or Harry Reid's office, would provide the details of what that legislation would look like.

As one McConnell aide said to me with tongue firmly in cheek, we checked with the parliamentarian at a press conference. Can't get through the Senate. They need to see something if anything will get done. And at the same time, Jessica is hearing from White House sources, I am hearing for Democratic sources here that they are still pushing the ball squarely in the Republican court, saying the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, the House speaker, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, they need to work out what could actually get through before we do anything.

That's a long way of saying, yes, the blame game is still full force which probably is quite disturbing to people out there looking at the clock ticking and looking at the calendar, pages ripping towards December 31. And they are losing chunks of their paychecks with their taxes going up.


LEMON: As you look at the date today, it is just five days away, Jess. That is a good way to get into this question. It's just five days away. It moves, Jess, in -- things move very slowly in Washington. The tax hikes are coming. Is there anything the president can do now? What can be done in this -- quite honestly, in this short period of time?

YELLIN: Look, he could call the leaders to the White House and have a meeting and press them to get something done.

He could use the bully pulpit to speak to the American people. And we have seen this in the past with the payroll tax cut fight and call on the American people to lobby Congress to press them to do something in these final hours. That's been effective in the past.

That's his -- sort of his most effective tool at this point is lobbying the American people for action. The bottom line is the White House says the president has been very clear, they argue, with his position. He was clear and he laid out what he wanted last week, they say, and in the Briefing Room and repeated it on Friday and now it's time for Congress to act. They say there is still enough time if everybody gets on the same page.

We will see if he brings them over here to get them on the same page in the next couple of days, Don.

LEMON: You guys will be busy for quite some time now. Thank you, Dana. Thank you, Jessica. Appreciate it.

From the storm that is brewing in Washington, that has been brewing for a long time, we talk about the East Coast now and other storms getting snow and sleet, the big dump, as winter storms blast the area from Maryland to Maine. More than a foot of snow is expected in some areas before it's all over.

Here's what it looks like today. This is Portland, Maine, as road clearings began. The storm is part of a system that was born in the Deep South that has spawned tornadoes and strong winds before pummelling the Midwest as well.

Want you to check out this tornado, though. It was caught on camera at a Walgreens store in Mobile, Alabama. Goodness.

You may be able to spot the wind pick up two cars and slam them down and no one was seriously injured here. Thousands of travelers are stranded as hundreds of flights are canceled.


LEMON: Point, aim, shoot, it's a lesson some teachers in Utah are getting today. Utah is one of a few states that allows teachers to carry concealed weapons in public schools. More after the break.


LEMON: It has been nearly two weeks since the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary school left 20 children and six adults dead. A national conversation on gun violence has been ignited and we have heard the NRA call for armed guards in schools.

We have also seen a White Plains, New York, newspaper publish a map with the names of registered handgun owners. That has gotten the NRA fired up. The NRA's president spoke earlier with our Carol Costello and he said it's unfair and he believes unsafe to name gun owners.


DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: These are all upstanding citizens who have passed rigorous tests. They own their firearms legally. By listing them, they do two things. One, most guns that are used illegally in this country are either bought on the black market or they are stolen.

So if you're a criminal looking for a gun, you've just been given a map to where you can find some. The paper would like to list the make of guns that people own so you'd have a catalogue to shop.

Secondly on the other side, it also tells you who isn't armed. And therefore, if you're not seeking a gun, but you're seeking television sets and the like through burglary, you know where to go.

I think it is completely irresponsible. The fact is that this newspaper did this knowingly for the purpose of trying to demonize gun owners because they don't happen to believe in firearms. But this --

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Again, though, the fact that the Brady Center agrees with you. The newspaper should not have done this, does that say to people out there who are yearning for a compromise that there's some middle ground here? We can agree on at least something.

KEENE: There's always something to agree on. When we get to the basic question of whether Americans under the Second Amendment have the right to use and purchase and own firearms legally and for lawful purposes, I don't think we'll get to an area of agreement.

And at least we can agree that people who exercise their rights who have no reason to be suspected of having done anything wrong shouldn't be demonized because some paper disagrees with them.

I think what's important is that as we have this, quote, "conversation" in the days following the Newtown massacre that the conversation should be rational.


LEMON: In Utah, 200 public school teachers are in class today learning how to handle firearms and they're practicing with plastic handguns.

The special training is being offered by the state's top gun lobby and even waived the $50 fee. Utah is one of just a few states that allow concealed weapons to be carried at schools.

I just talked with Bob Henke. He is the principal at Mountain Crest High in Utah and he told me that since the Sandy Hook school massacre his school has made some changes.


LEMON: Ben, you said teachers should have the right to defend themselves. Personally, you would not like it. Then what is the compromise here? How do we fix this?

ROBERT HENKE, PRINCIPAL, MOUNTAIN CREST HIGH SCHOOL: You know, we have a deputy. We do have a full-time security officer deputy on our campus.

We talked the day of Newtown when we started hearing that news of that tragic situation. We started discussing what we could do to ensure our school is safer. And his comment was that he carries a pistol with him at all times. But he doesn't feel like that he can compete with some of these people like that guy in Newtown.

We bought him a safe that is bolted to the ground in his locked office. And it's a locked safe. He is the only one with a combination and he has now a high-powered automatic rifle in there, because he is concerned that just with a pistol, and he is trained on a regular basis with that, that he still couldn't compete.


LEMON: Principal Henke also said that arming teachers makes him nervous and that he himself would not carry a gun.

From coast to coast, donations and gifts, well, they just keep pouring in, in Newtown. But is too much of a good thing -- is it? Find out why town officials are now asking for people to stop giving.


LEMON: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been transferred to a military hospital for medical treatment.

Mubarak suffered head and rib injuries when he slipped in a prison hospital earlier this month. Doctors said he fractured three ribs in the fall. The 84-year-old former leader is serving a life sentence for his role in the deaths of pro-reform demonstrators.

In Africa, in the landlocked nation of the Central African Republic situated between Chad, Sudan and Congo, a crisis is unfolding now. The U.S. embassy in the capital of Bangui is on high alert, now essential staff told to leave the country, the U.N. also pulling out 200 of its personnel.

France is deploying soldiers around its own embassy and all of this as a violent rebel coalition advances on the capital. There has also been increased rebel activity by the Lord's Resistance Army. U.S. special forces are still hunting their infamous leader, Joseph Kony.

I want to bring in now CNN's Richard Roth.

Richard, there was a cease-fire, but it is not holding. What's the end goal for the rebel groups in Central Africa?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: I asked an African affairs expert at the Council on Foreign Relations that.

His answer, these rebels, he says, want money and power. Don't look for anything more lofty than that. The Central African Republic is a country many Americans and others really don't hear that much about. They certainly heard of the troubles in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It is the Central African Republic, it is situated right next to some of these other trouble spots.

Many analysts think the inspiration for these rebel movements on the capital certainly inspired by what has been going on in Congo in other places. And this is a mineral-rich country loaded with uranium, gold, diamonds, so there is a lot to shoot for. It has been a very unstable country, Don, for decades. Coup after coup has installed different leaderships.

The U.N. been involved there. There has been a mission there and things have been relatively OK after some elections, but now things are at a crisis point -- Don.

LEMON: You said the U.N. has been involved, there are missions on the ground there, violent protests from civilians too unhappy with the rebel advance. They are now targeting embassies. Richard,what's happening with the Americans on the ground there now?

ROTH: The State Department is urging anyone there not to leave the embassy unless they have to. Nonessential personnel or family member dependents have been asked to get out and the U.N. has done the same. There were demonstrations in the streets today primarily aimed at the French.

The Central African Republic is a former French colony. They gained independence in the '60s, but France's president said we are not getting involved there. We're going to only use the 250 French troops who are based there to protect French nationals. We have seen this before in other African crises. Sometimes it has escalated to genocide.

Nobody is hoping that -- or thinking that that is going to happen now, but there have been so-called peace talks, but if the rebels want to overcome government forces, they seem to have had success so far in going towards the capital, Bangui, and elsewhere.

LEMON: All right, Richard Roth, appreciate it.

Former President George H.W. Bush in intensive care at a Houston hospital this afternoon. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with the latest on his condition next.


LEMON: George H.W. Bush, the nation's 41st president, remains in intensive care at a hospital in Houston with a persistent and slightly elevated fever.

He was originally hospitalized for bronchitis and a lingering cough more than a month ago. The family spokesman says the former president has been in the ICU since Sunday after suffering a series of setbacks.

Joining me now by phone is CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Gupta, last week, it was expected the former president would be home for Christmas, but he is still in the ICU. What does that tell you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, when someone goes to the ICU it is often because there is more diligence and consistent sort of level of monitoring they want to have for the patients.

Clearly, it's a concern. Someone goes from the general care floor, someone has become a little bit more unstable in some way, needs more monitoring. Those are typically the reasons. We have been talking to a spokespeople from his office and they say the president is joking around with his doctors, talking to them, important point there because not only does it speak to his disposition, but also this concern about a bronchitis has not led to the need for a breathing tube, for example.

If he's talking, he doesn't need that. But I think they're also saying he can go home in a few days is what they expect. He is 88 years old and that's obviously going to be of concern, but I think this sounds like a heightened sense of caution, Don.

LEMON: More than anything, but the former president, Sanjay, has been in the hospital for more than a month. To a lot of people, that long hospital stay sounds quite serious. His spokesman said he is in guarded condition. What exactly does that mean? What do you make of that?

GUPTA: Guarded, it is an interesting term because it's not a formal medical term and it's a little bit of a purposely I think vague term.

Typically, you think of someone being in serious condition, for example, or critical condition. Those are medical terms. This is somewhere in between. It's to say that, look, there are several different things probably that are going on with the former president, all of which we sort of have under control. But we worry that any event could sort of turn at any given moment.

It could be his lungs, for example, with the bronchitis. It could be his neurological status. It could be his kidneys. We don't know. But when someone is in a guarded condition, it usually means, look, we got several balls that we are sort of juggling and we're keeping an eye on all of them.

LEMON: The president's spokesman also said he is on a liquid diet. Does that tell you anything, Sanjay?

GUPTA: That's an interesting point as well because when someone goes from having eaten solid foods to liquid foods, it could be that there is some concern about him protecting his airway.

You think about eating solid foods. If you are not protecting your airway well, you could aspirate. Instead of going down your food pipe, it goes down your windpipe, your trachea. With liquid diet, you can lessen the chance of that happening. But still need to make sure that former president in this case or anybody for that matter gets enough calories. So, you can get plenty of calories into somebody in a liquid form.

It's also something to keep an eye on because before somebody goes home, they often want the patient eating solid food again. When they transition him back to a solid food diet, that will be a good sign that he may be getting closer to getting out of there.

LEMON: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Happy holidays, Don. Thank you.

LEMON: You as well.