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Last-Ditch Fiscal Cliff Meeting; Death in the Year's Second Subway Shoving; Childcare Gone Wrong on Military Base; Putin Signs Anti-U.S. Adoption Law; 2012's Top 10 Moments in Politics

Aired December 28, 2012 - 11:00   ET



ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. So glad you're with us today. I'm Alina Cho. Ashleigh Banfield has the day off and let's get started.

Four days before the fiscal cliff, four hours before a last-ditch meeting at the White House, it's still not clear yet whether a last- minute deal is even possible or whether this is now all about shifting blame.

President Obama and Vice President Biden are sitting down with Democratic and Republican leaders of both houses for the first time since mid-November. The guest list includes Harry Reid, who this time yesterday said he didn't see any way the fiscal cliff could be avoided.

Whatever the case, our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin will surely be watching.

Jessica, good morning to you. Great to see you. So, what can we really expect to come out of this meeting this afternoon?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alina, you know, we're not sure what really will come out of it. The ideal scenario would be if both sides -- all sides, I should say -- agree to a scaled-down version of the fiscal cliff agreement that the president and Speaker Boehner had been discussing weeks ago and then senator McConnell would agree that no Republicans would block it in any way if he can promise that.

You know, he argues -- his team argues that he can't really unilaterally make that promise, but if he could then Speaker Boehner would promise to bring it to a vote on the floor. And all sides would shake hands and then we would have a deal before New Year's.

That seems highly unlikely, but that's what all sides would be pushing for today.

CHO: Well, I think so. I think we can all agree, as well, Jessica, that tax rates are the biggest sticking point, right?

So what specific issues are your sources saying that they might actually address in this meeting today besides tax rates? Could they talk unemployment benefits, spending? I mean, what is expected to come up today?

YELLIN: Well, this is the -- the specific details of this scaled-down proposal could include, in addition to tax rates, as you point out, an extension of unemployment benefits; the AMT fix, the Alternative Minimum Tax, so that would be patched for another year; and Medicare doctor payments, that's preventing pay cuts to Medicare providers.

And then the question that some Republicans are asking is, would the president and Democrats be willing to include some measure -- way to avert an estate tax hike and would Democrats be willing to find a way to pay for extending unemployment benefits? Those are unknowns and we expect that will be something they'll bring up at that meeting.

Again, not too much optimism that even if those issues get resolved, all of this gets through the House and Senate before new year's, but we can always hope.

CHO: I mean, Jessica, I think I know the answer to this, but still, I'm going to ask it. You mean to tell me they have not sat down at the White House or anywhere together since mid-November? I mean, why so long?

YELLIN: Well, the argument is that they all know basically what the deal would be because their staffs have argued this out so many times during the debt talks, for example, of last summer.

So, the principals say if they can just make agreement on those big, top-line issues that we talked about in that graphic, then the staffs could negotiate the other smaller points. But, of course, the devil is always in the details and, right now, they're using the details to hold up -- both sides are using details to hold up any kind of a deal and it looks like that could take us over the cliff.

CHO: That's right because there's too many details still to be worked out.

All right, Jessica Yellin, watching it all for us. Jessica, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, Democrats appeared to have accomplished one thing in their first day back from a shortened holiday recess. They shamed the Republican leaders of the House into calling their members back on Sunday.

CNN Radio correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins me now from Capitol Hill, which is generally deserted this time of year. So, Lisa, great to see you. Apart from their vast disagreements over policy, we now have some procedural hang-ups? So, tell us. What's going on with that?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN RADIO: Well, absolutely. As you know, the Senate operates and lives and breathes procedure. This is one of the problems that faces the fiscal cliff deal if there ever is one, that a filibuster could arise. You know, you and Jessica were talking about that.

The hope for any deal before January 1st is that somehow Minority Leader, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell could convince his troops, convince all the Republicans not to block it with a filibuster.

But, as his office has said, each individual senator makes up their own mind. Each individual senator has the right to stage a filibuster, so that's not something that Mitch McConnell can control entirely.

I think a bigger issue, though, I have to admit, when you look at Senator McConnell and why he's so important right now, Alina, is that he needs to bring some Republicans on board this deal for a couple reasons.

First, they need those Republican votes to get anything through the Senate, just period. And then second of all, Speaker Boehner needs some cover. He needs some way to convince his Republicans in the House that they should pass this deal.

Conservatives are putting pressure on all sides and Republicans in the House want to be to say, look, conservatives in the Senate supported this. I can support it, too, for the good of the country, even though I don't like it.

These are the dynamics in play today, Alina, a lot of politics, a lot at stake and, obviously, this is why all focus is on Senator McConnell because he can bring so much to the table, potentially, but even for him, it may not be easy.

CHO: I think one thing that we've forgotten in all the talks about the details and working those out is that January 1st really isn't the big -- only big looming deadline. On January 2nd, the 112th Congress disbands, so what is that going to do to the fiscal cliff negotiations?

DESJARDINS: Right, there are a couple deadlines actually coming up. For January 2nd, that is the last day of this current Congress. That means any bill that has been submitted, especially these bills that have already been passed, one by the Senate, a couple by the House, that deal with the fiscal cliff, those bills would be worthless.

They would essentially go into paper and everything would have to start from scratch. The new Congress would have to start a bill and start the legislative process from the beginning.

Now, there are some tricks, of course, that Congress has to try and speed things up when it wants to, so, to some degree, it's not that big of a deal. If there was a deal in the offing, January 3rd, if there were enough votes for it, they could probably get around those procedural hurdles.

But, Alina, I'm glad you brought up these deadlines because another one is tomorrow. December 29th is the day that unemployment benefits run out for 1 million people. Most people think the fiscal cliff is January 1st, but not true. The unemployment portion of the fiscal cliff actually hits us tomorrow and that's, as I say, when 1 million people are estimated to see unemployment benefits run out.

And, of course, tomorrow is also the day, as you say, that the House will return. I know we said that Democrats shamed the House into coming back, but I think House Republicans would say that they've been waiting for an offer from Democrats in order to come back.

And that kind of gets to the finger-pointing here. Both sides are looking to each other and the fact is these lawmakers were elected to make tough decisions and they haven't been able to do it yet.


CHO: If I may say so, it is also childish. They should sit down and talk. But, all right, at least the House is getting back.

Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill, Lisa, thank you.

The longest-serving member of Congress from Massachusetts is the first to announce he'll run for John Kerry's Senate seat. We're talking about Ed Markey. He was just elected to his 19th term in the House of Representatives with 76 percent of the vote.

Kerry, as you know, is President Obama's pick to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. If and when he's confirmed, that Senate job will pass to a replacement chosen by the Massachusetts governor then to the winner of a special election just a few months later. Enter Markey. A regular election will be held in 2014 when Kerry's term would have ended.

Should teachers be armed in the classroom? Big question, lots of answers. About 200 educators in Utah are mulling that over today after attending classes on firearm-use and safety. That's right.

The course of geared toward teachers. Instructors say they're not trying to persuade teachers to carry guns in schools, but rather, to provide the information and training that they need in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

These classes have been going on for some time already and some teachers are already sold on the idea of arming themselves while others simply want to explore their options.


DONALYN SHOCK, TEACHER'S ASSISTANT, MOUNT PLEASANT ELEMENTARY: I think it's important to have, you know, protection because, if you don't have it, I feel like we're sitting ducks.

DAVID BURNELL, CEO, OPSGEAR: We're going to tell these people and help them understand where their moral code and where their value system really is. And, until they discover that, they're not prepared to carry a firearm. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Utah already allows teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools.

For the second time this month, a man has been shoved to his death from a subway platform in New York City. It happened last night in Queens. Police and witnesses say a woman who'd been pacing and mumbling pushed a man in front of the Number 7 train before running down two flights of stairs and onto the street.

Surveillance video actually caught part of that escape. Witnesses say they'll never forget it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was horrible. It was -- I felt truly bothered and I never want to hear something like that again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, the final scream and I don't know what happened after that. I thought somebody was just fighting upstairs, but it was a really creepy yell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to slow the trains down to about 15 miles an hour when they're coming into the station so that if something like that does happen, they have time to stop the train.


CHO: Last night's suspect is still on the loose. The suspect in the fatal subway shove earlier this month is in custody, charged with second-degree murder.


CHO: This is one nightmare no parent ever wants to be a part of. Parents in a Washington daycare are furious after they were told their children were mistreated by childcare providers.

Two of the caregivers have been arrested. Thirty of them actually have a history of assault, drugs, sexual assault and other crimes on their background checks. But what makes it worse is that this childcare facility is on a military base, a military base in nearby Virginia catering to military families. And it took a phone call from President Obama for authorities to take action.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, interviewed one of the moms whose child was allegedly mistreated.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All along this first week when we were being sort of given piecemeal information, denied access to videotapes, we were also being asked if we wanted to seek medical care for our child. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Medical care for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, for what? Obviously, we wanted to understand and see with our own eyes since that evidence was available.


CHO: Barbara Starr joins me now from Washington. Barbara, good morning. Great to see you.

What a terrible story. Curious to know, how was this able to go on for so long with nobody blowing the whistle on it?

STARR: Well, this is really the question and let's start with the point, of course, Alina, that this young mother doesn't want her face shown because she doesn't want her children identified. One of them has been the subject of abuse. She doesn't want her husband who's in the military to be subject to retaliation. That's the climate we're talking about here.

The actual abuse, the allegations, all happened back in September, but that phone call from President Obama didn't come until December 14th because the leadership at the Pentagon didn't know anything about this until mid-December.

That's when the Secretary of the Army found out. That's when the Secretary of Defense found out. They ordered a much broader investigation. It came to the president's attention. It is a very rare thing for the president to call over to the Pentagon and have to say, what is going on?

CHO: And I'm curious about that. I mean, how did that even get on the president's desk? I mean, how did he get involved in a daycare situation at a childcare facility on a military base?

STARR: Well, let's remember. This is mid-December and this is when the country's focus was on child safety after the massacre and the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

The secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, finds out about all of this because, finally, Army leaders know the facts and are able to tell him. He, we assume, takes it to the president.

But, Alina, it is between, shall we say, late September and mid- December that they keep investigating the other workers here and find those background check problems and they're not dismissed, they're not suspended from their jobs between September and mid-December.

This goes on and on and on. All of this now the subject of a complete Army investigation, Alina.

CHO: And, Barbara Starr, we are so glad you're looking into it.

In fact, you can watch Barbara's entire report today -- tonight, rather, on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." That's at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Barbara, thank you.

STARR: Sure.

CHO: Former President George H.W. Bush may be battling a fever, but he's certainly showing grit and some humor.

In a message to supporters, Mr. Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, says the 41st president's condition is not dire. She says Mr. Bush has every intention of staying put and that we can put the harps back in the closet. That's my favorite part.

The Bush family says it's confident he will be out of the hospital soon. We certainly hope so. At 88-years-old, he is the oldest, living former president.


GENERAL NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: Let me just start by saying that ...


CHO: General Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf has died. He was the face of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, leading a lightning-fast ground assault that lasted just 100 hours. Imagine that.

His televised briefings became a staple of the war and made him a household name. But he was already a decorated commander in Vietnam. He retired with four stars after taking over the U.S. Central Command.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls Schwarzkopf one of the great military giants of the 20th century. He died of complications from pneumonia. Schwarzkopf was 78-years-old.

In India, growing demonstrations after a woman was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi. The 23-year-old is fighting for her life in a hospital in Singapore. Doctors say she has taken a turn for the worse and her vital signs are deteriorating.

Meanwhile, protesters are growing angrier and angrier over the number of rapes in New Delhi and the inadequate police response. Just look at that there. Six suspects have been arrested, but protesters want tougher laws for rape and crimes against women. There were 572 reported rapes in New Delhi just last year and more than 600 reported so far this year.

Americans may no longer be able to adopt children from Russia. President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial measure into law today banning adoptions by U.S. families.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (via translator): As far as I know from opinion polls, the vast majority of Russian citizens are very negative about foreigners adopting our children. We need to do it ourselves. We need ourselves to stimulate bringing to the family orphans or who were left without parental care.


CHO: The law, which goes into effect really around the corner on January 1st, could affect hundreds of American families seeking to adopt or on the path to adoption because this will affect future adoptions and those currently in progress. About 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans just last year.

Putin's move is seen as retaliation for a new U.S. law that imposes travel and financial restrictions on Russians who have allegedly carried out human rights violations.

The State Department released this statement in reaction to the law and I want to read some of it for you.

"We deeply regret Russia's passage of a law ending inter-country adoptions between the U.S. and Russia and restricting Russian civil society organizations that work with American partners. The Russian government's politically-motivated decision will reduce adoption possibilities for children who are now under institutional care. We regret that the Russian government has taken this step and are further concerned about statements that adoptions already underway may be stopped."


CHO: The 2012 political season was filled with memorable moments, that's for sure, the 47 percent, Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair and Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments, to name a few.

Our Candy Crowley looks back at the top-ten stories in politics that made headlines this year.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Picking the top- ten moments of an election year is like finding your favorite grain of sand on the beach. There are an impossible number of possibilities.

There are the moments when catchphrases become boomerangs.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you've got a business, that -- you didn't build that.

MITT ROMNEY, 2012 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.

CROWLEY: When cast members stole the spotlight.

SANDRA FLUKE, WOMEN'S RIGHTSACTIVIST: I'm an American woman who uses contraception, so let's start there.

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY POLITICAL ADVISER: It's almost like an Etch- a-Sketch. You can shake it up and we start all over again.

CROWLEY: And a fair number of moments ranging from ridiculous to inexplicable.

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: I'm not going to shut up. It's my turn.

OBAMA: I think it's called "Romnesia."

ROMNEY: If I were to coin a term, it would be "Obamaloney."

CROWLEY: So many moments, so much nonsense. But there were game- changers, too, moments that shook up the race or made history and made out top-ten list.

It was seen at the time as a proxy race for November. Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, in a showdown with organized labor over budget cuts and collective bargaining power. Turns out the end result was no bellwether for the presidential race. Walker won, the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.

CROWLEY: And another nod to a Republican governor.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state.

CROWLEY: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's full-on embrace of President Obama for helping Sandy-ravaged New Jersey came days before the election and had no noticeable effect on the presidential race.

But some Republicans think Christie didn't have to be that effusive. They will remember if his name pops up in 2016.

REP. TODD AKIN, (R) MISSOURI: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.

CROWLEY: From the "say-what?" category of entries comes a combo team. Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock of Indiana.

RICHARD MOURDOUCK, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: If life is a gift from God and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

CROWLEY: Republican dreams to take control of the Senate in 2012 had dwindled throughout the year, but Akin and Mourdock pretty much shut that door in a couple of sentences.

Two words from Mitt Romney during a primary reverberated all the way through to November. The issue was his plan to prevent employers from hiring undocumented workers.

ROMNEY: People who have come here illegally won't be able to find work and over time those people would tend to leave the country or self-deport.

CROWLEY: The concept of self-deportation by undocumented workers was not by itself responsible for Romney's dismal showing among Hispanics, but it surely greased the skids.

Also in the category of moments where Romney wanted a mulligan there was this.

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.

CROWLEY: Romney called his remarks completely wrong. They also caused the deepest, self-inflicted wound of the election.

On the flip side ...

ROMNEY: He's going to be the next Vice President of the United States.

CROWLEY: Romney's V.P. day may well have been the best moment. The selection of Congressman Paul Ryan excited conservatives in a way Romney himself had not.

CROWLEY: How many moments are there in an hour and a half? The president lost all of them in the first debate.

The pictures tell the story of a man who phoned it in, panicking his supporters and providing an opening for Romney.

And, finally, the top three moments of the election best described as history-making politics.

A Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of ObamaCare and, if that doesn't strike you as political, consider what would have happened on the campaign trail if the high court had struck down the president's signature, first-term achievement.

OBAMA: At a certain point, I have just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

CROWLEY: The first president to endorse same-sex marriage was a daily-double moment, good politics aimed at an activist wing of his party base and, most certainly, history.

And, finally, the number one political moment of the year is easy during elections.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN projects that Barack Obama will be re-elected president of the United States.

OBAMA: We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

CROWLEY: Roll "Auld Lang Syne," cue the confetti and then say goodbye to 2012 and all its moments, historical and hysterical.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHO: What a year.

And join Don Lemon for the biggest stories of the year in crime, politics, money and entertainment. The "TOP TEN OF 2012" airs Sunday night, 8:00 Eastern, only on CNN.