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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Fiscal Cliff Face-Off; Wintry Weather Continues; Tampa Band Aids Sandy Fund

Aired December 28, 2012 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Fiscal cliffhanger. A white house meeting as we head into the last weekend before the big deadline.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Wanted in New York. Just take a look. Police say the woman seen running away there on the right had just pushed a man to his death in front of a moving subway train.

GRIFFIN: A baseball cap controversy. The Braves new retro logo raising a few eyebrows this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Drew Griffin.

CHO: Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. It's 30 minutes past the hour. John and Zoraida have the day off.

Well, your take-home pay on the line when the president and Congressional leaders meet at the White House this afternoon for an 11th-hour fiscal cliff faceoff. In just four days now, paychecks shrink and slashing gets -- spending gets slashed, rather, if our elected officials can't figure out how to compromise.

It will now be in the hands of these six leaders, the president, Vice President Biden, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell representing the Republicans.

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar live now from Washington. Brianna, good morning. Great to see you. House doesn't even return to work until Sunday. I mean, logistically speaking here, is there still enough time to work out a deal?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I will tell you logistically speaking, logistically speaking, yes. Politically speaking, very much unclear, and there's a growing amount of pessimism about whether that can be done. We've been talking, Alina, as you know, for days about how all eyes are on the Senate to see what Senate majority leader Harry Reid cobbles together to try to get some Republican support in both the Senate and the House.

Well, he's now saying that it's hard to see how this can get done by January 1st. So, we're seeing a lot of kind of managing of expectations and certainly a lot of posturing on both sides as it appears they're getting ready to play the blame game should we go over the cliff. Listen to both sides.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: And Republicans aren't about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: We are here in Washington and working while the members of House of Representatives are out watching movies, watching their kids play soccer and basketball and doing all kinds of things. They should be here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Senate Majority Leader Reid there also said that House Speaker John Boehner is just trying to save his job. And Alina, as you probably know, the elections for House leadership are on January 3rd which would be after the -- we would go over the fiscal cliff, if there is no deal. John Boehner shot back saying that Reid needs to talk less and legislate more.

But really, this comes down to working out, cobbling together something that can get some support. As you know, President Obama wants that tax cut threshold to be at $250,000. Well, Mitch McConnell poured some cold water on that yesterday. So, they need to come to some sort of agreement on where the threshold would be, and we don't know what it is yet in the Senate.

CHO: Yes. I mean, 250,000 for the Democratic side and Republicans couldn't even agree on a million.

KEILAR: Exactly.

CHO: I mean, that's still a $750,000 gap they got to close. All right. Let's hope that they do that. Brianna Keilar, thank you.

GRIFFIN: Commanders in chief past and present paying tribute to Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf this morning.

The commander of coalition forces during the Gulf War died yesterday at 78 years old. Schwarzkopf was the face of military briefings during the first cable news war.

Former President George H.W. Bush who is hospitalized said the general was, quote, "a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of this generation.

CHO: New York City police are looking for a woman who pushed a man off a subway platform to his death. Happened last night. Witnesses say the woman shoved the victim from behind right into the path of a moving seven-train as that train pulled into the 40th Street Queens Boulevard Station.

NYPD surveillance video shows the suspect actually running away from the station. Before the incident, the woman was spotted, apparently, walking back and forth on the platform and talking to herself.

GRIFFIN: North Korea likely deceived the U.S. and its Asian allies deliberately, catching them off guard before the launch of its long- range missile earlier this morning. According to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of military and intelligence analysis, the likely scenario is that North Korea was lying about reported technical problems just days before that launch. Another conclusion, that North Korea knows how to counter U.S. intelligence on what it's up to.

CHO: NBC apparently received conflicting guidance on using an empty gun magazine on "Meet the Press." An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives told another NBC reporter it would be legal. But a spokeswoman for D.C. Metro Police said an NBC representative inquired ahead of Sunday's broadcast and advised that it could not use the magazine. The matter is still under investigation.

GRIFFIN: Whether you're heading home or getting away for the New Year, it could be another slow go or no go at the airports today. The powerful winter storm that brought record-breaking snow and spun off dangerous tornadoes is not over yet. Bonnie Schneider, say it isn't so.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know what's interesting, Drew and Alina, is that while one storm is exiting, another one is coming in. So, we're looking at brand new airport delays in this busy travel week, this time, across the Midwest and Chicago, Minneapolis. But the windy weather will persist in New York City.

So, all the airports that faced delays yesterday, more of that is ahead for today. We're also looking at stormy conditions across the south. Here's one storm exiting, as I mentioned. It will still bring some snow to areas of extreme Northern New England where we have almost a foot on the ground already. And temperatures are also brutally cold behind it in the 20s.

I want to mention the south because we're getting some powerful thunderstorms moving into the Lake Charles, Louisiana, at this hour, and they're heading eastward. So, New Orleans, you're likely to be impacted by strong storms later on today. Temperatures right now in Atlanta, below freezing, but by the time the rain comes in, it will warm up.

So, we're really not looking at snow for the south. Here's where we're anticipating snow today, through Michigan into Ohio going towards tomorrow, we'll be watching this storm to trek eastward. So, two to four inches on top of what's on the ground in Pennsylvania, and this storm is also going to bring substantial snowfall across New England once again.

You can see the legend showing us that we're anticipating six inches of snow through the mountains into Virginia, but then, by the time we get to Sunday, look at this, another pocket of heavy snow in Central Connecticut according to our computer models as well as Rhode Island and the north fork of Long Island. That's what's so interesting about Long Island, you'll get snow in one part, and 11 miles to the south it will be all rain. So, keep an eye on this for those of you that are traveling. And many people are this weekend that took the entire week off or heading on vacation. We're anticipating more snowfall for parts of New England.

The storm setup for today, heavy rain through the mid south. A little bit of snow popping up in the heartland again. Again, this is an area that already saw plenty of snow this week. And the colder air is plummeting down with temperatures for highs only in the 20s in Kansas City and Minneapolis, warming back up along the Gulf Coast, but not for long with this brand new storm system coming in.

So, Drew and Alina, it's a one-two punch. We're getting a lot of bad weather this week.

GRIFFIN: Jab, jab, jab. One, two, three, four, five.

CHO: Bonnie, I want you to stick around and listen to this story. You know how chilly it is this time of year in Canada, right?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes.

CHO: Well, Winnipeg might be in the single digits, but listen to this. A story from the chilly north that's going to just warm you up. The city might have set a record for paying it forward. 228 customers at a coffee shop drive through paid for the person behind them. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'd hear the strut (ph) from drive through and my manager, Todd, was in there. And you hear them just screaming out random numbers. 147. And yes, you know, get everybody really pumped up and it just filled the building with excitement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think now it's such a habit started here. And I think people just come back to this one knowing that it's either going to be your day that you're going to start it, and it's just going to come back. It's a huge cycle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: That's great. Cycle of generosity lasted for three hours. Nobody knows who started the chain or who ended it. You don't want to be the person who ends that chain. Just keep it going. Just keep it going. At least during the holiday.

GRIFFIN: I want to take a look back and see who's back there, you know?

CHO: Yes.

GRIFFIN: Big guys, a lot of doughnuts. It could be a big bill.

It's a blast from the past, but does it have any place in today's PC society? More on the baseball logo causing some controversy this morning.

CHO: Really, you said that?

GRIFFIN: Of course. I mean, would you guys want to pay for like eight guys on a construction crew?

CHO: All right. Take a look --

(LAUGHTER)

GRIFFIN: They're paying for it? Yes, give me all of them.

(LAUGHTER)

GRIFFIN: You got any of those bear claws?

CHO: It's only going to be 25 bucks. Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: Look at these kids. You're going to hear from the teen rockers who pitched in to help complete strangers after hurricane Sandy in their time of need.

GRIFFIN: I'll pay for those skinny kids.

CHO: All right. We're going to talk to them live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: 5:42 a.m. here on the east coast. Time for some "Early Reads", your local news making national headlines.

Guns for butter. The "L.A. Times" reporting that the city's gun buy back program that we've been telling you about broke records. And here's the big fish -- big fish, a rocket launcher.

CHO: Wow!

GRIFFIN: We have no way to know if this is real or a prop, but officials say two rocket launchers were among the more than 2,000 firearms turned in. "The Times" reports police took out 22 pistols from the trunk of just one Honda. That got the driver a thousand dollars in grocery gift cards.

CHO: Give people an incentive and might do that.

All right. In an increasingly politically correct world, the Atlanta Braves maybe going the other way. An ESPN.com columnist got a first look at the Major League Baseball batting practice caps. Have a look there. Many teams going retro, and this one stood out to some. The Braves are bringing back something critics now call the screaming savage.

It was part of the Braves regular uniform for close to 20 years. Great Hank Aaron had it on his shoulder during most of his playing days.

Well, for an expanded look at all of our top stories, head to our bloog, CNN.com/EARLYSTART. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook, just search for EARLY START CNN.

GRIFFIN: Forty-three minutes now after the hour. Let's get you up to date.

Congressional leaders will be meeting with the president at the White House this afternoon. They're going to try to hammer out an 11th-hour deal to keep the country from going over the fiscal cliff, which could happen just four days from now. If they fail, it will mean drastic tax hikes and spending cuts at the very start of the New Year.

CHO: A 60-foot long whale that washed ashore in Queens, New York has now died and will be buried in the sand dunes there. The finback whale was barely alive when it was found Wednesday in the breezy point section of Queens. That's an area that was hit especially hard by hurricane Sandy.

National park service workers weren't able to move the whale's carcass on Thursday because the equipment they needed to do it was destroyed by the hurricane.

GRIFFIN: Former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has been transferred to a military hospital after doctors discovered rib fractures from a recent fall. That's according to Mubarak's attorney. The 84-year-old Mubarak is serving a life sentence in a Cairo prison for his role in the death of protesters during last year's uprising.

Mubarak ruled Egypt for three decades, suffered a head injury and a bruised chest when he slipped in a prison hospital bathroom earlier this month.

CHO: Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, sidelined no more. Her spokesman says she will be back at work next week after spending the past three weeks fighting off what the state department said was a stomach flu and a concussion brought on by a fainting spell. Doctors have grounded her from overseas travel for a few more weeks.

Her return means that she may soon testify before Congress about that attack on the U.S. diplomatic office in Bengahzi.

GRIFFIN: Hopefully, Bart, the hound dog, won't be sniffing around Lake Erie any more this winter. He slipped through the ice and his front paws were all that kept him above the surface. The dog owner's cousin put on his (INAUDIBLE) and tried to save him, but he fell through the ice, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANCE EICHER, SAVED COUSIN'S POOCH: I was talking to him. I was trying to keep him warm. I was trying to rub him. And you know, trying to get some blood flowing through his body. I kind of looked at it like, you know what, what if it was my dog? What if it's in my situation? You know, I would hope somebody would try to do something. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: They spent about 90 minutes in the frigid water before rescuers arrived. Bart was cold, but otherwise, OK.

CHO: America watched as Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen took the stage to raise money for the victims of hurricane Sandy, but they're not the only rockers who banded together to try to make a difference.

Coming up, live here in our studio, the boys of the band, Sticks of Fire, are here, guitars in hand, to tell us how they pulled off their own successful benefit show. Pretty good, aren't they. We'll talk to them next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Many musicians jumped in to offer help after Superstorm Sandy hit the northeast. There was an epic concert right here at Madison Square Garden. Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

CHO: But there were also many smaller benefits across the country, including some put on by two bands from Tampa, "Sticks of Fire" and "Circle 4," made up of high schoolers. The teens raised nearly $6,000 for a relief fund and they did so to help many of those people who were hurt so badly during the superstorm Sandy.

Nicholas McDonald of "Sticks of Fire" and George Pennington of "Circle 4" join me now. Good morning. Thanks for coming in early to see us. So, you guys are members of two bands, but you go to the same high school, right?

NICHOLAS MCDONALD, "STICKS OF FIRE": Yes.

CHO: Now, tell me, you live in Tampa, Florida, more than 1,100 miles away from the destruction here. What is it about what you saw on television and those images that made you want to help? Nick.

MCDONALD: Well, mainly, it was being from Florida. We know all the issues that could happen with hurricanes. And after seeing like people losing their homes, I know how they feel about having all that heavy rain and all the storms going on, and it's scary stuff. So, we want to - we're always the ones that get targeted. So, we wanted to help out this time.

CHO: So, what did you do? You talked to each other and decided, hey, let's put on a concert, George?

GEORGE PENNINGTON, "CIRCLE 4": Yes. We knew something had to be done. So, we worked together and came up with a plan, how to get it started and worked with the head master at our school to put some stuff together, put up flyers around the school, and talked to all of our friends.

CHO: And what was the reaction that you got?

MCDONALD: It went really well. We got a lot of people coming out. Everyone was so willing to help. We got a lot of support --

CHO: How many concerts did you put on there in the Tampa area?

MCDONALD: We put on one.

CHO: You just put on one.

MCDONALD: Yes.

CHO: And you raised $6,000?

PENNINGTON: Yes.

CHO: Where did that -- most of that money come from? Your classmates or --

PENNINGTON Ticket sales, friends, family.

CHO: Ticket sales.

PENNINGTON: Yes. We sold those tickets for $10.

CHO: And you are here in New York for a reason. You're not just on vacation. Are you going to put on another concert?

PENNINGTON: We just came here to talk about it.

CHO: You came here to talk about it?

PENNINGTON: Yes.

CHO: OK. Well, hopefully it will lead to another concert here in New York, right?

MCDONALD: Oh, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: I mean, I guess from your perspective, where do you hope this money goes? What do you want do with this $6,000? Are you going to give a check to the Red Cross or to a relief fund?

MCDONALD: We're going to just present the check to the governor's wife, if we could.

CHO: Oh, that's great. Great. Well, hopefully, we can help you do that. Now, last night when I was reading in on you two, I was very excited to meet you. I listened to one of your songs. And I know we can take requests now, right? So, you're going to sing one of your songs that I watched on YouTube last night, right? Can you give us about a minute of that?

PENNINGTON: Sure. No problem. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

CHO: And that's "Before You Know." Great song, isn't it?

GRIFFIN: Keep playing, guys. It sounds great.

CHO: Nicholas McDonald, 17 years old, member of "Sticks of Fire," and George Pennington, 16, member of "Circle 4," trying to help out those victims of hurricane Sandy by holding a benefit concert, and we hope you get a lot more attention for doing that. Thanks so much for coming in.

All right. Next up, Taylor Swift being mentioned with the Beatles? We're going to tell you why as we listen to these two kids. Take us to break. We're back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Just about 59 minutes after the hour now. Drew Griffin along with Alina Cho taking a look at the top CNN Trends on the web this morning.

CHO: Right. Taylor Swift now in Beatle territory?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: That's right. With her album "Red" topping the billboard 200 again this week, she became the first artist since the Beatles to log six or more weeks at number one with three straight studio albums. Good for her. Beatles achieved with seven studio albums in a row.

GRIFFIN: ever been in an aquarium and wondered what would happen if the glass broke? Here you go. Amazing terrifying video out of Shanghai, China. That is a 33-ton shark tank that just exploded sharks, sending sharks playing everywhere and shoppers running for their lives.

At least four people were in front of the tank when it cracked. Sixteen people suffered cuts and bruises. Nobody seriously hurt, but three lemon sharks DOA. Officials are investigating whether cold temperatures along with shoddy design, do you think, could cause that?

CHO: (INAUDIBLE).

Check out other top CNN trends, head to CNN.com/Trends. My goodness. EARLY START continues right now.