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Fiscal Cliff Face Off; "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf Dies; Newtown Charity Scam; New Threat After Christmas Storm; George H.W. Bush Still in ICU

Aired December 28, 2012 - 06:00   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Crunch time for the fiscal cliff, the key players to meet at the White House with just four days left until the deadline.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: They called him Storming Norman. America remembers General Norman Schwarzkopf who led America to victory in the first gulf war.

GRIFFIN: And have gun, will teach hundreds of educators gets a hands on lesson on firearms. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Drew Griffin.

CHO: Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. John and Zoraida have the day off. It is 6 a.m. in the east and we begin with paycheck on the fiscal cliff chopping block. Just four days to go before we go down the cliff. Triggering automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could send the country back into recession.

The president is summoning congressional leaders to the White House for eleventh hour negotiations. They will meet today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time with the full House not expected to return to work until Sunday.

On hand for today's fiscal cliff face-off, the president, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that's on the Democratic side and House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell representing the Republicans.

White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, live from Washington this morning. Brianna, good morning. So you say logistically, a deal can happen. Politically, open question.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Logistically, it's still possible, but it appears right now, the prospects for a deal are dimming. The Senate is in as of yesterday, but they are not really doing a whole lot on the fiscal cliff.

We're still awaiting the proposal to come out from Senate Democrats and now what we're seeing is the blame game, kind of in full swing, public posturing ahead of the fiscal cliff. Obviously, in case we go over it. Listen to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans aren't about to write a blank check or anything that 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 working while the members of the House of Representatives are out watching movies and watching their kids play soccer and basketball and doing all kinds of things. They should be here.


KEILAR: Now Speaker Boehner sort of fired back on a conference call, Alina, saying that Reid should do less talking and more legislating and the House now is set to return to Washington on Sunday. But that's cutting pretty close, as you can imagine, because we go over the fiscal cliff as of Monday night without a deal so pretty tight timeline there.

CHO: What is the thinking, Brianna, at this point, as our Dana Bash has been saying as well, that most congressional leaders feel like going over the cliff, whether they will say it publicly is one thing.

But going over the cliff might be better, because on the other end of it, you can vote for tax cuts versus raising taxes for a certain number of Americans, politically speaking, isn't that a better scenario for them?

KEILAR: It may politically be a better scenario for some members of Congress. But it's going to be a bit of a catastrophe as you can imagine once we do go over the cliff because of public opinion, the way markets would respond we would anticipate on January 2nd.

I don't think that ideally you go over the cliff. I think politically obviously that saves a little face, particularly for some Republicans who don't want to vote to increase taxes. This way taxes automatically increase and they are voting to reinstate tax cuts.

But it isn't without consequences and we're trying to get a sense today -- the meeting that you mentioned, 3:00 p.m. at the White House with congressional leaders and the president and vice president.

Coming out of that, I think we may have a better sense of exactly what direction this is going. If there is maybe a little bit of a kumbaya feel or is it going to be them at odds, which will really set the tone for what we're expecting here.

CHO: Yes, I mean, you mentioned the markets. The markets will take it hard by all accounts if we go over the cliff and also we hit the debt ceiling on Monday. Timothy Geithner, of course, says he will take extraordinary measures not to do so. Once we lose our credit rating as well, that you can't reverse.

All right, Brianna Keilar at the White House. Thanks for that. We'll check back with you later. Meanwhile, look no further than yesterday's Dow to see how a plunge down the fiscal cliff might impact your 401(k). At the opening bell, the Dow took a dive dropping by more than 1 percent. Investors sensing little hope for a fiscal cliff compromise at this point.

Then the announcement of a fiscal cliff meeting at the White House today and reversal of fortune, the Dow bounced back into positive territory before finishing slightly lower.

GRIFFIN: He was the most popular American general since World War II, and tributes from around the world are pouring in for Stormin Norman Schwarzkopf. The commander of coalition forces that steam rolled the Iraqi military is in 1991 gulf war, liberating Kuwait.

Schwarzkopf may have been the perfect front man for the first war that really played out live in your living rooms. CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, a great guy, but really great in front of the camera and able to use visuals of the first war to really explain to the American people what was going on.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, explain to the American people, and he also knew that Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi generals were watching those press briefings. President Obama today remembering Norman Schwarzkopf as an American original, he really showed how it was done, a limited mission, get the Iraqis out of Kuwait, get the war done, go home.

And he accomplish that in "Desert Storm," commanding more than 700,000 coalition forces, more than 500,000 Americans and an air and grown campaign that lasted barely 100 hours, and then it was done.

His own commander in chief, former President George H.W. Bush, issuing a statement about General Schfrom his hospital bed in Houston saying, quote, "General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomized the duty, service, country creed that has defended our freedom and seen this nation through our most trying international crises, and more than that, he was a good and decent man."

That is from former President George H.W. Bush. General Schwarzkopf is remembered for his fiery temper, but as you said, also for those famous press conferences really that set the tone for a new generation of how the military interacted with the media, interacted with the American public.

Still continues to this day, but I'm not sure any of the generals who greeted these days could measure up to Schwarzkopf.

GRIFFIN: Yes, I think so. I know a lot of people going around in those days back in '91 if you could believe, but he was something else on TV. You know, if there's one thing he had been criticized for post war, leaving Saddam Hussein in power and that was George H.W.'S decision, but he agreed with that, didn't he?

STARR: He did. You know, this was a matter of controversy for years. Was the decision not to go all the way to Baghdad, is it worth? Something that left Saddam Hussein in power, able to act against his own people and in a way painting the way for 2003 ground war, which didn't turn out so well.

But if you go to Baghdad, that is an invasion and then the U.S. would become bogged down and become responsible for everything in Iraq. If you look at the 2003 war, perhaps they were proven to be right.

GRIFFIN: Yes, exactly what happened. Barbara, thanks. Appreciate it.

CHO: New this morning, Russian President Vladmir Putin has just signed a controversial bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children. This move seen as retaliation for a new law in the United States that seeks to punish Russians accused of human rights violations.

That new adoption ban will take effect on January 1st and halt all new adoptions and end those already in progress. We'll bring you a live report on the details in our next half hour.

GRIFFIN: This is a story we first told you about on CNN's "AC 360." Federal investigators have now arrested that woman, a New York woman. This woman used the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, as an opportunity to make money.

The 37-year-old Nouel Alba allegedly posed as a relative of one of the slain children -- an aunt, she said -- and solicited donations on Facebook for a fake funeral fund for one of the victims, 6-year-old Noah Pozner.

Instead, the feds say money went into a Paypal account that she controlled. Last week, she let us record her voice, but not her face on camera last week. Here is what happened.


VOICE OF NOUEL ALBA: That's not my Paypal account. I mean, I have a Paypal account like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But is that your e-mail?

ALBA: Yes. That's one of my Gmail account. My personal account, but I never set up any fund for anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should know that the Pozner family tells us that they are very support be upset by this.

ALBA: I never did anything.


GRIFFIN: It appears she was also raising donations for Hurricane Sandy. If convicted she faces up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

CHO: Pretty incredible, I mean, she even went so far to say she was called to the scene of the crime to identify bodies.

GRIFFIN: That the president hugged them, cried with them. Just really out of control.

CHO: And as have you been reporting, this happens a lot unfortunately.

All right, a new threat after the powerful winter storm that brought record breaking snow and spun off dangerous tornadoes, ten deaths now being blamed on this week's storm, and more than 2,400 flights already been canceled.

Bonnie Schneider is in the CNN Extreme Weather with a look at the forecast. I'm afraid to ask, Bonnie. Good morning.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. You're right. A brand-new threat that's happening right now. If you're driving along I-40 and noticing the weather conditions getting worse, there is a reason for that. We have a freezing rain advisory for areas in Little Rock, Memphis and even Springfield and Branson in Missouri.

So we're watching for this freezing rain to continue throughout the morning. Most of the advisories go through either 9:00 or 11:00 a.m. Notice the temperatures teetering around the freezing mark. So that means any moisture that falls will immediately freeze.

And keep in mind this is an area like Little Rock where they have seen almost 10 inches of snow. So additional freezing rain could compromise tree branches and power lines would bring more outages.

Here's a look at some of the rain coming into Memphis right now and again, it is freezing on surfaces. If that's not enough, we're watching one storm exits. Still bringing snow to Maine, it doesn't want to let go. In its wake, much colder temperatures are filtering in.

Notice it's 31 in New York City. You're getting ready for snowy weather on Saturday. It's energy from this storm, from the south east that will bring heavy rain and then we've got more energy coming in from the west.

Together they will develop into low pressure Saturday. It will bring about 2 to 4 inches into areas of Western New Jersey and Western Pennsylvania, a little more than that possibly for Ohio, but then 1 to 3 inches for New York City.

It's a fairly fast-moving storm. So by Sunday, the snow stops, and the computer model, looks like we could get more accumulating snow. Airport delays stretch from the Midwest to the northeast. A busy week for travel and weather as well. Please be careful out there, especially in freezing rain. That's especially dangerous when you have slippery roads like that.

CHO: Yes, hard to walk too. Bonnie Schneider, thank you so much.

Reading, writing, and marksmanship, coming up, we'll take you inside a classroom where teachers are learning how to handle guns.

GRIFFIN: And, later, former President George H.W. Bush with a little message for everyone who has been worried about him.


CHO: Sixteen minutes after the hour.

Since the Newtown massacre, teachers across the country have been asking themselves, what would I do? Well, gun advocated in a Salt Lake City tried to answer that question with free gun training and self-defense classes during holiday break.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's important to have protection, because if you don't have it, I feel like we're sitting ducks.

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


CHO: Utah's board of education had this to say about the gun training, quote, "We urge caution and thoughtful consideration. Schools in Utah have developed emergency plans to handle such situations. The board encourages all Utah schools to review their emergency plans, working with local law enforcement agencies, with the safety of students in all situations the primary concern."

Stick around, because coming up on "STARTING POINT," Ali Velshi will talk with gun trainer Clark Aposhian, and Kasey Hansen, a special education teacher from Salt Lake City who took that class.

The NRA is now saying that schools should decide for themselves how to protect their children.

Here's what NRA CEO -- president, rather, David Keene told our David Costello yesterday.


DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NRA: When Wayne LaPierre spoke about a week ago, he suggested that what has to happen and what should happen in every school district, administrators, teachers, parents, should sit down and ask what's needed to protect the children in that school. Some of them will want police officers 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.


CHO: A much softer stance than just a week ago, when the NRA's CEO said this.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.


CHO: At the time, Wayne LaPierre said armed officers were the only way to prevent another massacre like the one in Newtown.

GRIFFIN: Former President George H.W. Bush remains in intensive care in a hospital in Houston this morning where he's being treated for an elevated fever. And while the former president appreciates the outpouring of support he's received, he wants the world to know he has no intention of going anywhere.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more from Houston this morning.

And, Miguel, I mean, it seems hour by hour we get little updates on whether he's doing bad, good, worse, better, improving? Do you have any idea how the president is doing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He seems to be doing -- he's sick, but not critical. His chief of staff, Jean Becker released a statement yesterday, saying, you know, put the harps back in the closet. He's not going anywhere. It seems he has a lot of complications, but he's getting better by the day.

John King spoke to one of his long-time friends who says that his spirits are high, he wants to go home. He's sick of being in ICU and in the hospital.

Look, he's 88. He's been in the hospital for over a month before that, he was in the hospital before that for an unrelated physical therapy. And he's a little tired of it, but doctors want to keep him in the ICU.

It sounds like, and that's part of the problem, is that the information coming in small spurts from a spokesperson Jim McGrath, and a couple of other sources, but not is lot of information, because the family really doesn't want a ton of information out there. They want to keep his privacy and they want to let him recover on his own.

They moved him into ICU after he got over a bronchial infection because he had this fever. It seems doctors just basically wanted to monitor him as finely and as minutely as possible, so they can get him completely over this before letting him go.

The family still hopes to get him home as soon as possible. And they it's soon. But I think doctors are taking it day by day at this point and will decide when he gets out of ICU. He is certainly ready to get home, though. It's been more than a month since he's been here -- Drew. GRIFFIN: I can imagine that. I mean, he's been relatively healthy almost his whole life, despite all the hardship that he's been, World War II, the stress of the presidency, the CIA director. Is he a good patient, or is he just anxious to just get out and go, sign himself out, say let's go, Bob?

MARQUEZ: Yes, we met with Jim McGrath yesterday and he said, look, there is one thing -- kind of give us that serious look, he said, there is one thing I can assure you, his trademark sense of humor is intact. You know, he's not on a ventilator. He's giving doctors and nurses hell in there. He's having a good time there. I think he wants to be home. This is a guy -- who, you know, he's 88 -- 85th birthday three years ago, skydiving.

GRIFFIN: Right. He did it for his 80th, and his 75th. He's done it so many times.

This is a guy likes to be active. He loves the thrill of life and excitement. By the way, when he finished his skydiving on the 85th? He said how do you feel? When he said I don't feel a day over 84. So, you know, he's a funny. He wants to be out of here. I think the family would like all of this to kind of go away.

My sense is that he is doing well and getting better, but it is going to take time, he's just -- you know, he's an older guy -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Miguel, thanks. We certainly wish the president all the best in getting better. Certainly to his family as well.


CHO: It is 21 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up-to-date on the top stories.

Congressional leaders from both sides have been summoned by the president to come to the White House today, 3:00 Eastern Time, for an 11th hour fiscal cliff showdown. Just four days remain to got a deal done or massive tax hikes and spending cuts kick in on Tuesday.

GRIFFIN: The U.S. embassy clearing out of an African nation this morning. Deteriorating security in the Central African Republic has forced the U.S. State Department to temporarily suspend operations. The U.S. ambassador, his diplomatic team and some private American citizens are now out of the capital Bangui. The country's president has asked France and the U.S. for help stop rebel advances that threaten his rule.

CHO: The jockeying already has begun for John Kerry's Senate seat. Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey throwing his hat into the ring. Ed Markey is 66-year-old Democrat, is the first prominent candidate to declare for the race. Kerry's seat, of course, expected to become vacant if he goes on to become Secretary of State and that is expected.

A special election would be held early this summer. GRIFFIN: Well, mom and pop shops across the country are bracing for a labor fight that could cripple their business. We're going to have more on the key workers that could walk off the job.

CHO: Plus, Dr. McDreamy to the rescue. TV's Patrick Dempsey steps in to try and save hundreds of jobs. We're going to tell you how.


GRIFFIN: Minding your business this morning.

The impending fiscal cliff is creating jitters on Wall Street, despite the fact that congressional leaders are meeting with the president this afternoon to try to work out a deal. Dow, NASDAQ, S&P 500 futures all pointing lower this hour, signaling a potential sell-off at the opening bell.

The fiscal cliff isn't the only potential threat to the economy. Thousands of dockworkers from Maine to Texas could go on strike within days if their union can't reach a deal with major shipping companies. These workers move all kinds of goods from the nation's ports to the stores.


JONATHAN GOLD, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: Everybody from your mom and pop retailer, to your farmer, to the trucking company who has to go in and pick up the containers at the ports. So, this is going to be felt not just at the local economy at the port, but nationwide, for everybody else who relies on these ports to move their commerce.

GRIFFIN: One port official says East and Gulf Coast ports, they handle about $55 billion worth of cargo every month. So, a strike could have a major effect on retail business.

Patrick Dempsey is doing his part to resuscitate the economy. "The Grey's Anatomy" star is part of a group trying to buy the bankrupt Tully's coffee shop chain in Seattle. They're hoping to save about 500 jobs. The TV sow is set in Seattle. Dempsey says he wants to give back to the city and play a bigger real life role in the community.

Coming up: spy games between Americans and North Koreans and how one move caught the U.S. completely off guard.