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High Stakes White House Meeting Today; Tributes to General Norman Schwarzkopf; 228 in Winnipeg Pay it Forward; Putin Signs Adoption Ban into Law

Aired December 28, 2012 - 06:30   ET



ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Fiscal cliff-hanger: a White House meeting as we head into the last weekend before the deadline.

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

CHO: And baseball cap controversy. The Braves now retro logo raising a few eyebrows this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alina Cho. So glad you're with us on a Friday morning.

GRIFFIN: It is Friday, isn't it?

I'm Drew Griffin. John and Zoraida are off. Thirty minutes past the hour now.

Our lawmakers have quite a long time to cut a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Now with only four days left until we hit, no deal in sight. Maybe that could change today when President Obama holds a meeting with all four congressional leaders at the White House. But we're not saying you should bet on it.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director, of course, for "The National Journal."


GRIFFIN: Good morning.


GRIFFIN: We're talking about this -- this whole idea of a fiscal cliff was absolutely not supposed to happen when they drum the whole idea up.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, this was a machine that the two sides built to basically give themselves more willpower to do what they didn't want to do to begin with, which was compromise. It came out of the 2011 debt ceiling standoff when they could not reach a deal to destabilize the federal government's long-term finances, so they built this to put more pressure on themselves to reach a deal now.

And even this does not seem to be enough to do it, to kind of force them to make the difficult concessions that are required for the two sides to come together. And I think this is really indicative of a broader problem we face of a red coalition and blue coalition that are very different, that reflect very different visions of American and are showing less and less willingness to sort of accommodate the other.

The reality is, we are looking at a divided government for at least the next two years and most likely the next four years. If they can't make an agreement on this, with all the pressure that the fiscal cliff implies, how are they going to make progress on anything else?

GRIFFIN: And divided government that's getting deeper red, deeper blue, right?


GRIFFIN: And there doesn't seem to be any clear leader coming forward to try to bridge the gap.

BROWNSTEIN: It is very difficult because I think if you look at our political system now, it is growing more polarized from top to bottom. As I wrote, you know, in my column, in "National Journal" last night. If you look at the coalitions at the national level, Mitt Romney won almost 90 percent of votes from whites, President Obama won over 40 percent of his votes from nonwhites. Mitt Romney dominated among whites, seniors. President Obama dominated among young people.

Look at the states on issues like gay marriage or the Obama health care plan. You have the blue and red states moving at very different directions.

And then when you get to Congress, the vast majority of legislators are now elected by constituencies that also vote for their party for president. The vast majority of Republicans are in very Republican districts which have very little incentive electorally to compromise with president Obama. The reverse for Democrats, they want to stand with him.

And so, you have these kinds of two increasingly cohesive coalitions. Internally, they are more consistent. But they're farther apart and it's harder to bridge them. And yet, what is -- as I said -- what is the alternative? We're all here. None of us are going away. We're either going to find ways to work together or we're going to have more of these kinds of self-inflicted wounds like the fiscal cliff.

GRIFFIN: The idea now was that the Republicans -- and this is the idea that has been floated -- will let us go off the cliff so that they or certain members who pledged not to raise taxes, won't have to raise taxes. They'll actually cut taxes retroactively.

It seems like a bad way to govern.

BROWNSTEIN: It is -- look, this was -- this was a machine built to encourage compromise. And it may, in fact, be easy -- easier for some Republicans to come back in January if we go over the cliff. So, the reason, of course, all the Bush tax cuts expire with the cliff, when you come back, you would only be voting to cut taxes on some portion of the public, up to a certain income level.

If you do it now, basically extend Bush tax cuts for only some taxpayers, you are you effectively raising taxes on some people. Now, that might be easier for Republicans, but it only takes us only a small step of the larger accommodation we need, because both sides agree, we need some kind of long-term agreement to stabilize the federal government's finances and the automatic spending cut side of this is a really blunt instrument. They do have to come together if they are going to deal with this, and the problem is, as I say, all political incentives are toward polarization and refusing to bend.

GRIFFIN: We had this group of six meting at the White House today. When you -- you are connected to these people -- when you look at that group of people sitting around the table, do you see anybody who can control his or her party and make a deal happen?

BROWNSTEIN: I think Democrats, by and large, would follow the president. I think that is clear.

It is very unclear whether Republican leaders can control their caucus, especially in the House. And I said for months, really since the election -- there are only two options here in terms of the fiscal cliff. Either we are going to go over the cliff, which now seems more likely. Or John Boehner has to be willing to bring a bill to the floor that will be supported primarily by Democrats and opposed by a majority of House Republicans, because I do not believe these two Venn diagrams overlap.

There is no bill that would get a majority of support from a majority of House Republicans that would also be acceptable to the president. There probably is a majority in the House for a deal. But it may not be with a majority of Republicans and that is very difficult for the speaker to overcome.

GRIFFIN: And just real quickly, would that be the end of the speakership for Boehner?

BROWNSTEIN: That is the big question. I mean, it is very rare for a speaker to bring a bill to the floor opposed by a majority of his own party on something this big. We really haven't seen it since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, as best that I can tell.

So, yes, that would be a risk. Some think you may want to do this after he's reelected as speaker.

GRIFFIN: Ron Brownstein, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

CHO: Thirty-six minutes after the hour.

Commanders in chief, past and present, paying tribute to retired General Norman Schwarzkopf. The commander of coalition forces during the Gulf War died yesterday, 78 years old. Schwarzkopf was the face of military briefings during the First Gulf War, the cable news war, as some people called it.

Former President George H.W. Bush, who was hospitalized, said the general was a true America and patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation.

GRIFFIN: New York City police are looking for a woman who pushed a woman off a subway platform into the path of an oncoming train. Witnesses say the victim was pushed on the tracks from behind, just as the train pulled into the 40th Street Queens Boulevard Station. He died after being struck by the number seven train. NYPD surveillance video shows the suspect running away.

Now, before the incident, she was seen walking back and forth on the platform and talking to her cell phone.

CHO: Surprise, surprise. North Korea deceived the U.S. and its Asian allies deliberately, catching them off-guard before the launch of its long-range rocket earlier this month. According to the U.S. official with direct knowledge of a military and intelligence analysis, the likely scenario is that North Korea was lying about reported technical problems days before the launch.

Another conclusion? That North Korea knows how to counter U.S. intel on what it's up to.

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

CHO: "Consumer Reports" out with its list of best value cars for the 2013 model year. The Toyota Prius tops the list. The magazine says the Prius cost an estimated 49 cents per mile to own. That's less than half the estimated cost of the average car.

Coming up, the new threat after the powerful winter storm that's brought record-breaking snow and spun of dangerous tornadoes. Ten deaths now being blamed on this week's storm. And more than 2,400 flights have already been canceled.

Bonnie Schneider in the extreme weather center with a look at the forecast. Hey, Bonnie. Good morning.


We are tracking freezing rain across Tennessee and Arkansas right now. This is the last thing the mid-South needs. It wasn't too long ago, Christmas Day, we saw 10 inches of snow in little rock. So, freezing rain on top of that is likely to compromise trees and possibly power lines.

Temperatures are also brutally cold in this region. Look at the difference. When you head to west Texas, it's 20 degrees in Lubbock. Ahead of the system, it is 63 in Houston right now. Warming up. But strong thunderstorms working their way across Louisiana right now. You won't see freezing rain that far south. But you will see more snow from one exiting storm system. This is really been monumental to areas of northern Maine and into Canada. Toronto right now at 21 degrees. It's 31 in New York City. The temperatures are colder behind the system.

Believe it or not, there's a brand new one. I showed you the rain in Louisiana. This is just the beginning, today to tomorrow, notice the snow falling across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

It's a one-two punch. We're getting the same sort of snow system, but with less snow this time. So, New York City, you're likely to see about one to three inches. Heavier snow through interior sections of Pennsylvania.

This is the part of the snow we're watching that might be something you have to shovel out into Rhode Island and possibly into Massachusetts. We'll be monitoring it for you as we get to tomorrow. But expect snow in weekend in the Northeast.

GRIFFIN: Alina is so happy, Bonnie. Thanks a lot. Really appreciate that.

CHO: I know you're just the messenger, Bonnie. I know that. We love you anyway.


GRIFFIN: All right, you two. Here's a little story that will warm you up, from Canada, no less. But it has nothing to do with the weather.

Two hundred and twenty-eight customers at the Winnipeg coffee shop drives thru paid for the person behind them. It could be a record for paying forward or backward.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could hear the shout from drive thru, my manager Todd was in there. And you hear him to scream out random number, 147. And getting everybody 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 going to come back. It's such a huge cycle.


GRIFFIN: A lot of fun up there. That cycle of generosity lasted about three hours. No one knows who started that chain or who ended it.

CHO: You're looking at the guy who ended it right there to me, this guy.

GRIFFIN: I'll buy you that cup of coffee.

CHO: That's right.

Goodbye, Godzilla. The intercontinental slugger Hideki Matsui has announced his retirement from baseball. Say it isn't so. Matsui came to the U.S. to play for the New York Yankees way back in 2003, hit a grand slam in his very first game at Yankee Stadium, and was 2009 World Series MVP. He was already the biggest star on Japan's biggest team when he left Tokyo.

GRIFFIN: This is a blast from baseball's past, but doesn't have any place in today's P.C. society? More on the baseball logo causing some controversy this morning.

CHO: Plus, parents and young orphans caught in the middle of an international dispute between the U.S. and Russia. The new development overnight on adoptions is just ahead.


GRIFFIN: Good news. Ali Velshi is in for Soledad O'Brien this morning with a look at what's happening on --

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Never good news when I spend too much time on TV, because it means there's some kind of financial calamity coming. But that's not why I'm here today, although I am kind of here for that.

A high-level meeting at the White House -- but will it really end in a compromise on the fiscal cliff? I don't know. We are talking to Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. Plus, Harvard economics professor Ken Rogoff, probably one of the world's foremost experts on financial crises.

Plus, it was a crime that reverberated across this country. A woman jogging in Central Park, brutally assaulted and left for dead. The Central Park Five arrested and after years in prison, all exonerated. The story made into a new documentary. We'll talk to the director along with one of the members of the Central Park Five.

And find his dog, and he'll write you into his new novel. Author Dennis Lehane, author of "Gone Baby, Gone" and "Mystic River Fame," pleading for your help to help find Tessa. That's Tessa. We'll talk to him live. All that and much more on "STARTING POINT", kicking off at the top of the hour. I will try and keep the fiscal cliff talk to a minimum.

CHO: You're talking to Tessa, the dog? That's incredible.

VELSHI: No. I'm talking to somebody about Tessa the dog.


GRIFFIN: Yes. We've got to find Tessa the dog. (CROSSTALK)

CHO: All right. Ali, thank you so much.

Baseball's Atlanta Braves bringing back something critics now call the Screaming Savage logo on (INAUDIBLE) during batting practice next season. And the columnist got a first look at those hats. Native-American groups consider the caricature really offensive.

Part of the Braves regular uniform for close to 20 years, though. The Great Hank Aaron had it on his shoulder during most of his playing days.

GRIFFIN: Former president George H.W. Bush may be fighting off a fever in the intensive care unit of a Houston hospital, but he is not planning on going anywhere. In a message to supporters, Mr. Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, says the former president, quote, "has every intention of staying put and that," continuing the quote here, "put the harps back in the closet."

At 88 years old, Mr. Bush the oldest living former president. Bush family spokesman says America's 41st president should be out of the ICU soon. We hope so.

CHO: Not clear just yet who will replace Lisa Jackson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson announced yesterday she will step down in January after the President's State of the Union address. The EPA created new standards for air pollution from coal powered plants on her watch.

GRIFFIN: The attorney for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says his client has been transferred to a military hospital for treatment of some fractured ribs. Mubarak suffered a head injury and a bruised chest when he slipped in a prison hospital bathroom earlier this month.

The 84-year-old Mubarak ruled Egypt for three decades. He is serving a life sentence at a Cairo prison for his role in the deaths of protesters during last year's uprising.

CHO: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sidelined no more. Her spokesman says she'll be back at work next week after spending the past three 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 couple more weeks. Her return means that she may soon testify before Congress about that attack on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi.

GRIFFIN: Here's a story that got a lot of wows in the studio. "The L.A. Times" reporting that the city's gun buyback program broke records and here's the big fish: a rocket launcher. We have no way to know if it's 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 car. That got the driver about $1,000 in grocery gift cards. CHO: And here's a case of man's best friend returning the favor. Bart the hound dog fell through the ice on Lake Erie. His front boss (ph) really all but kept him above the surface. Owner's cousin put on his waders and tried to save him. He fell through the ice, too, but he wouldn't leave Bart's side.


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.


CHO: Imagine this. They spent 90 minutes in the frigid water before rescuers arrived. Bart was cold, but thankfully otherwise OK.

GRIFFIN: Heartache spans two continents this morning as Russia's president signs that bill that's going to keep American parents from adopting Russian children in need of a family. Dozens of current adoptions now stopped in their tracks. We're going to have a live report on that coming up.


CHO: Eight minutes before the top of the hour. Relations between the U.S. and Russia growing a little more tense this morning. Russian president Vladmir Putin has just signed a controversial bill banning American citizens from adopting Russian children. The move is seen as retaliation for a new U.S. law seeking to punish Russian human rights violators.

Our Matthew Chance joining us live from London. Matthew, good morning. You lived in Moscow for a very long time. This, I understand, was not only stop future adoptions, but those adoptions already in progress. You know, these families, during the process, get so attached to these children. What has the reaction been?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Alina, it's clearly a big tragedy for those families, those parents that hoped and have spent I expect many months going through the various legal loopholes in Russia, trying to adopt children there and who have met these children. It's a big blow for them, because that will stop them in its tracks.

And also, you know, let's not forget the children themselves. In fact, the Kremlin has issued a statement saying that they believe these 52 Russian children who was set to be adopted into American families, you know, currently, you know, being processed and all of those 52 adoptions will end.

And it's very unfortunate, because a lot of these children have already got to know as part of the process the parents that they may have been going to live with and be adopted by. So, that will now change. And what Kremlin saying is it wants those 52 children to be adopted by Russian families. Very difficult, though.

A Russian billionaire is offering $50,000 to each of the families in Russia that adopt these 52 children to try and ease the pain a little bit -- Alina.

CHO: And remind us, because as I said at the top was in retaliation for something else. Why is this happening now?

CHANCE: Yes. It's very unfortunate. The children have become such a political pawn in this dispute between Russia and the United States.

But the act was put into force in retaliation for a law that was signed by President Obama earlier this year called the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which is an act, as you mentioned, I think, which aims to punish Russian human rights abusers, particularly, Russian officials who were associated with the death in 2009 in custody of a Russian tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered a very large tax fraud in Russia that was himself arrested then and died while in custody.

This is an intent by this law to punish those people, to stop them from traveling to the U.S., to freeze their accounts. It caused absolute outrage amongst official circles in Russia, and it was searching for several months to try and find an appropriate response. This is what they came up with.

CHO: Matthew Chance live in London for us. Matthew, thank you.

GRIFFIN: Up next, "Best Advice" from the Grinch who stole Christmas. No kidding.

CHO: And later on "STARTING POINT," firearms training, teachers. Our Ali Velshi talks to one educator who's taking the course right now.


CHO: Few minutes before the top of the hour. We wrap it up as always with "Best Advice."

GRIFFIN: And today, we hear from the notorious holiday character, The Grinch who stole Christmas.


THE GRINCH: The best advice I have ever received, and I received quite a bit. I would say to cherish your family. Keep them close to you and don't sweat the small stuff. And also, not to take yourself too seriously.


THE GRINCH: Merry Christmas.


CHO: He's good that Grinch. That's EARLY START for a Friday morning. Have a great weekend, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. GRIFFIN: I'm Drew Griffin. "STARTING POINT" with Ali Velshi starts right now.