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Fiscal Cliff Nears; Train Death Suspect

Aired December 28, 2012 - 18:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama says he's still optimistic a deal can be reached to avoid that fiscal cliff. Just four days until the deadline. The president just spoke about his last-ditch talks with congressional leaders.

Plus, police are searching for this woman after another person was pushed in front of a New York train and crushed to death.

And a huge piece of American history is under wraps. We will tell you why.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Candy Crowley. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So President Obama says the time for action on the fiscal cliff is here. He has a calendar, too. He just laid out his position after talks with top members of Congress. Everyone seems to agree it's up to Senate leaders to make the next move and that the next 24 hours or so are crucial.

We want to bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica.


The president made it clear that he believes that this still can get done. He said he has a little bit of confidence, optimism that it would get done. But he expressed an enormous amount of frustration, it was clear, with Congress' dillydallying, if you will let me say that.

He's frustrated that it's what he called deja vu all over again and insisted that it's up to the Senate now to get this done as the clock ticks to New Year's Eve. Here's what the president had to say earlier.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate, I expect a bill to go on the floor, and I have asked Senator Reid to do this. Put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle-class families don't go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for two million people, and that lays the groundwork, then, for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps that we can take in the new year.


YELLIN: So, that would be the president's fallback plan, urging the Democratic leader of the Senate to take up the president's proposal if the Democrats and Republicans cannot come to an agreement of their own.

The problem with that, Candy, of course, is even if that were to pass in the Senate, there's no assurance that Speaker Boehner would even let it come to a vote in the House. Not clear that that would get us anywhere closer to avoiding the cliff -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So, about 24 hours, we should know whether that really is it? I was talking to Ron Brownstein, who said they're running out of people and places to do this deal.

YELLIN: Right. They're running out of ways to hide and ways to put this off. I would say that if this is dying, it's dying a slow death, instead of a rapid one. But everybody's fanning the flames of hope. There's still a chance that life will be found. I don't want to milk this anymore. You know what I'm trying to say.


CROWLEY: I got you, Jessica, our chief White House correspondent who's not going to see a New Year's Eve in the fun sense. We will talk to you later, Jess. Thanks.

We are seeing Senate leaders take new initiative in the fiscal cliff standoff after their talks with the president. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell talked about the meeting and the tough work ahead.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think it was a very positive meeting. There was not a lot of hilarity in the meeting. Everyone knows how important it is. It was a very serious meeting and it took an extended period of time, as you all know, waiting for us.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I would just add I share the view of the majority leader. We had a good meeting down at the White House. We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader and myself and the White House, in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and the majority leader can make to his conference.

And so we will be working hard to try to see if we can get there in the next 24 hours. So I'm hopeful and optimistic.


CROWLEY: Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, editorial director of "The National Journal."

I'm not sure where to begin here. But it was like constructive. Everybody said the word constructive. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hopeful, optimistic.


CROWLEY: Hopeful, optimistic from Mitch McConnell is...

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Right. That's practically effusive for Mitch McConnell.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Exactly. What did the president say, modestly, OK, so the word optimistic.


CROWLEY: But then I listen to the other half of the president's talk. And it seems like he's preparing for nothing here.

BROWNSTEIN: Let's understand kind of the box or at least the framework and what you're talking about here. The fiscal cliff was a device that the president and the Congress agreed to in 2011 to try to put more pressure on themselves to do what they couldn't do then, which was reach a big deal on the budget.

It's really a noose of their own construction trying to give them more willpower to compromise. And here we are. To borrow from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we're kind of defining dysfunction down. Not going over the cliff is a pretty modest achievement that they may not be able to reach, and almost completely gone right now is the discussion of doing what it was supposed to do in the first place, which is encourage them to reach a long-term deal to stabilize the government's finances.

CROWLEY: Right. And this is going to be a tiny deal...


BROWNSTEIN: It's avoiding the worst, rather than getting anywhere near something that what would approach the best.

CROWLEY: Exactly. There's also some process things here. It's a great political forum and presidents have always used it to say, just vote on it. Just give everybody a chance to vote, because that is what democracy is all about. That's not even quite that clear in the Senate that's going to be possible.

BROWNSTEIN: No. And it hasn't really been possible, increasingly less possible since the 1980s. The routine use of the filibuster -- once, the filibuster was reserved for the biggest disputes, things like the civil rights fights of the 1960s. Now it is routine.

It requires really 60 votes to do anything in the Senate. We have this intense level of party-line voting with the filibuster. It's like a parliamentary system without majority rule. Then you have the informal analogue to that in the House in which the majority party says, we're not going to bring anything up. Not only does it has to have 218 votes, a majority overall, it has to have a majority of the majority, which in effect is a veto to the most conservative wing of the Republican party. That's where we're kind of stuck right now.

CROWLEY: Let me bring in CNN Radio's Capitol Hill correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

Lisa, is there a way -- let's just say they can't come up with something. Is there a way for Harry Reid to get around the 60-vote requirement? There are. I know they're going to tap some various things, but is there in this particular case?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There could be a few ways.

I'm almost hesitant to get into them because it gets really deep into Senate procedure. The simplest of course would be if the leaders agree just not to invoke that 60-vote requirement, if they just agree a majority would be enough. For that to work, the rest of the Senate would then have to essentially allow it to. There would have to be no one that attempts a filibuster. That's the easiest way to get around the 60 votes.

Another way is to possibly use some sort of budget measure that could be part of the budget reconciliation process. That makes things more complicated. But that is the way the health care bill was passed.

CROWLEY: What are you expecting tomorrow?

DESJARDINS: Tomorrow, actually, I think it's going to be pretty quiet up here. I think there will be a few people who will be trying to work out some very heavy details, some staffers, especially the senators, McConnell and Reid themselves.

But I think for those of us up here, if we get any details, it would be good. But I don't expect it. I think it's going to be a quiet day of doing the hard work and then perhaps tomorrow night, we will start perhaps hearing phone calls from leadership out to House members, out to some Senate members to try and feel for whether they have got the votes on this.

Then I think Sunday seems to be the earliest that we would get sort of this grand, official presentation. But I think it's really too early to tell if even that will happen by Sunday. I think we're just in the first hours of this potential new consortium of two trying to come up with something.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Lisa Desjardins up on Capitol Hill for us.

Jessica, let me bring you in one more time out of the White House and ask you, do you get the sense that anything much has happened other than the problem's been dropped in the lap of these two Senate leaders? Do you get the sense there really has been movement?

YELLIN: No, except that they're -- as we have discussed, when pressure mounts, that's when Congress acts.

And that's what the president's -- that's the frustration he expressed. But you do hear sounds of more encouraging progress- sounding noises. I don't know what else to call them. People who want to get a deal done are saying that they are going to try. So that in itself is cause for some optimism.

I would say that the president sounded, on his scale of anger, zero being none and 10 being high, he sounded only about six. So there's still room for more frustration. So maybe the meeting wasn't all a loss.

CROWLEY: Less than horrible?

YELLIN: Yes. Beyond that, it doesn't seem very much progress has been forged yet.

BROWNSTEIN: Even if we avoid the worst here, it really doesn't fill you with a lot of optimism about the next two years.

We know that at least for the next two years and probably the next four years, we're going to have divided government, with President Obama and Republicans in the House. We have a closely divided country with Democrats having advantage at the presidential level, Republicans at the congressional level because of the way population distributes.

They have to live with each other. None of us are going away. And the issue really is, is red America and blue America willing to mediate its differences? Because otherwise we're basically saying, compromise is too hard for us, we will leave it to our kids to solve all these problems.

This doesn't auger very well for immigration, education, energy, gun control.


BROWNSTEIN: These two sides ultimately do have to live with each other. We saw '96 and '97 a Republican Congress and a Democratic president were able to get a lot done. Of course that deteriorated into impeachment. But they did have a window.

Can these two sides kind of find a way to mediate their differences? Because no one is going away and this could be a very long two years if not.

CROWLEY: OK, thanks. I want to thank Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent, at the White House for us tonight. Thanks, Jess. Also, Lisa Desjardins up on Capitol Hill for us. Ron Brownstein, thanks so much.

For the second time this month, someone has been pushed in front of an oncoming train in New York and died. Now the search is on for a suspect. And L.A. officials say it's a sign of the times. Rocket launchers and other military weapons are turned in at their gun buyback.


CROWLEY: In New York right now, police are searching for a woman who fled from the scene after a gruesome death at a train station that's similar to a recent killing. Police just released this sketch of the suspect.

Here's CNN's Poppy Harlow.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Twice this month, someone is pushed from a New York City subway platform in front of an oncoming train and killed. It happened right on this platform late Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was horrible. Fell to the bottom and I never want to hear something like that again.

HARLOW (voice-over): This man says he heard the final scream of the victim. James Callanam's (ph) train was halted because of the incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said this is the last stop, debris fell on the tracks. That's all they were telling people.

HARLOW: Witnesses say the victim was standing on the edge of this subway platform in Queens when a woman who was pacing and talking to herself pushed him on to the tracks. Surveillance footage captured this woman running from the station. Police are searching for the woman they describe as heavyset, in her 20s, wearing a ski jacket and sneakers.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: We do live in a world where subway platforms are open and that's not going to change.

HARLOW: At a news conference on Friday, Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly were inundated with questions about the subway death.

(on camera): Mayor Bloomberg, a second subway pushing death in this city in less than a month, I'm wondering what your reaction is to that, how can it be prevented?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I don't know if there is ways to prevent. There is always going to be a deranged person.

HARLOW (voice-over): Just this month, a 58-year-old man was killed when a homeless man shoved him onto the tracks in Times Square.

(on camera): Commissioner, would you consider putting more police on the platform in the wake of what has happened this month?

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE: No, we think that we are properly deployed in the transit system.

HARLOW: So not something you would consider at this point?

BLOOMBERG: You show me anyplace in this world where you have five and a half million people get together where there is virtually zero crime rate that we do.

HARLOW (voice-over): The MTA which runs New York City subways would not talk to us on camera, but said people should stay away from the platform edges and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Bill Henderson advises the MTA.

(on camera): What can be done to prevent things like this?

BILL HENDERSON, NYC TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL: Well, I mean, not -- you can't eliminate the possibility, but this is a very rare occurrence.

HARLOW: Why not put some sort of barrier here?

HENDERSON: Well, you have different car types running on the tracks in New York City subways and they have doors placed at different points along their length. If you ran a different kind of car, you'd have to move the openings.

HARLOW: Just not practical?

HENDERSON: Just not practical.

HARLOW: Very expensive?

HENDERSON: Very expensive.

HARLOW: Keep in mind, subway deaths like these are very rare here in New York City. Years go by without them happening. And the same is true in other major cities like Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Poppy Harlow, CNN, New York.


CROWLEY: Now that the space shuttle program is history, Atlantis is under wraps before it gets a new home. It's quite a sight at the Kennedy Space Center ahead.


CROWLEY: Folks here in Washington were treated to a remarkable sight this year, the space shuttle Discovery flying on the back of a jet swooping past the Washington Monument on its way to its new home at the Air and Space Museum.

The shuttle Endeavour went on a road trip through Los Angeles to get to the California Science Center, where it's now on display. And now the shuttle Atlantis is taking its place in history without traveling anywhere. CNN's John Zarrella is at the Kennedy Space Center.

Hey, John.


You're right, Atlantis is really the only one of the shuttles that didn't have to take wing to get to its future museum landing site. Atlantis in November literally just went 10 miles down the road from the vehicle assembly building here to the visitor complex.

For the viewers out there saying, where is it, that's it right there behind me. That is Atlantis. And it is completely wrapped in shrink wrap. Why is that? Because they are building the facility, the museum around the shuttle. So it's quiet here now.

But I have to tell you, all day today, the workmen were just hammering and they're putting up scaffolding and they're finishing this up by July when the grand opening will be. In March, they're going to actually unwrap Atlantis when most of the work will be done then.

But you can see it's on a 45-degree angle. That's because it is tilted the exact way that it would be when it flew in space. It's suspended on some giant beams there -- 153,000 pounds, the shuttle weighs in the current configuration that it is. And, you know it last flew in July of 2011.

It was the very last shuttle flight, STS-135, went to the International Space Station. That was the end of the space shuttle program. On November 2, they rolled it out, 10 miles from the vehicle assembly building over here to the visitor complex.

I'm joined by Tim Macy.

Tim, the interesting story about that is that that whole wall back there was not there. You actually had to get this vehicle in here and that had to be a trick.

TIM MACY, DIRECTOR, PROJECT DEVELOPMENT: It was a trick. We knew it was going to work. On paper, it was great. No problem, no worries at all.

But when we came around the corner, that 85-foot whip looked pretty tight, because the wings as you know are 82 feet from tip to tip. Came around the corner, backed it up a couple of times and then it came right up to the spot.

ZARRELLA: But you never had a concern you were going to make it?

MACY: Never had a concern. Knew it was going to be really easy and then last guy there had something to say about it. It was OK.

ZARRELLA: Tim, thanks very much for taking time to be with us.

One of the things, Candy, is people are not going to be able to touch it. You're not going to be able to go inside, not any of the shuttles, because they are literally national treasures. There's a walkway down below here. There will be all kinds of interactive exhibits here, the Hubble space telescope mockup here as well.

This is a $100 million facility that they're building here, 90,000 square feet. It's going to be fascinating. We're sure glad we had this opportunity to get in here today. I have seen the shuttle in all kinds of configurations, Candy, but this is clearly the weirdest.

CROWLEY: First time you have seen one shrink-wrapped.

ZARRELLA: No, never.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, John. You get all the good assignments. Have a great new year. Thank you.


CROWLEY: We're taking a closer look at what will happen if America dives over that fiscal cliff. And if you're a milk lover, brace yourself for a shock at the checkout aisle.


CROWLEY: Happening now, a killer discovery, weapons of war turned up at the gun buyback event in Los Angeles.

As Americans get ready for the new year, what will really happen if politicians drop the ball and we go over the fiscal cliff?

And that time again. Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin give me a raucous preview of their annual New Year's Eve bash.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Candy Crowley and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We heard President Obama say he's modestly optimistic that a last-minute deal can be reached with members of Congress before America goes over the fiscal cliff four days from now. He's warning that no one will get everything they want, but he says that shouldn't stand in the way of reaching an agreement.


OBAMA: We're now at the last minute. And the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy, not right now.


CROWLEY: We are joined by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. He's the author of "Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix Them."

Boy, I wish we had more. I would you all about how to fix it. But let's focus on this one part, Secretary Reich. You listened to the president.

What did you hear?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Candy, I heard basically Washington boilerplate for let's keep our fingers crossed, this is going to be a Hail Mary, but I have no idea how this is going to come out.

CROWLEY: When you hear him say, but I have asked for an up-or- down vote, do you hear, oh, there's a possibility, or do you hear, uh- oh, this is the guy now looking to position himself for after we go over the fiscal cliff?

REICH: Well, undoubtedly, the president wants to be seen as doing everything he possibly can to avoid going over the cliff.

But the chances of avoiding going over right now are very, very small. Mitch McConnell has to basically cooperate on the Senate side and not do any kind of procedural maneuvering, and John Boehner in the House has got to be willing to put the bill on the floor if it comes over from the Senate, and even if a majority of Republicans are against it, and that's asking a very great deal of both of these Republican leaders.

CROWLEY: Yes, lots of ifs, ands or buts in getting a deal. Let's talk about not getting a deal for a second. Let's say you wake up January 2, you live in Racine, Wisconsin. How has your life changed now that we have gone off the fiscal cliff?

REICH: Well, your life is not going to changed dramatically.

If you're paying Social Security -- I assume you are if you're working -- your Social Security temporary tax holiday is going to be over regardless. That means the typical family is going to be paying about $1,000 more in 2013. Again, it would happen automatically anyway because it's not part of the fiscal cliff negotiations.

Your income taxes might go up a little bit. The IRS and the Treasury Department do have some authority, some discretion as to whether they will change the withholding temporarily. I don't think they will do that unless they have a very, very clear signal from Congress that Congress in fact is going to extend the Bush tax cuts at least up to $250,000.

So I think your weekly paycheck may be a shave very -- smaller. I don't think most people are going to notice it. Unemployment insurance benefits, if you are unemployed, long-term unemployed, those are going to come to an end. That's going to be a big, big hit for two million American families.

CROWLEY: And that was my next question. Who will feel it first and the most? I suspect that's long-term unemployed.

REICH: Yes, long-term unemployed are going to be feeling it immediately. Again, the high-income taxpayers, they will see it. Now, whether they feel it -- I mean, some of them -- if you're over a million dollars, you may not feel it at all. But your taxes are going to be up substantially. But, remember, they're only going to go up back to the Bill Clinton days.

And anybody who remembers the Bill Clinton days and the Bill Clinton knows that those taxes were not onerous. They didn't stop the economy from doing quite well.

Now, on the spending side, the president's proposing really no spending cuts until there is a grand bargain, hopefully in January. But without any kind of a bargain at all before then, assuming we do go over the fiscal cliff, then there are going to be substantial cuts in military, contracting -- military contractors are going to feel it almost immediately. And also on some of what's called domestic discretionary spending. That's basically everything the president -- the country does other than the military or Social Security or Medicare.

CROWLEY: So I just want to get one thing straight now about the tax rates. And that is that the Treasury Department, if it senses that, yes, they're going to get a deal here fairly quickly, could say -- can direct how much withholding employers have to take out of paychecks? Is that correct?

REICH: Yes, that's right, Candy. The IRS, that is -- they're part of the Treasury Department, they do have authority, they do have discretion to alter those withholding tables.

But I don't think they will alter them unless they get an absolutely clear signal from Congress that they should be altered. I mean, there's no reason for them to play any guesswork. They don't want to be caught three weeks or four weeks or ten weeks into the next fiscal year with revenues being substantially less than they otherwise should be or would be.

CROWLEY: OK. And we talked to "The Wall Street Journal's" Steve Moore a little while ago, and I asked him about the psychological effect -- not the real effect of what will happen if we go off the fiscal cliff but the psychological effect. I want you to hear what he said.


STEPHEN MOORE, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": I talk to small businessmen and women all the time. They say, "We're not hiring now. We're just canceling a lot of our plans to make new expenditures," which you need to do if you want a vibrant economy.

And of course, you know this, Candy. We're really seeing the impact in the stock market in the last couple of weeks. So yes, this is not a good way to run a railroad. And the economy is already taking a hit because of all this turmoil in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: You agree with that, that we've already seen the impact of not having a deal to avoid this cliff?

REICH: I don't think we've seen all of the impact.


REICH: Undoubtedly, Stephen Moore is correct that the stock market is reacting, particularly over the last couple of days. But most people, most institutions, most companies, most consumers assume that there will be some sort of a deal, or if there's not a deal, at least by Monday, then there will be a deal within the next few days.

And I don't think it has really sunk in to -- to most of the players in this economy that there is a small possibility of no deal at all, even no deal retroactively in January.

CROWLEY: On that cheery note, let me thank you for your time.

REICH: I wish I could be -- I wish I could be more upbeat. And I hope you have a good new year, notwithstanding, Candy.

CROWLEY: Thank you. You as well, sir. Thanks for joining us.

REICH: Bye-bye.

CROWLEY: Milk lovers could be in for some sticker shock after the first of the year. How about $7 per gallon?

A side effect of fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington is lack of action on a lot of other matters. Case in point: that Farm Bill. It expired last summer with no measure from Congress to replace it.

One of the protection for farmers that goes away January 1 is the dairy subsidy. That means the price of milk could skyrocket. I brought that up with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who says milk prices are just the beginning.


CROWLEY: In the short term it seems to me the sales job has to be, why does anybody care if there's not a Farm Bill on January 1? What will happen to me or my family sitting here in Washington, D.C.?

TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: Well, if you like anything made with milk, you're going to be impacted by the fact that there's no Farm Bill. Because if there is not an extension of the existing bill or a new bill, basically on January 1 or shortly thereafter, permanent agricultural law goes back into place, 1949 law. Which basically means that the government, the federal government will go back in the business of strongly supporting -- and I mean strongly supporting -- the dairy industry by raising the price support, if you will, or support for dairy products to $38 a hundred weight. That's almost double what the price of milk is today.

That's going to ultimately ramp up so that consumers, when they go in the grocery store, are going to be a bit shocked when, instead of seeing $3.60 for milk they see $7 a gallon for milk. And that's going to ripple throughout all of the commodities if this thing goes on for an extended period of time.

So it impacts consumers. It impacts those of us who are concerned about the energy security of this country, because the Farm Bill contains ways in which we can promote alternative energy sources, ways in which we can create a biofuel industry that's robust that creates consumer choice.

For those folks who are concerned about exports and the jobs that are connected in this country to agriculture exports, we lose the potential capacity to continue to promote and market exports without a Farm Bill.

If you're concerned about the ability to provide adequate nutrition and you are a supporter of farmers markets and you want to see an expansion of those local and regional food systems, can't do it because there is no Farm Bill.

If you like the idea of fields' expanded habitat opportunities, and you like to hunt and you like to fish, your -- your hobby, your vocation, if you will, in that area is also going to be affected by no Farm Bill, because a lot of the conservation programs are not extended or ended.

If you're a farm family, obviously you're going to be impacted.

So across the board, in virtually every aspect of our economy and in society, there is an impact and an effect by not having a Farm Bill.


CROWLEY: Secretary Vilsack was also the former governor of Iowa, told me he also thinks there's no Farm Bill because rural America is losing power and influence as more of America lives in cities and suburbs. My interview with Secretary Vilsack this Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9 a.m. Eastern.

Most people might not expect to find launchers turned in at a gun buyback event in Los Angeles. But local officials aren't batting an eye.


AARON COHEN, SECURITY EXPERT: I don't think anyone should be surprised two rocket launchers were turned in. This is L.A.



CROWLEY: Officials in Los Angeles say they have terrifying proof that their latest gun buyback program was a success. Military weapons of war were found in the piles of guns and rifles, weapons that are now off the streets. CNN's Kyung Lah is in L.A.

What did they find, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they found a lot of weaponry. And what we could not find, though, Candy, is a police officer who was stunned by this.

One of the reasons that they wanted to show off these rocket launchers is that they hope to give Americans some pause and some perspective.


LAH (voice-over): A rocket launcher, not just one, but two handed over to police on this week's gun buyback day. Shocking? Not to police, who've seen it before, among the roughly 10,000 guns turned into police by the citizens of Los Angeles since 2009.

LEE BACA, L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF: We look like we're in a third- world nation when you seize all these weapons from individuals, and the question you have to ask is, why?

LAH: These rocket launchers were U.S.-made, owned privately, though illegal, and turned over to police under the no questions asked buyback. They thankfully had no rockets in them. Police also collected 75 assault rifles that people traded in this week for gift cards.

COHEN: I don't think anyone should be surprised two rocket launchers were turned in. This is L.A.

LAH: L.A. and much of America, says Aaron Cohen. He's a security expert advising clients around the world. This should be a reality check, he says and a sign of how military-style weaponry can so easily end up in the wrong hands, like they did in the Newtown massacre.

COHEN: There's way too many weapons that are out there on the streets. The type of weapons that were brought and the 75 assault rifles the other day, not to mention the two RPG rocket launchers, and it's just ridiculous.

LAH (on camera): Do you think it's gotten out of hand?

COHEN: I think that the system of issuing them has gotten out of hand. And I think we have -- again, we have to look at the entire safety system involved with giving handguns out.

LAH (voice-over): Gun shows and easy background checks, Cohen says, that adds up to an overly armed America. The people who turned in guns, most of them legal, came from all walks of life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have grandchildren, and no matter how secure you think your gun is, we've seen what happens. So I decided to turn it in.


LAH: And so the big question, where on earth did these rocket launchers come from? Well, the LAPD says no questions asked. Part of the reason why their gun buyback is so successful, that no matter what they get in, they will not ask where it came from -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Kyung, you know, handguns are one thing. Rocket launchers or something else -- has this ever happened before?

LAH: You know, we spoke to the gun division. And the officers there say this is the fifth one that they've gotten since 2009. The fifth one that people have handed over willingly. So they believe that there are more out there.

And something else, another number that I actually find more stunning than five rocket launchers since 2009, is that there are approximately -- and these are estimates, because they don't know how many there are out there -- approximately 8 million guns in the city of Los Angeles.

CROWLEY: That's a lot of guns. Kyung Lah, thank you so much. Appreciate the story.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a controversial bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children. The new law is heartbreaking for hundreds of families in the adoption process.

The move is seen as retaliation for a law President Obama signed this month, imposing travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia. I talked about the new ban with Lee Allen, who adopted two boys from Russia in 1999.


LEE ALLEN, ADOPTED BOYS FROM RUSSIA: When we talk about the families, it's so important to remember that these are kids we're talking about. These are -- these are not political pawns.

CROWLEY: These are little children in institutions at this point. Right?

ALLEN: Babies.

CROWLEY: So you have your two boys here, and they're beautiful. We have them in the studio here. Have you talked to them about this? Are they aware of this? What are they saying?

ALLEN: Well, my guys have grown up here in America. They're very proud of your heritage, being Russian. And -- but they're also -- they're also thriving in America. They're athletes. They're getting a great education. They are -- you know, they're just wonderful young men, absolutely wonderful.

And I just -- I just can't help but think of what would have happened to them had they -- had they stayed in an orphanage in Russia. The very best orphanage in Russia does -- can't compare to a home, to a family.

CROWLEY: Anywhere. And a family that wants them.

ALLEN: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: And you had met your sons...

ALLEN: Well, I had met them on video.

CROWLEY: Figuratively (ph). On video.

ALLEN: I had gotten a video, and they had -- they had become mine. They were in my heart already. And I just wanted to scoop them up.

And when the ban came, the moratorium came, we didn't know it was temporary. And it was devastating. It was absolutely devastating. And I can't -- I can't imagine these kids who have met their families...

CROWLEY: The families have been over there in many case and met these children.

ALLEN: And they're dreaming about their homes. They're dreaming about American mom, dad, brother, sister. And now, unfortunately, they're going to have to wake up from those dreams, and they're going to have to look around and realize they're still in the nightmare of a Russian orphanage.

CROWLEY: And what -- is there something that can be done that you see that's an easy fix here? Or is this -- to me, it must be the most helpless feeling. Because here's a child that you already consider your child, and they're caught up in something so far above your pay scale, and there's nothing you can do.

ALLEN: Governments and politics are so big. And the families are so small. And the children are so tiny, that it is. It is a very helpless feeling.

But there are very, very dedicated people in the government and in nongovernment organizations that are working to make this -- to make this go away. And we're just -- we're very optimistic and very hopeful that President Putin somehow will become a hero to these kids.


CROWLEY: Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose Russia's anti-U.S. adoption ban. The State Department says it deeply regrets the new law.

Going "OUTFRONT" on today's White House fiscal cliff meeting, John Avlon is sitting in for Erin Burnett tonight. John, what have you got?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Candy, we've got Congressman Steve LaTourette. He's going to give us the House Republican perspective on where things stand with the negotiations and what might pass.

Also, an investigation by Barbara Starr of the Fort Myer Day Care Center. Allegations of abuse right next to the Pentagon. It's disturbing and fascinating -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Sounds like a great show, John. We will be there in about 15 minutes. Thank you.

AVLON: Thank you.

CROWLEY: You never know what will happen when Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin ring in the new year on CNN. They'll give us a preview. And I ask Kathy about her obsession with a certain bearded are CNN news anchor.


CROWLEY: Just an update here on the state of play for those fiscal cliff talks, which are now basically taking place between two men, Senator Reid, who is the majority leader, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and Mitch McConnell, who is the Republican leader in the Senate.

Now, what we are hearing from the Senate majority leader in a statement he just put out is that he is preparing a bill that he will be ready to put up for a vote Monday. And what it will do is prevent a tax hike on middle-class families, and that would -- that is defined by the White House and others as anyone making up to $250,000.

It will also include provisions that the president said he wanted, among them, extensions for long-term unemployed.

So what we have here is Senator Reid saying, "Hey, if I don't get a deal with Senator McConnell between now and Monday, I've got a bill that I'm ready to put on the Senate floor."

So that is where we are now. We now want to move on to some of the headlines in the news, including the young woman whose brutal sexual attack sparked passionate protests across India. She's died. Lisa Sylvester is here with that and more of today's top stories.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tragic story, Candy. Officials say the 23-year-old woman who suffered a gang rape and severe injuries on a new Delhi bus two weeks ago died a short while ago at a Singapore hospital. Earlier, they said she was experiencing organ failure. Her attack led to mass protests across India, where reported rape cases have increased drastically over the last 40 years.

And in Syria, civil war rages on, and the death toll rises. Russia has officially invited the head of Syria's opposition for talks. The invitation comes, despite Russia's criticism of the U.S. and other nations that recognize the Syrian National Coalition as the country's legitimate representative, over President Bashar al-Assad.

And a Florida man has pleaded guilty to smuggling dinosaur fossils into the United States. Federal prosecutors used these skeletons as evidence in the case. They accused him of importing and selling, among other things, the 70 million-year-old bones of a dinosaur stolen from Mongolia. He now faces up to ten years in prison.

You know, the question I had when I heard that story is how did he even get the stuff into the United States? It's not like you can sneak it into your...

CROWLEY: Smuggled.

SYLVESTER: ... into your suitcase.

CROWLEY: Lisa, I appreciate it.

Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin are preparing to host their annual New Year's Eve bash right here on CNN. Actually, we don't know how much they're preparing. We're not sure they actually do it. They tend to be unscripted, to put it mildly. Take a listen.


Kathy, I know somebody tells me, and I'm not sure this is true, but somebody tells me that you're obsessed with Wolf Blitzer. And yet every year it's me talking to you guys, because I'm doing Blitzer's show, so I'm wondering is that -- do you take it personally? Do you think there's something to this?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think Wolf is wise to stay away from Kathy Griffin. Because I once -- I don't know if you know this story, Kathy -- Candy. I lent -- Kathy Griffin once asked to come to me house in Long Island. And like a nice guy, I sent her a key, because she wanted to go there a day in advance. And that night...

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: To clean up the place.

COOPER: No, no. Just to go -- first of all, she arrived, she was terribly disappointed. I think she thought it was going to be like the house in Downton Abbey. There's no staff. It's not -- it's a small house.

GRIFFIN: The chef actually never arrived.

COOPER: There is no chef. And anyway, she arrives. And while I'm on the news that night, during commercial breaks I'm receiving tweets. Not even tweets, actually. Text messages from her.


COOPER: Naked pictures. She's sending me naked pictures of herself sprawled out on my couch, draped over the kitchen counter.

GRIFFIN: Excuse me. I think Candy has done that on a daily basis.

COOPER: I had to get a wet vac and a cleaning crew in there for, like, a week. CROWLEY: OK. Moving this conversation along.

GRIFFIN: Candy, put your shirt back on. This is embarrassing.


GRIFFIN: I said, why don't you ask Anderson what I sexted him on election night?

COOPER: Oh, she did. She was sending me dirty messages for David Gergen.

GRIFFIN: Top that, Crowley.

CROWLEY: OK. See, and usually I can follow up really well, but there's just no place to go with sexting David Gergen. I'm sorry There's just not a follow.

COOPER: The most embarrassing thing was that I actually -- the embarrassing thing was I actually showed David Gergen the messages. That's how -- that's -- because she was pressuring me.

CROWLEY: And he said?

GRIFFIN: He finds me attractive.

COOPER: He got red in the face.

CROWLEY: So when you're...

GRIFFIN: Start at the beginning.

CROWLEY: When you're on the air live, let's say, on New Year's Eve, for instance, Anderson, who gets more worried, you or Kathy, about what the other one's going to say?

COOPER: Oh, I'm the only one who's worried. Kathy could care less.

GRIFFIN: I have no worries whatsoever.

COOPER: Right.

CROWLEY: That's a disadvantage, Anderson.

GRIFFIN: Definitely.

COOPER: I think Kathy with each year has a growing sense of empowerment. And the first year she was a little, you know -- she was only on for a brief...

GRIFFIN: I was a little timid.

COOPER: A little timid. Exactly. But now, I mean, last year she stripped. The year before that she used curse words. The year before that she told some poor person in the crowd -- I can't even say what she told the person.

GRIFFIN: Excuse me. I believe there was one year when you called me the day before and said, and I quote, "Girl, I just got back from Jalalabad. You're going to have to take this one."

CROWLEY: True? True story, Anderson?

COOPER: I don't think I said "girl." And I don't think it was Jalalabad.

GRIFFIN: One of the bads.

COOPER: I might have said something to the effect of...

GRIFFIN: It was somewhere in the Rose Garden, Candy.

COOPER: ... I just got back from somewhere. I'm exhausted. You're going to have to carry this one. I might have said that in the years past.

CROWLEY: Well, then be careful what you ask for.

GRIFFIN: The problem is, every year I imagine he's said that to me.


CROWLEY: There will be lots more where that came from, Monday night, CNN's New Year's Eve, live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, starts at 10 p.m. Eastern from Times Square.


CROWLEY: Something you've always wondered, what happens when you put a dog behind the wheel? Here's one of Jeanne Moos' most popular reports of 2012.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sniff this. Dogs giving up the backseat for the driver's seat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just when you thought you'd seen it all.

MOOS: And soon we'd all seen it: video of three dogs at an SPCA branch in New Zealand being taught to shift gears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's the gear. Good.

MOOS: And steer.


MOOS: First on carts, then on actual cars with the controls modified for doggie legs.


MOOS: "A" is the command for "accelerate."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turn. Good boy. Turn.

MOOS: Just months ago, the idea of a dog driving was considered a joke. A gag Subaru used to advertise cars.

And remember those old "SNL" bits?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Toonces the driving cat.

MOOS: Let's hope the New Zealand dogs...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Toonces, look out!

MOOS: ... do better than Toonces the driving cat did.

The motorist mutts were celebrated by Gawker with the headline, "Dog Drives Man." Buzzfeed noted, "Finally, dogs who chase cars will have something to do once they catch them." Though David Letterman didn't even need to make a joke to get a laugh.


MOOS: He nevertheless did the "Top Ten Signs Your Dog is a Bad Driver."

LETTERMAN: Crosses four lanes of traffic to go after a squirrel. Oh, no.

MOOS: Online posters imagined the future: "I see dogs in cars cutting me off, then flipping me the paw."

(on camera) Look, I know you have a dog license, but do you have a learner's permit? Do any of you have learner's permits?

(voice-over) Now, where were we with the top ten signs your dog is a bad driver?

LETTERMAN: Used your car to mount a Nissan Sentra. I don't know.

The No. 1 sign your dog is a bad driver: always taking eyes off road to lick himself.

MOOS: Being trained to drive with treats is sure to have dogs heading for the closest drive-through.

(on camera) Do you want to be the designated driver? Who wants to be the designated driver tonight?

(voice-over) Definitely not Napoleon. Driving is his Waterloo.

Jeanne Moos, CNN... (on camera) I said hit the brake, not eat the cake.

(voice-over) ... New York.


CROWLEY: We are on O.T. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.