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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Former President George H.W. Bush in Hospital; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Stall; Interview with Senator Debbie Stabenow; Winter Storms threaten U.S. Travelers

Aired December 28, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. I'm Ali Velshi. Soledad is off today. Our STARTING PONIT: starting -- starting down the edge of the cliff. In just a few hours, President Obama will hold a critical meeting at the White House as the blame game gets down right nasty.

He is being remembered as a liberator, not a conqueror. Tributes from the Pentagon, the White House, and old gulf war buddies after the passing of Stormin General Norman Schwarzkopf.

And teachers spending their Christmas break learning to shoot in case a gunman walks into their classes. Hear from a teacher who took that shooting class and the man offering the lessons for free.

It is Friday, December 28. STARTING PONIT begins right now.

And our STARTING POINT this morning: the nation's economy and your take home pay on the fiscal cliff chopping block just four days remain before the U.S goes over the edge. That would mean tax hikes and spending cuts that could trigger another recession. The president calling Congressional leaders to the White House for another round of talks. They will meet today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. But the full House is not even expected to return to work until Sunday.

Here's the guest list for today's showdown: The president, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side. House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, representing the Republicans.

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar live from Washington. Brianna, what do we expect to happen today? Any new offers from the president or House speaker?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We don't know. Right now all eyes on very much on the Senate to see what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can cobble together to get some Republican support. Technically speaking, it's still possible to come to an agreement. That said, politically is a different story, and the prospects for coming to a deal are starting to dim.

Right now, we're hearing a whole lot of the blame game, a lot of public posturing from both sides as they prepare for the possibility of going over the cliff. Let's listen to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: We are here in Washington working while 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, sort of retorting to Reid, Ali, in a conference call he said the leaders should do more -- or pardon me, less talking and more legislating. He wants the Senate to take up a Bill that the House has already passed to extend all rates and either take it up in whole or amend it. Obviously amending it and changing that threshold down to closer to what President Obama wants, which is a quarter million as a threshold. That seems more likely.

We'll watch this meeting. We don't know what will happen, that's the truth much and we'll watch to see what will come out of it. Does it seem like perhaps there is a spirit of compromise? Or do they come out very far apart, which can be an indication that it will be read as an indication we may go over the cliff.

VELSHI: Brianna, nothing is being done until the house is back in session. We are being looking at the earliest at Sunday evening if there is even a deal to vote on.

KEILAR: That's true. That said, if there is some sort of agreement, you could get wind of the before then. Obviously, the House would have to pass something, but it has to get through the Senate first. You would start -- if there was an agreement, you could see movement before then.

VELSHI: Thank you, Brianna.

Now would be a very good time to assess the impact of the fiscal cliff on your 401(k). Despite the fact that leaders are meeting this afternoon, the DOW, NASDAQ, and S&P futures all pointing lower this hour. Investigators have no stomach for this high-stakes game of chicken played on Capitol Hill.

Look at yesterday's chart for the DOW. The index taking a big dive at the open with investors finding little hope for a fiscal cliff compromise. But when word came out that the two sides might be meeting, you can see the index rebounded into positive territory for a while before finishing just a little bit lower. Expect another day like that today. Coming up we'll talk about the fiscal cliff with Democratic Senator from Michigan Debbie Stabenow.

But to another story, he was the most popular American general since World War II. Tributes from around the world are pouring in this morning for "Stormin" Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of coalition forces that crushed the Iraq military in the 1991 Gulf War and liberated Kuwait. Schwarzkopf may have been the perfect front man for a war that played out live in your living room.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon with more on this. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Ali, you know, President Obama remembers General Schwarzkopf as an American original. This man accomplished something on the battlefield few others can claim, if any, booting the Iraqi military, the invasion force from Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait after they invaded Kuwait in August of 11990. He commanding 700,000 coalition forces and got the job done in a ground war that lasted some 100 hours after six weeks of an air campaign, a real rout of those Iraqi forces.

And even General Colin Powell, one of his closest friends, remembering him today. Powell, chair of the joint chiefs at the time, Powell saying "His leadership not only inspired his troops, but also inspired the nation. He was a good friend of mine, a close buddy. I will miss him." That from one of his colleagues in the army.

Schwarzkopf and Powell didn't always see eye to eye. Part of the reason he got the name "Stormin" Norman. Powell would have to calm General Schwarzkopf's fiery temper. But General Schwarzkopf set the tone for new generals. The televised press conference bringing the war into homes around the world and really the first time we saw the commander at the front lines standing up there explaining what was going on.

VELSHI: And Schwarzkopf agreed with President Bush's decision to stop the war in 1991, leaving Saddam Hussein in power, and when then the U.S. went back in 2003, he doubted victory would be that easy.

STARR: He was proven right on so many front. He and President George H.W. Bush both agreed, they didn't want to, quote, "go all the way to Baghdad." if U.S. forces went to Baghdad and occupied Iraq in the winter of 1991, they would basically have to take responsibility for the country. It would be a long, bogged down expensive process. They decided that their real goal was to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. They accomplished that. They didn't want to go further. And later in 2003, they were proven right when the U.S. invasion would become something that would last so many years.

VELSHI: Barbara Starr to the Pentagon.

To Houston now, where 88-year-old former president George H.W. Bush remains in intensive care, treated for an elevated fever. He appreciates the outpouring of support he received from around the world, but he is not planning on going anywhere soon. Miguel Marquez joins us from Houston. What did his people say? Put the harps away?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is from his current chief of staff, Gene Becker -- put the harps away, he's not going anywhere. Look, he is sick, but not critical is what I can gather from what folks are saying on the ground in Houston. He is 88 years old. He's in the hospital a little over a month. He fought a bronchial infection. It has taken its toll and going into ICU got everyone excited. But doctors wanted him there just to keep track of how he is doing, monitoring him more minutely. The family wanting to keep a tight lid on information, some family members coming in. Dorothy, George w. Wish, number 43, maybe Jeb Bush rushing to the bedside. The family wants everyone to know that they thank them for their concern, but they hope soon he will be going home. Doctors will take it day by day.

Velshi, I mean, Ali?

VELSHI: We'll check in with you later on in the morning. Miguel Marquez for us in Houston.

And now we have Alina Cho for the rest of the news.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Miguel Marquez calls you Velshi, I call you Wei-Wei, your Chinese name.

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: Good morning, Ali. Good morning, everybody. For all of you traveling back to the holiday vacation or heading to one, a new weather threat after that powerful winter storm that brought record breaking snow. Ten deaths now being blamed on this week's snow and 2,400 flights already canceled.

Our Bonnie Schneider is in the CNN Extreme Weather Center with a look at the forecast. Bonnie, good morning.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Alina. The new threat, freezing rain from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Paducah, Kentucky, and Branson, Missouri. It's the same region that got hit with snow on Christmas day. This will not freeze over. When temperatures are as cold as they are across Oklahoma and certainly into little rock, likely to see ice accumulate on top of snow and that could compromise power lines. Keep that in mind for those of you traveling on I-40 specifically.

Behind the system exiting the northeast, we have much colder air. Temperatures are in the 20s this morning, brutally cold, bundle up in New York or Pennsylvania.

Now taking a look at the storm system setting up for this weekend. Traveling no, pressure slides across the southeast, faster moving storm. Heavier snow less likely with it, but, remember, it's a nuisance. 1 to 3 inches for the metropolitan New York City metropolitan area. And we could see heavier snow for areas of New England. In fact, take a look at computer models, forecasting between six to eight inches of some areas of Massachusetts, maybe Rhode Island, and this will impact travel likely.

For today, we're looking at light snow falling in the Chicago area that will impact travel across the Midwest. Minneapolis, Detroit, all of the cities face potential delays today. The wind is still a factor today as it was yesterday. Stormy conditions down south. So travelers facing more nasty weather as we wrap up this holiday week.

CHO: Just when you thought it was over. All right, Bonnie Schneider, thank you so much.

Homicide detectives in New York City are looking for a woman who pushed a man of a subway platform right into the path of an oncoming train. The victim died last night after he was hit by a number 7 train as it pulled into a stop in Queens. NYPD surveillance shows the suspect running away from the station there, see her there? Before the incident the woman was seen walking back and forth on the platform, apparently talking to herself.

North Korea likely 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 a U.S. official, likely scenario, North Korea was lying about technical problems days before the launch. Another conclusion, North Korea knows how to counter U.S. intel on what it's up to.

Not clear who will replace Lisa Jackson as head of the environmental protection agency. Jackson will step down in January, just after the president's state of the union address. The EPA created new standards for air pollution from coal power plants on her watch.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won't be on the sidelines much longer. Her spokesman says she'll be back at work next week after spending the past three fighting off what the State Department says was the stomach flu and a concussion from when she fainted. Doctors have grounded her from overseas travel for a few more weeks. Her return does mean she may soon testify before Congress on the attack in Benghazi. Back to you.

VELSHI: Lisa Jackson, if the Republicans have their way in the fiscal cliff conversation, they get rid of the EPA. They talk about the department of education, the department of energy, and the Environment Protection Agency as things they think are absolute wastes of money. Cost too much, all about regulations.

And you are one of the few people employed in this organization who has actually been to North Korea.

CHO: Twice. I hope to go back again soon.

VELSHI: We'll see you through the course of the morning, Alina.

Just ahead on STARTING POINT, a warning to Democrats from Republicans, they will not write a blank check to solve the fiscal cliff. Democratic reaction from Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, next.

Plus, the bestselling author of "Gone, Baby, Bone" and "Mystic River" has a new crime to solve. Where is his dog? Dennis Lahane is asking for your help and he'll pay off big time if you help find his beagle Tessa. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. A high-stakes meeting later on today at the White House on avoiding the fiscal cliff. It is just four days away now. President Obama meets with four congressional leaders, Boehner, Pelosi, Reid, and McConnell at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The rhetoric is only getting more angry and disconnected in these final moments.

I want to bring in Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow now. Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, (D) MICHIGAN: Sure.

VELSHI: It really is disconnected. Everywhere I go, people ask me a simple question. Why can't they get this deal done? When Harry Reid got up and said we're just probably procedurally not going to get this done in time, it really caused people to say why not? This is the most anticipated problem we've ever had. It just -- regular folks just look at Washington and say what is going on.

STABENOW: Ali, I'm here and saying what is going on. There are basically three pieces to solving the deficit, right? One is spending, and we have agreed to $1.6 trillion in spending cuts in the last two years. The other is spending cuts. We have already put in place spending reductions in Medicare of over $700 billion, not hurting seniors but cutting overpayments to insurance companies.

The final thing is revenue and making sure that the burden of solving the deficit must not just be on the middle class. The wealthy have got to kick in. We sent a bill to the House in July that says 98 percent Americans, income up to $250,000 would continue to get tax cuts, but above that, people would may a little more. They made excuses, the bill wasn't right. We have the bill in the House, the bill in the Senate. The bottom line is when the speaker put on the floor last week the bill that would say, OK, how about everybody up to $1 million gets a tax cut? He couldn't even pass that. We're stuck. We're really stuck.

VELSHI: The House GOP said they put a bill forward in August. So everyone sort of covering themselves saying we got a bill. We didn't ask to go over the fiscal cliff. In the end I'm kind of glad at 3:00 this afternoon, both sides of the House leader and the president are meeting. Do you think that there is the will to go in and say we've got to solve this? Guys, we have just got to solve this. We cannot risk putting America back into a recession. Consumers are feeling badly now, but were feeling OK.

Do your colleagues get how serious this is? We could send America to recession?

STABENOW: I believe in the Senate that we do. We're having a lot of very important, very good, positive conversations between Democrats and Republicans, I believe the president does.

The tough part is in the House where they have taken this very extreme position about protecting the wealthiest Americans at all costs, even holding middle class families hostage to do it. And that really isn't rhetoric. That's what we're seeing it over and over again.

We have one bottom line, Ali. When we get done, we have to solve the problem and can't be shifted onto the middle class one more time. Other than that, we want to sit down and continue to solve it. We have done cuts, tackle entitlements, we know there needs to be more. We have to say to the wealthiest Americans, time to set up and be part of the solution, if we can't get that, I think we're in a very tough spot. Middle class families can't afford an average $2,200 in increased taxes starting in January. One constituent of mine says that's four months groceries. That's a big deal.

VELSHI: This is absolutely real money. We'll see holiday subpoenaing was hit. Consumer confidence turned down for the first time in a long time. Here is something that Dana Bash got, where she said, Republican told her, some Senate Democrats have discussed holding off on bringing up a proposal until the final days of 2012, which we happen to be in at the moment to increase pressure on Republicans to support avoiding higher taxes on everyone due to the fiscal cliff.

What's your thought on whether there are people who are just running down the clock right now?

STABENOW: Ali, first of all, as you said, the clock is running down. Now is the moment. And all I can tell you is that we have had various groups, the gang of six, the gang of eight. People have been meeting, talking. I've had multiple conversations since getting back yesterday. I just don't believe it in the Senate. I absolutely believe if it were up to the Senate Democrats and Republicans, we would get this done. I think the problem is, unfortunately, with the extreme elements in the House, and for whatever reason the speaker won't act.

Even when something like the reform farm bill to eliminate subsidies which everybody agree should be eliminated, we can't get them to take that up. It's so frustrating that we send things over that are bipartisan that do make cuts and to ask those at the top to pay a little more to help out, and it keeps getting stuck. So I don't know, but I know this is serious. I know that in life you have to compromise, that's what it's all about. And we're willing to do that. But the bottom line is when this whole thing is done, middle class families can't be holding the bag again, which is what seems to happen.

VELSHI: You have a good sense that compromise means everyone has to give something up. We would love to get a resolution. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, thank you for joining us.

STABENOW: Thank you.

VELSHI: Ahead on STARTING POINT, exactly two weeks from the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Now some teachers getting on board with the idea of getting armed, a free course getting dozens of them trained to shoot. The man who is teaching it and one of the teacher who's took the training coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC) CHO: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It's 24 minutes after the hour. Soul singer Fontella Bass has died, best known for that chart-topping hit "Rescue Me." The song sure had legs. It was re-recorded by Cher, Pat Benatar, and more. Bass died Wednesday night of complications of a heart attack she suffered three weeks ago. She was 72 years old.

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

And listen to this one. A Florida fossils dealer now faces 17 years in prison after admitting he illegally bought and sold dinosaur bones, including three Tyrannosaurus skeletons. As part of a plea deal the BBC says Eric Procopi has agreed to give up claims on a skeleton that was sold at auction for more than $1 million. Procopi's sentencing is set for April.

VELSHI: What's the crime? They weren't his bones? Or you can't sell dinosaur bones?

CHO: You can't sell dinosaur bones. Who knew they were worth so much?

VELSHI: We'll talk about that even more.

Coming up on STARTING POINT, a sad story. New this morning, parents in the U.S. banned from adopting children in Russia. The controversial new law was signed just hours ago.

And hundreds of teachers get their hands on guns, learning to shoot. Hear from the man offering the course for free and a teacher who took the class.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Atlanta, the sun just coming up in that beautiful, beautiful city. We're back here on STARTING POINT. Our team this morning is Ron Brownstein, editorial director at "National Journal"; Will Cain, analyst for "The Blaze"; and the ghost of Roland Martin.

Do you need a note from the principal's office? Somebody needs to explain to me what goes on with Roland. He's never there.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: How do I get that freedom?

VELSHI: The thing about Roland, once he arrives, you won't know he was missing in the first place. Alina Cho, reliably always here. Good morning, Alina.

CHO: You can count on me, Ali Velshi. Good morning, everybody. The fight between world powers with agonized parents and children caught right in the middle. Russian President Vladimir has signed a bill that bans U.S. families from adopting Russian orphans. It's thought to be payback for a U.S. law that tackles human rights abusers in Russia, but Moscow says too many orphans have been abused by their new American parents. State Department says it is willing to talk more about keeping the children safe.