Return to Transcripts main page


Still Waiting: Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Russian Law Bans Americans from Adopting Russian Children; Controversial Surveillance Law to be Extended by Congress; Interview with "Modern Family" Producer Danny Zuker; Marathon Man Doesn't Let Cancer Slow Him Down; Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin to Host New Year's Eve Special

Aired December 29, 2012 - 10:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: From CNN world headquarters, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

Still waiting. Three days to go to avert the fiscal cliff. What will lawmaker do to save you from more taxes and fewer benefits?

The littlest pawns in a political fight. We'll talk to one woman whose hopes for adopting a Russian son may have just been shattered.

And they're back. Kathy griffin and Anderson Cooper ringing in New Year's Eve. But why was Kathy's naked on A.C.'s couch? She's going to explain.

Good morning, it's 10:00 on the East Coast, 7:00 on the West Coast. I'm Alison Kosik. Randi Kaye is off today.

We are now just three days away from possibly crossing over the fiscal cliff. For the first time in weeks, there's some hope coming from Washington. Senate leaders are negotiating a deal they hope can go to a vote, go to a vote soon.

CNN Radio Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins is in Washington.

Lisa, you were on thrill yesterday for the political action between President Obama, between congressional leaders. They sound more optimistic, at least President Obama does. Do you think we're any closer to a deal at this point?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN RADIO CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: I think there's no doubt that we are closer to a deal, but how much closer we'll know probably in the next 24 hours. It's interesting because in the last 20 hours, the silence that had pervaded Capitol Hill was completely changed after the president and the four congressional leaders he met with all announced that they're shifting negotiation tactics now to a group of two.

Two senators, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, the two party leaders in the Senate, are going to be trying to find a way to get a deal today. We know their staff is talking. We don't expect actually any necessary meetings between those two leaders right away today. We think that their chiefs of staff are going to be on the phone, via e-mail. This reported from our producer, Ted Barrett. And then perhaps tonight they'll see if the leaders can sit down and get together something to present to their various caucuses.

Now, as I said, it was silent until yesterday. Then we heard many people speaking. And again, we heard from President Obama this morning talking about how important it is to try and get a deal done this week.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You meet your deadlines, your responsibilities every single day. The folks you sent here to serve should do the same. We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America's progress. We've got to do what it takes to protect the middle class, grow this economy, and move our country forward.


DESJARDINS: And that was the president's weekly address. That was the very end of that address.

And Alison, you know, everyone talks about these deadlines, but Congress does have a way of pushing those back. So let's talk about that quickly. December 31 at midnight is technically the fiscal cliff deadline. After that is when taxes would go up for most Americans. But because January 1 is a federal holiday, that buys Congress one day, and also January 2 they could use, as well, buying time all the way till January 3 when the new Congress comes in. So there's deadlines and then there's deadlines.

KOSIK: Although you wind up seeing the market reaction after New Year's day. Waiting until January 2 --

DESJARDINS: That's right.

KOSIK: Knowing that they are maybe getting closer to something, you know, what may not make it into this deal? I'm assuming that there's a lot that -- a lot of negotiations going on as far as compromise.

DESJARDINS: Right. The focus of this deal is to try and avoid those tax hikes for most Americans. That's what's mainly on the table as well as extending unemployment benefits. But you're right, so many things probably will not make this deal. That includes those budget cuts for most government agencies, the sequester, that may happen at least in the short term. It doesn't seem to be on the table now. Also, the Medicare doc fix, we don't know for sure if that's going to be in this deal or not. A lot of other pieces still on the table and in limbo for now.

KOSIK: OK, Lisa Desjardins, we'll be watching with you, thanks.

As you may have guessed, uncertainty over the fiscal cliff is having a ripple effect from Washington to Wall Street. U.S. stocks ended the session in the red on Friday for the fifth straight day. A triple- digit loss for the Dow, that tumbled 158 points. The NASDAQ lost almost 26 points while the S&P 500 shed almost 16 points. In Washington, each side of the aisle is pleading its case directly it the taxpayer, both the president and the Republicans talking about the fiscal cliff in their weekly addresses. The president said yesterday he was modestly optimistic about a deal, but here he seems to hint at his own "Plan B" if the Senate can't reach a deal.


OBAMA: If an agreement isn't reached on time, then I'll urge the Senate to hold an up or down vote on a basic package that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends vital unemployment insurance for Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future progress on more economic growth and deficit reduction. I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote.


KOSIK: For the Republican side, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who struck a more partisan tone is shifting some blame to Democrats.


REP. ROY BLUNT, (R) MISSOURI: The Republican-controlled House has taken the step in the right direction. The house has passed bills to protect all Americans from burdensome tax increases. In addition, they passed legislation to replace damaging across the board spending cuts with responsible targeted ones, and to bring our nation's record debt under control. But instead of working across the aisle and considering the House-passed plan to protect taxpayers, Senate Democrats have spent months drawing partisan lines in the sand.


KOSIK: And all of this gridlock in Washington has actually helped the current Congress make history. Not sure if it's the history they want to make because it would be the most unproductive year ever. A review by the "Huffington Post," it shows that 219 bills have been passed this session as compared to 383 bills passed by the previous Congress and 460 by the group before that. Now to avoid the distinction, Congress needs to submit about 100 bills to President Obama in the next few days.

But that lack of productivity isn't hurting paychecks on Capitol Hill even as tax hikes and an end to unemployment benefits for two million people could be on the way because of the fiscal cliff. Congress, though, hey, about to get a raise. It's part of an executive order that President Obama issued which ends a pay freeze for federal workers. Their salaries, yes, they'll go up by half a percent after march 27. That's an extra $900 before taxes. Currently members of Congress make $174,000 a year except for leaders who make a little more. The last time lawmakers got a pay raise was 2009.

There is one thing the Senate has agreed on, getting aid to victims of super-storm Sandy. By a 61-33 vote the chamber passed a measure offering $60 billion in help. It now heads to the House which must approve the Bill by Thursday or else the process to consider the money has to start all over again. At least 113 people were killed when super-storm Sandy hit in late October. The governors of New York and New Jersey, the hardest hit states, have estimated damages at more than $78 billion.

And turning now to weather, and even though winter is just over a week old, millions of Americans probably can't wait for spring to arrive, me, as well, yes. Scenes like this in Maine are playing out all across the country as snow is now on the ground in almost 65 percent of the lower 48 states. At least everybody's enjoying it together.

Look at this video from Arkansas where in Little Rock, they posted a record-breaking nine inches on Christmas day. And for some of you, yay, not over yet. Let's bring in Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider for a look at what is on top for today. Is there an end in sight for --

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. No. We've got more snow, more wind and rain facing a good portion of the U.S. for today. Now it is early in the winter season, but as we mentioned, more than half of the country, as far south as Louisiana, have some white on the ground. So we're going to see more snow where that came from.

In fact, I want to take you live to Washington, D.C., where the rain is changing to snow. Isn't that a song, rain changes to snow? Let's take a look at the White House, looking pretty cold out there. I'll tell you what, temperatures started off around 41 this morning. They're falling into the 30s. It's going to get colder and a little more nasty as the day progresses.

It's all part of kind of a newer storm system than the one we were talking about on Christmas. You see snow stretching across Pennsylvania. Then all rain across the jersey shore. That's really the last thing they need, more bad weather even after sandy continues to impact the region. What we're seeing now is heavy snowfall and winter storm warnings that will go into effect starting at noon for the Boston metropolitan area. It's been fascinating to follow the computer models, depending on how close or far low pressure gets to the coastline. Massachusetts, including the city of Boston, could see substantial snow throughout today and tonight.

Let's break it down. You see the low sliding off the coast. Getting energy if the west. It becomes intense and stays to the south of New England. Now with that flow, we're getting the winds coming from the north, picking up the moisture from the Atlantic. And that's why eastern Massachusetts, if you can see the brighter white here, indicates a little bit more intense snowfall.

It is still something we're monitoring because the as the low slides east or west, that would impacts how much rain versus how much snow you get in New England. But one thing to know is whether you're in New England or not, you'll face some travel troubles today. We have airport delays forecast for the northeast, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest. And even down here in the south, we had delays in Charlotte this morning. And on the west coast, we could see delays, low clouds and rain even in Los Angeles. Busy travel weekend, lots of weather coast to coast that will impact millions of people. KOSIK: No escaping it, huh?


KOSIK: Bonnie Schneider, thanks.

Tax hikes, spending cuts, and the U.S. economy caught right in the middle. We can only, of course, be talking about the fiscal cliff. Our political panel is going to weigh in on the chances for a deal.


KOSIK: And the pressure is on in the Senate as Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell race against the clock to find a fix to the fiscal cliff. Joining me are CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. Good morning to you.



KOSIK: Ron, I'll start with you. Reid and McConnell, they really are the focus in the Senate. In the House, it's Speaker John Boehner. I've got to ask you, is his job on the line if Republicans balk at any deal that's reached?

BONJEAN: No, not at all. Speaker Boehner is extremely strong. His conferences support him and knows that he's been in a tough position trying to negotiate the fiscal deal with the president. He's been doing this for weeks, month, working on this deal. And you know, they gave it a shot. They tried their best. The house, you know, house Republicans wouldn't go for it. And said, you know, it's up to the Senate. And once -- if the Senate passes something, the House now will consider it. So I do think that the speaker is in a very strong position.

And besides, this is a very difficult job. I don't see many Republicans standing up and wanting to take Speaker Boehner on. Not many other people could do the job like Speaker Boehner is.

KOSIK: I agree. I see you saying that. Think about it, he didn't look good when "Plan B" couldn't go to a vote. How can he be strong in this position?

BONJEAN: I think House Republican see the position he's in. They're divorcing the fact -- divorcing the deal versus his leadership. He has presented an effective leadership style. He's communicated with his house Republican conference in a very solid way. You know, they stand behind him. They're not supportive of what he brought forward. You know, and I think that the speaker was positioning this deal to try to prevent tax increases for going up for people try -- trying to prevent people over a million dollars for taxes to go up, and unfortunately that just didn't happen.

KOSIK: OK. Maria, President Obama making his first Sunday show appearance tomorrow on "Meet the Press." a recent poll shows that more American will hold congressional Republicans responsible for going over the fiscal cliff instead of the president, 48 percent-37 percent there. Has making his case to the public either on recent trips or with his upcoming appearance, has that really given President Obama the leverage in this debate?

CARDONA: I certainly think it has helped, Alison, because what this president has been good at I think throughout his tenure through the White House and definitely through the campaign is making the issues that he is fighting for and that he has been talking about relevant to everyday Americans.

And he has been asking for those same Americans to make their voices heard with their congressional leaders. And as we all know, there is no one more important to congressional leaders than their own constituents back home. And so when the president asked constituents to let congressional leaders know what it's going to mean to them if their taxes rise on January 1, then leaders are going to hear from their constituents back home. And I think that's a very powerful piece of pressure that Washington actually does respond it.

So I think he has been very deft at that. And I think it is something that helped him through his first term and will help through his second term, as well.

KOSIK: Critics say the president should talk to more people on Capitol Hill. What deuce o you say?

CARDONA: I actually do agree with that, Alison. I think the president should be more open to talking personally to members of Congress. And, you know, we'll see if he'll do that in his second term.

I also think what this president has going for him and what worked for him during the campaign is that he had -- the American people, the majority of American people think that this president does understand what they're going through, does understand, you know, their everyday economic problems. And he's been able to really translate what the policies of Washington mean for them. And so he has been able to use the voices of the American people to make the case for him, for what is actually best for America moving forward.

Now, I do think it would be more powerful if he would use that in conjunction with a little bit more personal touch. He does have that personal touch. Now, you know, he has decided that he chooses to spend more time with his family. And as a mother, I can't say that that's not a good reason. But we'll see moving forward if he decides to do that more from a personal standpoint.

KOSIK: Ron, let me throw this question at you. Both sides agree that any deal will mean that no one gets everything they want. For Republicans, what are the sticking points that would keep members of Congress from saying yes to an agreement? Why do they sort of draw the line?

BONJEAN: I think the whole issue now, it's going to be a small deal, it's on tax rates. It's on the threshold now. They're talking, you know, the number that the president's thrown out is around $400,000. I think, you know, a couple of weeks ago, Republicans would have laughed at that. Now I think they're looking at that much more seriously because of the fallback bill the president wants to put on the table of $250,000.

So I do think that, you know, the tax rates are the key to this deal because we're not dealing with sequestration, we're not dealing defense cuts, we're not dealing with raising the debt ceiling until next year. I really think that's probably the sticking point at this time.

KOSIK: Maria, are Democrats going to do enough for spending cuts, or are they going kind of whittle through that?

CARDONA: Well, we'll see what the Senate is able to come up with. There doesn't seem to be enough time, though, Alison, for the kind of spending cuts that we really need to focus on for the long term to be negotiated in the next 72 hours because, as you noted, those are very difficult positions for Democrats.

It doesn't mean that Democrats don't think that there should be spending cuts. The president is the first one to say that spending cuts are something that he has put on the table and that we do need to negotiate and whatever long-term deal gets done.

But right now Washington has really pushed us to the brink. And I think what everybody agrees on, I think Ron would agree with me on this, is that no one wants to get blamed for taxes going up on 98 percent of the American people. And so that I think is what we're going to be seeing in whatever deal gets done. Those will be the things that will be underscored. And then I think there will be a commitment for longer term spending cuts as well as tax reform.

KOSIK: Maria, Ron, thank you very much. Good conversation there.

CARDONA: Thank you, Alison.

BONJEAN: Thank you.

KOSIK: Can the government legally eavesdrop on your private conversations? A controversial measure is on its way to President Obama's desk. Supporters say it will stop terrorists right in their tracks. Opponents say it could lead to abuse.


KOSIK: There are some dramatic images coming to us from the Moscow airport where a Russian plane has crashed. Russia's interior ministry said the plane overshot the runway. Eight people are on board, four of them are now reported killed. Four others are seriously injured. The redwing flight broke into pieces and smoke is billowing from the aircraft. The plane was heading from the Czech Republic.

People across India are mourning the death of a young woman they're calling "lightning." She was savagely beaten and gang raped on a bus in New Delhi earlier this month in a case which has galvanized the country. Protesters have been taking part in candlelight vigils. They want more protection for women in India which has seen a surge in rape attacks. Six suspects are in custody in the 23-year-old's death. They now face murder as well as rape charges.

Russia's top diplomat and international envoy to Syria are warning that Syria's civil war is threatening the fragile stability of the Mideast. U.N. Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Russian foreign minister Lavrov in Moscow today. They're trying to bring the regime and rebels to the bargaining table.


LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N./ARAB LEAGUE ENVOY TO SYRIA: You know, the only alternative is really help for political process. Then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for particular causes. It is difficult. It is very complicated. But there is no other choice.


KOSIK: But despite international appeal for a peaceful political transition, fighting continues to rage in Syria. Syrian opposition activists say at least 88 people have been killed just today.

The Senate has approved a bill extending secret eavesdropping overseas. The measure is headed to President Obama who's expected to sign it. CNN's Brian Todd takes a closer look at the controversial foreign surveillance act.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He ordered it just after 9/11 and it became one of the most controversial tactics used by former president George W. Bush and his security team to fight the war on terror. The secret wiretapping without warrants of communications between U.S. residents and people overseas suspected of being terrorists. It drew fire because sometimes the communications of innocent Americans got caught up.

In 2008, the practice was authorized by Congress but with limitations. A warrant is now required to target an American, including Americans who are abroad. But it's still a hugely controversial program, and the Senate's just approved a five-year extension of it. It will be signed by President Obama.

JULIAN SANCHEZ, CATO INSTITUTE: Something with an enormous potential for abuse certainly given the rather ugly history of the use of the intelligence surveillance for illegitimate political purposes under presidents of both parties under many decades.

TODD: Julian Sanchez and other civil libertarians believe there are way too many innocent people being monitored. Members of Congress who oppose the extension say the classified program is also too secretive and they pushed for more disclosure.

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think we ought to know whether for purposes of the amendments act generally how many Americans are being swept up under the legislation.

TODD: But there won't be more disclosure because that got voted down. Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, warned that shedding more light on who's being surveilled would destroy the wiretapping program which she says has worked well.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Four years, 100 arrest it prevent something from happening in -- arrests to prevent something from happening in the United States, some of which comes from this program. So I think it's a vital program.

TODD: Conservative analyst Cliff May says a wide dragnet is worth the cost.

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Let's suppose you were a Pakistani immigrant here. You don't have your green card yet. You call your uncle in Lahore, yes, you could get caught up. Maybe your uncle is just a tailor. If he's a member of the Taliban, maybe it's true that somebody think we need to ask questions of this person.

TODD: If you're talking to the uncle in Lahore and you're innocent, you're still caught up --

MAY: You're not caught up in the sense that you're going to jail. You're not caught up in the sense that anything bad is going to happen to you.


KOSIK: That was Brian Todd reporting.

They're the littlest pawns in a political fight. My conversation with one woman whose hopes for adopting a Russian son may have just been shattered because of a new law.


KOSIK: Welcome back. I'm Alison Kosik. Randi Kaye is off today. Here are five stories we're keeping an eye on this morning.

The top story this morning, that looming fiscal cliff. Three days left for Congress and the president to reach a deal and avoid billions in tax increases and spending cuts. Earlier I spoke with former FDIC chairman Sheila Bair. She gave her predictions on what a deal might look like.


SHEILA BAIR, FORMER FDIC CHAIRMAN: I do think actually they're going to get a deal. But I think it will be more along the lines of kicking the can down the road. I don't think from this point that we'll get meaningful deficit reduction, certainly not meaningful tax reform. I do think that there will be perhaps a permanent extension of the lower tax rates for those making at least under $500,000. The payroll tax cut on the other hand will go away, I think. It's highly likely. That is going to impact a lot of workers.


KOSIK: Bair also took on the criticism that increasing the tax on capital gains would de-incentivize investors.


BAIR: This is an aberration in the tax code. It is grossly unfair. You look at if they raise, say they raise tax rates, the top tax rate to 39.6 percent for those making more than $500,000, that's going to mean that small businesses, a lot of small businesses are going to be paying that nearly 40 percent marginal tax rate where you have billionaire private equity funds, you know, paying 15, 20, or 24 depending where they put it. It's not an issue of penalizing investment income. It's really an issue of penalizing labor and those who make the income through wages. And they're both legitimate and both should be taxed at the same rate.


TODD: And as people across the U.S. try to dig out from a recent snowstorm, forecasters are calling for yet another round this weekend. An additional two to four inches of snow is forecast from southern Illinois to New Jersey. The storm has brought heavy rains, tornadoes, and high winds to several areas of the country and is being blamed for 10 deaths.

An update on the investigation into the killing of two firefighters who were ambushed as they battled the fire in upstate New York on Christmas Eve. Police have arrested the gunman's neighbor, Dawn Nguyen. Authorities say the 24-year-old woman bought a semiautomatic rifle and shotgun for suspect William Spengler who later killed himself. Nguyen faces federal charges that she lied to authorities. Spengler couldn't buy the firearms legally because he was a convicted felon.

Michigan Republican Governor Rick Schneider has signed a new abortion law for his state. The law requires any clinic that performs more than 120 abortions a year to be a licensed, freestanding, surgical outpatient facility. Schneider says the law will help ensure a pregnant woman is, "not being coerced" into a decision. Critics argue it will force clinics to shut down and restrict access for women.

There are some newlyweds waking up this morning in Maine. The state's same-sex marriage law went into effect at midnight. Steven Bridges and Michael Snell were the first in line to tie the knot. They say they've been waiting years for this moment. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state approved same-sex marriage in November's elections. Gay marriage is already legal in D.C. and six other states.

"Regrettable, politically motivated, saddening," these are all statements made by U.S. officials about Russia's decision to ban Americans from adopting Russian children. Russian President Putin signed the ban into law Friday. Lawmakers there cite a history of abuse of Russian children adopted by American families. However, many believe it was in retaliation against a law that President Obama signed that imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

This morning, I spoke with Keri Cahill and asked if the chances of adopting a 13-year-old boy from Daniel in an orphanage in Siberia, if she thinks her chances are over.


KERI CAHILL, TRYING TO ADOPT A BOY FROM RUSSIA: I'm ever hopeful that things are going to change. I'm hopeful that better communication between both countries might cause Putin to rethink the thing that he just signed.

KOSIK: How far along were you in this process to adopt him before the ban went into effect?

CAHILL: Well, I'd already met Daniel. I had lived over there for a few months in 2010 and spent a great deal of time with him. I had completed my dossier. I had submitted my dossier. It was refused by the region because the region actually had created a law banning U.S. adoptions before the country did. And that was just recently changed, but unfortunately, not in enough time for me to kind of squeeze in before Putin signed this law.

KOSIK: I want to hear more about Daniel. I know he's 13. He has fetal alcohol syndrome. As I understand it, one of the last times that you were with him, he said he didn't want to live if he didn't get adopted. Is that the case?

CAHILL: That is, but that's very common. When children age out of the orphanage at 16, there are mandate prospects for them. A number of them commit suicide. The last time I visited Daniel he had just found another child from the orphanage had hanged himself and Daniel found him. It's common. When I spoke to him when I was there in June, 2011, and talked about the possibility of adoption and what would happen if it didn't work through, he would say, he said, "I don't want to be here if I don't have a home."

KOSIK: Tell me what's happening now, today, tomorrow, in the coming days before this -- this ban goes into effect. Are you in contact with anybody?

CAHILL: I have been trying to reach out to the orphanage itself. I have not been successful in reaching them. I am, of course, in touch with many of my friends in the adoption community. We're all kind of coming together, pooling our resources, and finding ways to help. Of course, the most important thing is to get the word out that there are still ways to care for these children. Even when the ban goes into effect, we can still send supplies, medical supplies, clothing, financial support, et cetera. There are 740,000 children in state care in Russia.

KOSIK: It's amazing, I know. The U.S. state department has called this move politically motivated, adding that American families have adopted over 60,000 Russian children over the past 20 years. And the vast majority of these children are not thriving thanks to their parents' loving support. But Russian officials cite a history of abuse by American parents. You've already adopted a daughter from the same orphanage where Daniel is.


KOSIK: You've been through this system before. Did you get -- did you get a feeling that officials were concerned about Americans adopting Russian children?

CAHILL: Officials, yes. On the ground, the average citizen, no. The Russian people in general are the ones I met are just wonderful, love the children, do everything they can to support them. It's just the resources aren't there.

Unfortunately, what's happened is just as there's a breakdown in communication between Russia and America, there needs to be more work on adoption dip meat. There needs to be better diplomacy. There need to be better communication. I believe that Putin is doing this in retaliation of might have been better written so that this wouldn't have happened. I feel like communication breakdown is the issue. It just -- there needs to be better communication on both sides so this will not happen.

KOSIK: When was the last time you spoke with Daniel?

CAHILL: The last time I spoke to him was about two months ago. I have sent several letters, and I have received communication through some of the -- there are a few girls that aged out of the orphanage at 16 that I support financially. And I'm able to reach them on Russian Facebook every once this a while. They communicate with Daniel and send his communication to me. I have heard from him as recent as two weeks ago, but I haven't spoken direction directly in two months.


KOSIK: And Keri Cahill is not alone. Russia's action could affect hundreds of families looking to adopt kids from Russia. According to the U.S. State Department close to 1,000 Russian children were adopted by U.S. families last year alone.

So you say you think you know "Modern Family" really well? We'll give you a real insider's tour with the producer himself. You'll look at a CNN exclusive.


KOSIK: Good morning, Washington. Look how pretty it is there. It is pretty. I mean, the snow falling does look kind of magical, doesn't it? But the nation's eyes are watching you as lawmakers put together plans to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff. And those decisions are going to be made in this weather, 40 degrees, rain and snow there today, though right now it looks pretty. Hopefully it's putting them, lawmakers, in a good mood.

"Modern Family," ever see it? The sitcom is a huge hit on ABC packed with 21st century family dynamics that are becoming the new normal for, well, the modern family. CNN's Nadia Bilchik sat down with Danny Zuker, the show's executive producer.


DANNY ZUKER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "MODERN FAMILY": It's hard to know what makes it such a phenomenon but I think it's that it's relatable to a wide swath of the audience from my children's -- their friends watch the show, and their parents watch the show. And someone described it as -- a friend described it as kind of like a camp fire. There hadn't been anything like that on the air for a while that everybody sort of watched together. And I think it was an antidote to snarky television for a while.

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you find inspiration for some of the jokes?

ZUKER: The stories come right from my family. In fact something will happen in my family, and my kids will watch me go for my phone to write notes and be like, don't put that in the show. And all of the writers on the show have this with our family because we purge -- I mean, we have just told -- we have dug from the depths of our family all of our -- skeletons in our closet. You know, we need stories, and that comes first.

We did an episode -- this happened to me. The EMTs in my town of Manhattan Beach are famously attractive. I was doubled over in the middle of the night with gallstones. My wife called 911 because we didn't know what it was. She disappeared for a while. The doorbell rang, and I'm in my underwear. She comes out of the closet. And she's completely dolled herself up for the firemen. And -- we -- I told that story, and we wound up doing that in an episode. So --

BILCHIK: Now, Eric Stonestreet plays the partner to Mitch. So he's gay. Yet in real life he isn't. Are people always surprised by that?

ZUKER: I think they are. Eric is -- Eric is definitely the person on the show most playing a character, I think. They all are, but his transformation is -- we watch him get cam hair we call. His hair becomes that cam hair. Then you'll see him afterwards, and you know, he looks like a good old boy, basically what he is. Yes.

BILCHIK: Sophia Vergara, no one had heard of her before "Modern Family."

ZUKER: She was big in Latin America. People early on -- when we would go to restaurant or something or anywhere, some of the -- we'd be in any place where there were Latino people, they would come up like they had known her. Yes, this was definitely a breakout role.

BILCHIK: "Modern Family" resonates beyond entertainment. In fact, it's been credited with changing people's perception, for example, of gay marriage. Does that put pressure on you as a writer? Is that something you think about a lot?

ZUKER: We do take pride after the fact in it changing opinions. Our more conservative relatives and family members have come up to us and said, you know, I never really looked at gay people in that way.

BILCHIK: You have, I think you said, over 150,000 twitter followers. You have is on to see explain your love of twitter -- you have to explain your love of twitter.

ZUKER: I love writing jokes. I saw this form, just this perfect forum as a perfect place to practice writing jokes. I came up as a joke writer. And originally if you wanted to get your jokes heard, you'd have to go to this gatekeeper. So it would be like the head writer of Letterman or Leno. Now, a joke occurs to you, and you put it out there and get immediate feedback. I know lots of young comedy writers who got hired just off of twitter feeds.

BILCHIK: It's been a pleasure having you on @CNN.

ZUKER: My pleasure. Thank you very much.


KOSIK: Imagine trying to get a restraining order, but imagine trying to get one against your parent. We'll tell you about a woman who did just that.

We also have the first report of a lawsuit filed as a result of the Newtown school shooting.


KOSIK: Reuters is reporting a $100 million lawsuit that's been filed against the state of Connecticut on behalf of a six-year-old survivor of the Newtown school shooting. According to the claim, the unidentified female has sustained emotional and psychological trauma and injury. The lawsuit also accuses the state of failing to take the appropriate steps to protect children from foreseeable harm.

This morning, we've learned the name of the man pushed to his death to from a subway platform in New York on Thursday. Witnesses say 46-year- old Sunando Sen was pushed by a woman police describe as heavyset in her 20s. She was caught on camera fleeing the scene. It's the second subway killing in New York just this month.

In Ohio, a college honors student has been granted a restraining order against her parents of all people. A judge has ordered the parents of Aubrey Ireland to stay at least 500 feet away from their daughter until September of next year. And 21-year-old Ireland says her parents would track her cell phone and computer use and drive 600 miles to visit her at school unannounced. In an ABC interview, Ireland describes some of their behavior.


AUBREY IRELAND: My mom has always been very overly involved. And I would have to get on Skype all the time and show them that I was in my dorm room or like there were nights where I had to leave my Skype on all night and my mom would watch me basically sleep.


KOSIK: Aubrey also said she felt like her parents controlled her life. Her parents say that Aubrey is lying and has mental issues.

An animal rights group has paid out a $9 million settlement to owners of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was just one of several animal rights groups that sued FELD entertainment back in 2000, alleging that circus elephants were abused. After more than a decade of litigation and tainted testimony from a former circus employee, they - ASPCA decided to settle. In a statement, however, they do not admit to, quote, "any liability or wrongdoing."

It's been a rocky week on Wall Street as stocks tumbled two percent on fiscal cliff concerns. But earlier, I spoke with one independent trader who said going over the cliff may actually be helpful.


KENNY POLARI, INDEPENDENT NYSE TRADER: So essentially in my sense, it's easier to go over the cliff because then there's clarity, right? Taxes will go up, spending will get cut, the market will know what is going to happen. It can only get better from there because then you'll get legislators that come to the table, that try to cut taxes and raise some spending, and they'll argue it from a positive point of view and stand up and say, rah-rah, look what we did, right? It won't get worse if we go over the cliff.

If there's a Band-Aid, in fact, it leaves complete confusion. There is no clarity. The market will probably react to that more negatively than actually going over the cliff. And I think that's what investors have to be concerned about.


KOSIK: Kenny Polari went on to say that he think there will be a last- minute deal.

And some good news regarding former president George H.W. Bush. Despite remaining in the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital this morning where he's been treated for an elevated fever, we have word that he's improving. According to his spokesman, the 41st president is alert and is always in good spirits.

Here's a question for you -- what do Anderson Cooper, Kathy Griffin, and nude pictures on a couch have in common? Why is it leaving our own Candy Crowley speeches e speechless? Stick around for a bizarre and unforgettable moment from last night's "SITUATION ROOM."


KOSIK: And every week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta brings us incredible stories of recovery and survival from around the world. In today's "Human Factor," our chief medical correspondent reports on a 71-year-old who's continued his dream of running marathons while fighting a dangerous form of cancer, one where patients are rarely cured. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Don Wright's career spanned engineering, being a company vice president, and the law. At age 62, he discovered a new passion -- marathons. Nine year ago, days after running his first 26-mile race, he got some devastating news.

DON WRIGHT, MARATHON RUNNER/CANCER PATIENT: I had gone to the doctor a couple of times for pain in my back. It was multiple myeloma.

GUPTA: This is a cancer of the blood where the white blood cells invade the bone marrow causing pain, usually in the back or the ribs. Patients are rarely cured. But Wright refused to let that slow him down, even qualifying for the Boston marathon.

WRIGHT: We got this devastating diagnosis, and we just -- my family and I, we just kept on going. You know, there wasn't any reason to stop and be sorry, you know. We kept running marathons.

GUPTA: On December 9 under a hot Hawaiian sun, Wright, now 71, reached his seemingly impossible goal -- running a marathon in all 50 states.

WRIGHT: It feels wonderful, I'll tell you. A philosophy of life that I have is live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece, and that was a masterpiece.

GUPTA: Wright wasn't sure he could fulfill his dream because the median survival for his cancer is just five years. Prognosis does vary depending on age and stage of the disease. He's had a number of treatments that have failed. But for the last four-and-a-half years, Wright's taken an experimental drug, one pill at night, that's worked. It's kept the cancer at bay.

WRIGHT: It doesn't cure the cancer, but it keeps it stable so it's not hurting me. And I can still run. And I can still enjoy life, and I'm riding that for all it's worth.

GUPTA: His advice to others facing what seemed like insurmountable odds, take charge of your own destiny and never give up hope.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


KOSIK: And be sure to watch "Sanjay Gupta M.D." today at 4:30 p.m. eastern and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. eastern.

I want to show you something. Look at this construction sign in Portland, Oregon, having fun with that looming fiscal cliff deadline. The flashing orange lights warn of a fiscal cliff ahead and then give the gates as January and February. Hey, at least somebody's having a laugh out there about this fiscal cliff business.

All right, they're going to do it again. Anderson Cooper and comedienne Kathy Griffin, they're teaming up to usher in the New Year from Times Square. Let's say thing got weird last night on "THE SITUATION ROOM" when the two were promoting their New Year's Eve special. Look at this.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE NATION": Somebody tells me, and I'm not sure this is true, 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. I'm wondering, is that -- do you take it personally, do you think there's something to this?


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": I think Wolf is wise to stay away from Kathy Griffin because I once -- I don't know if you know this story, Candy. I lent -- Kathy Griffin one asked to come to my 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 --

GRIFFIN: To clean up the place.

COOPER: No, first of all -- she arrived, she was terribly disappointed. I think she thought it would be like a house in downtown abbey. There is no chef. She arrives, and while I'm on the news that night, during commercial breaks I'm receiving tweets --not even tweets, text messages --


COOPER: Naked pictures. She's sending me naked picture 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.

GRIFFIN: I had to get a wet vac and a cleaning crew in there for a week.

CROWLEY: OK. We're going to have -- moving this conversation along -- why don't you --

GRIFFIN: Candy, put your shirt back on, candy. 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 message for David Gergen.

GRIFFIN: Top that, Crowley.

CARDONA: OK. See, and usually I can follow up really well. But this -- there's no place to go with sexting David Gergen. I'm sorry.

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


KOSIK: And we've got much more ahead in the next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING, which starts now.