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Fiscal Cliff Bill Stalled in House; Interview With Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

Aired January 1, 2013 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, could the fiscal cliff deal approved by the United States Senate turn into a no deal in the House of Representatives? Key Republicans still opposed, even as a new deadline threatens to send both sides back to square one.

Also, even if this deal is finalized, a lot of tough issues have been kicked down the road, where another huge cliff is looming.

And Hillary Clinton is being treated with blood thinners for a dangerous clot in her head. I'll speak with a vascular surgeon about the risks she faces.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As the old saying goes, it ain't over until it's over. And the fiscal cliff deal approved overwhelmingly by the United States Senate still faces very strong opposition by House Republicans. In fact, the number two House Republican leader says he does not support it. And now, a new deadline threatens to send the whole compromise effort back to the drawing board.

We have full coverage. And we begin with our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's on Capitol Hill -- Dana, what's the latest as far as the Republican majority in the House is concerned?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest, Wolf, is that House Republicans will reconvene, have another meeting, their second of the day, in about 15 minutes.

Down this hall, House Republican leaders are still huddling. But from inside, they announced that they're going to call Republicans back together. Perhaps that is because they have an idea of the game plan that they want to pursue after they heard, for about an hour-and- a-half this afternoon, from their rank and file. By all accounts, there certainly is a lot of trepidation and concern about voting simply to approve what the Senate passed last night, even though not only did it pass overwhelmingly -- 90 percent of the Senate voted for it -- but it passed overwhelmingly among their fellow Republicans in the Senate. Again, the percentage is about 90 percent of Senate Republicans voted in favor of this plan to effectively make sure that, as you saw in many, many press releases, 99 percent of Americans keep their tax cuts in place, they don't see a tax increase.

So that's the latest of what happens in that meeting. You know, I've talked to some Republicans who say that they still believe it is possible that they could vote tonight and what it is -- seems to be the open question is whether or not the vote will be on the bill that the Senate passed and also on an amendment to answer some of the House Republicans' concerns, the biggest of which is that there aren't enough spending cuts, or perhaps that the cuts that they have in there aren't the appropriate kind. Some called them gimmicks.

So that is something that maybe they would try to tweak.

Then it becomes the question, Wolf, what happens, because as we all know in basic civics, if they tweak something, if they change something, it's going to have to go back to the Senate. And Senate Democratic leaders don't seem to be in a mood to bring their people back to change something that 90 percent of their members voted on.

BLITZER: Are they even in town, those Senate Democrats? A lot of them have left Washington, DC, assuming this whole thing had been resolved?

BASH: You know, they're actually going to have to be here in two days because the new Congress is going to be sworn in on Thursday. So my understanding is that there was some kind of quiet talk about people not going too far, primarily for that reason. But regardless, it doesn't seem to be in -- in their -- in their desire right now, let's put it that way, politely, to bring -- to bring them back. In fact, one Democratic source said we're not going to sort of sit around and wait because these Republicans can't take yes for an answer. As you can imagine, there's a lot of animosity going on right now.

BLITZER: And if there's no resolution by noon on Thursday, that's when the new Senate and the new House, they are both sworn in, the 113th Congress. They start from scratch, the legislation -- the bills that were passed in these last few days. They -- they can come up again, but...

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: -- but they basically have to start at the beginning and come up with a new plan, because there will be new members of the House and new members of the Senate.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Dana, don't go too far away.

The White House pulled out all the stops to try to get the fiscal cliff compromise through the Senate. They managed to do that.

But can they save the agreement now, as it clearly appears to be floundering in the House of Representatives?

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- so what's the thinking over at the White House -- Jessica? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, frankly, Wolf, they are a bit mystified by this latest move by the House Republicans. And the general sense is there is no love lost, as we well know, right now, between this end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the leadership in the House Republican Conference.

But they feel that body never fails to snatch defeat from the jaws of near victory and that it could be happening again.

There's a sense that Democrats, in general, have been very confident and pleased with where the deal has been and they have not wanted to crow about it too much today for fear that that would alienate Republicans or in some way tank the deal or sour it or any way jinx it. And they wouldn't want to do that because the momentum was the sense, with more momentum, this was going to pass today, it was going to happen this afternoon and then it would be done.

And now, the momentum seems to be shifting. There is not a lot the White House really can do. The president does not have a relationship with Speaker Boehner. He doesn't have, really, one with minority leader, Eric Cantor, you know, his second, Eric Cantor so to -- to -- to make much of an effect there. And they sort of have to watch and wait.

The -- if it were on the floor, everybody here definitely feels it would pass with the Democratic votes. They know they have the votes to do that. But at this point, they're just sort of shrugging their shoulders.

Wolf, if it goes down for any reason, there is no question that the political guns will come out, that the Republican Party -- the House Republicans will take enormous heat and -- for, quote, "sending the nation over the fiscal cliff."

And it will be a wrenching battle from here to the debt fight, you can count on that.

BLITZER: We know, Jessica, the president came out and spoke yesterday, urging the Senate to pass it. The Senate did pass it, 89- 8, a lop-sided majority, including 40 Republicans, the House Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, all supporting it.

Is there any serious consideration to the president doing that once again, coming out, even tonight...

YELLIN: Well...

BLITZER: -- making a statement urging the House to follow the Senate's lead?

YELLIN: Not that -- no, not that I've been made aware of. And I don't think he would, because yesterday's speech was directed at Democrats. And right now, he does not need to woo Democrats.

As you remember yesterday, his speech did not go over well with Republicans. And the last thing the White House would want now is for the president to do anything that could bring -- turn the blame onto the president for this deal going south.

Right now, it's -- it's all clearly on the Republicans. And so he does not need to take the heat in any way. So I do not expect to see the president, unless and until a bill goes to the floor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, stay in touch with us, because we want to know what's going on, obviously. Thank you.

As House Republicans are quick to point out, there's a lot that didn't make it into the fiscal cliff bill. And even if this one is eventually worked out -- that's a huge if -- other tough financial battles lie ahead.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us here now with a closer look at some of those battles. What are you seeing -- Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, last hour, we were looking at all the things in this Senate measure that the House Republicans just hate, especially the budget hawks there.

Look out on the floor out here. Look at all the different measures that are included here.

If you look at this and you're a House Republican who's very conservative about the budget, your fundamental complaint is that you see a lot of tax increases out here and almost no controls on spending, which they think have to be part of the deal.

But it goes beyond the deal that the Senate approved last night. There are other measures still looming that those House Republicans are very concerned about.

First up on the list, the debt ceiling. We've once again hit our borrowing limit with the federal government here. What that means is we can only borrow so much money, as authorized by Congress -- think about it like your credit card company. They gave you a limit on your credit card, if you want to borrow more, you have to ask for more.

That's what has to happen with Congress now. Money can be shifted around for a couple of months. By late February, however, we're going to have to have this fight over the debt ceiling again. And many of the budget hawks were already braced for that, without this priming the pump.

Beyond that, what about the payroll tax cut?

This was a 2 percent cut in your payroll taxes last year. Almost every American enjoyed this. It took down their Social Security taxes. It put a few extra dollars in their pocket for a few extra tanks of gas, that sort of thing.

That expired at the end of last year, at the end of 2012. So many Republicans are not necessarily thrilled over that anyway, because they can say that, in effect, is a tax increase on the middle class. Really, it's not, but certainly it's going to feel that way to a lot of people. That didn't make them happy. And what about the being one, sequestration? Remember, that's a long fancy word for a deal that both parties agreed to. They both said if they could not settle their budget differences by the end of 2012, then there would be an automatic 10 percent cut on all federal spending across all agencies.

Now, as part of this Senate deal, they've pushed that a couple more months down the road. That is another reason that the budget hawks in the Republican Party are having a fit right now, because they're saying in every way, they think that this measure is about delaying all the pain and spending money now, when spending, they think, has been the problem all along -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good explanation, Tom, in our virtual Senate watching what's going on. Thank you.

The fiscal cliff deal passed by the Senate is now stalled in the House of Representatives. Is there room for further compromise?

I'll speak about that and more with the Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's also a Congresswoman from Florida. You see her there. She's standing by live.

And Hillary Clinton is being treated for a blood clot in her head. I'll talk to a vascular surgeon about the dangers that could still lie ahead.


BLITZER: The Senate compromise on the fiscal cliff was hard- fought, but passed overwhelmingly, 89-9. The House majority leader and other top Republicans, though, have put the deal in limbo right now.

I spoke with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa in our last hour.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I'm with Eric Cantor. I can't vote for it in its current form. And for a good reason. The Senate, the president and the vice president failed to meet their obligation, their own stated obligation, which was to bring us a balanced bill.


BLITZER: Let's discuss what's going on with Democratic National Committee chair, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Are you opened to amendments to what passed the Senate last night? WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm sorry, I missed that. I had...

BLITZER: I said...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: -- someone else in my ear.

BLITZER: All right.

Are you open to amendments to what passed the Senate last night?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, because what this agreement was, when the vice president and Mitch McConnell went into these negotiations over the weekend, the deal was -- and Speaker Boehner agreed to this -- that whatever they came up, with especially if it passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, as this did, 89-8, that there would be a straight up or down vote on the House floor. I mean this is just unbelievable. It's understandable, OK, so there are some Republicans, maybe many Republicans, that don't support it. We have angst in our caucus, too.

But the bottom line is that the bill should be put on the floor. There should be an up or down vote. The number of Democrats and Republicans that are willing to vote for it should be combined. And we'll see whether it passes.

But to play games with whether tax rates go up, tax -- taxes go up on 98 percent of Americans -- I mean look -- look at what they're walking away from, potentially, Wolf.

This is a bill that prevents 98 percent of Americans from having their taxes go up. It's a bill that makes sure that we have a permanent fix to middle class taxes going up by permanently patching the AMT tax. It's a bill that makes sure that we have a balanced approach. We -- we've got an extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which makes sure that more young people can go to college. We have an extension of the earned income tax credit and an extension of the child opportunity tax credit.

Are these things that the Republicans actually want to allow to lapse? Because that's what would happen. And it would be devastating to the middle class. If they had Republicans in their conference that won't vote for the bill, fine. We have Democrats that probably won't vote for it either. But, the bill needs this straight up or down vote on the House floor.

BLITZER: Did the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, agree that anything that passed with a decisive bipartisan majority in the Senate would come up for an up or down vote in the House without any opportunity for amendments that it would just come up for a vote as is.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: That was always are understanding. I mean, otherwise, what was the point of their being, you know, a sit down head-to-head negotiation between the vice president and Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell, I'm sure, believed that he was negotiating on behalf of John Boehner and not that there's a guarantee that the Republicans are going to support it.

But certainly that whatever comes out, I mean, imagine, this bill passed the Senate 89-8. That is an overwhelming majority. It needs to have conservative moderate and progressive support and it needs to just have a straight up or down vote on the House floor. We need to stop playing games.

We need to make sure that we stop jeopardizing the tax rates of the middle class where if we don't pass this bill or if we certainly don't take a vote on it, then 98 percent of Americans are going to see a tax increase, and that's on the Republicans.

BLITZER: What happen if there's no deal that the senate legislation is not passed by the House of Representatives as is on Thursday at noon, there'll be the 113th Congress that sworn in, a new Senate that sworn in? What happens then? What happens to tax rates?

What happens to that so-called sequestration that force domestic and national security spending cuts? In other words, how much time will there be to retroactively fix this?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well, I think it's very clear. If there's no deal, if the Republicans -- if they try to amend this bill and send it back, the Senate isn't even here. So, I mean, that means that we're basically at Thursday at the earliest when both House and Senate members are sworn in for the new Congress, and it means we're going over the cliff.

What it also means is that taxes increase on everyone regardless of income. And, you know, if that's what the Republicans want, it's a little baffling, but we need to make sure that as we go through -- this is step one. Down the road in two months, when we deal with the sequester, the significant defense and domestic spending cuts, we need to make sure we address deficit reduction with a balanced approach to -- with revenue and with spending cuts.

But none of these solutions should be allowed to be balanced on the backs of the middle class and the Republicans, in this battling way, seem to think it's OK. That's what they're risking. It's incomprehensible, actually.

BLITZER: How many of your Democrat -- fellow Democrats in the House you think will vote again -- let's assume the Senate bill comes up.


BLITZER: There's some criticism, as you know, from the left that they don't like what passed the Senate. Listen to Robert Reich, for example. He's not a member of Congress. He was a labor secretary during the Clinton administration. Listen to what he told me yesterday.


ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: I think no deal is actually better than a bad deal. I would go over the fiscal cliff and then I would introduce legislation to provide a middle class tax cut and also restore a lot of the spending cuts, and the Republicans would have to go along with it.

I don't want to make the Bush tax cut permanent up to $450,000, and also, I want the Republicans to deal and make a deal on the debt ceiling


BLITZER: How many members of what you call the progressive caucus in the House you think are with Robert Reich saying no deal is better than this current deal?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Look, there are members that believe this deal isn't perfect. No deal is perfect. There are things I don't like in the deal. I'll give you an example. With the Medicare reimbursement rate, that the pay fors (ph) in that portion of the deal make me a little bit uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, I know that I don't want taxes to go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners.

I know that we need to make a down payment on the beginning of a balanced approach to deficit reduction. I certainly know that we should -- that the American people spoke on election day and said that they're comfortable with letting tax rates rise for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. I mean, really?

The Republicans are going to oppose a bill that increases the tax rates for people who make more than $450,000 a year? But look, I represent a fairly wealthy district, upper middle to wealthy district. And folks at home are not, you know, ringing my phone off the hook saying, don't vote for this because they know that we've got to do something.

We've got to make a down payment on deficit reduction. We've got to make sure that we take a balanced approach. We've got to protect the middle class and we've got to focus on -- let's -- what I haven't heard about in a couple of days is, our needs get back to the number one issue, creating jobs and getting this economy turned around.

This is one of the first things we have to do so we can move on aggressively towards that.

BLITZER: Bottom line, the House Republicans are meeting right now. They've just started a second meeting of the day. What do you anticipate will happen tonight?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: You know, I said earlier today, predicting what this group of Republican and the House members will do is it certainly a challenge.

I know if -- there are enough -- from working with them as many years as I have, I know there are enough responsible Republicans in their conference that if a bill was put on the House floor, it is likely that there would be enough Democrats and enough Republicans that could pass that bill and send it to the president so we can prevent 98 percent of Americans from having their taxes increased and we could begin to really get a handle on our deficit reduction problem.

BLITZER: You believe there really is a fight between John Boehner, a disagreement between John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: You know, it's hard for me to care. I don't know the internal workings of the Republican leadership well enough. It's hard for me to characterize what this is, what this boils down to, but I do know that they have a really and (INAUDIBLE) group of extreme Tea Party members in their conference that seem to be really separated from reality, from the reality that most Americans really want us to just work together and stop with the my way or the highway politics.

Wolf, I'm going to have to go home. I represent a liberal district. If I vote for this, I'm going to have to go home and defend it to my liberal constituents just like I did when I voted for the debt ceiling deal that included a trillion dollars of only a spending cuts with no revenue at all. That was a totally unbalanced approach.

I have to go back and defend that then as did many of my fellow Democrats. Republicans need to gather up their courage. They need to do what's right, strengthen their spines, and come together and work with us so that we can protect the middle class and move on --

BLITZER: One final question.


BLITZER: Give me a quick answer. Marco Rubio, your senator from Florida, he was one of eight senators who voted against the deal last night. What does that say to you?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: It says to me that Marco Rubio is thinking about himself. That's what it says. Not about what's best for the American people or for Floridians.

BLITZER: All right. You said it. Thank you, Debbie Wasserman- Schultz. Thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: Appreciate it.

We're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up, the drama unfolding in the House of Representatives right now. We'll see what's going on. Stand by for that.

Also, other important news happening right now, including North Korea's young new leader striking fresh notes as he rings in the New Year. A televised address the nation rare overtures to South Korea. What does this all mean? Brian Todd standing by. He'll (ph) consider the question. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There they are together, John Boehner, the speaker, Eric Cantor, the majority leader, walking in together to this Republican meeting that is underway right now, a second of the meeting of the day. They're planning their strategy. What to do as far as the fiscal cliff legislation passed by the Senate overwhelmingly in the middle of the night?

What to do with that legislation? Should it come up for a vote as is or should there be amendments which could seriously set back the entire process? They only have another day or so to resolve this issue. Otherwise, taxes are going up for tens of millions of Americans, almost all Americans who pay federal income tax will see a tax hike, unless, they work out a deal very, very soon.

We'll be all over the breaking news. Stand by for more on that, but there's other news we're following including some revelry to horror in the moments at one New Year's Eve celebration. Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What do you have, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Ivory Coast interior minister is offering condolences today to families of 60 people crashed to death in a stampede after a late night New Year's firework show. It happened around 1:00 a.m. as people walked home from the display in the West African country's largest city. Forty-nine people were injured, two of them seriously. It's unclear what triggered the stampede.

A Canadian immigration officer who helped spirit six U.S. diplomats out of Iran in 1980 is being remembered by his family as a real Canadian hero. John Sheardown (ph) died Sunday at a hospital in Ottawa. He was 88 years old. Sheardown was part of a covert operation with the CIA to rescue the Americans who captured (ph) during the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The 2012 film "Argo" was loosely based on a real life episode. Sheardown's role was omitted from the film.

And no one was hurt, but Spirit Airlines had a bit of a rocky end to 2012. A flight from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood airport in Florida had just landed. While (Inaudible) to the gate, the air bus A-320 clipped the tail of a parked U.S. Airways plane with its wing tip. Spirit's passengers deplane normally.

The Spirit plane has resumed flying. The U.S. airways plane, though, also an airbus, is now grounded.

And in case you haven't heard, Hugh Hefner is married once again. The 86-year-old, founder of Playboy magazine tied the knot with a 26- year-old playmate, Crystal Harris (ph), on New Year's eve. The nuptials were held, guess where, the Playboy mansion. His younger brother stood as best man. Harris called things off in 2011 just days before the wedding. The pair rekindled their romance last year. This is Hefner's third marriage -- Wolf. BLITZER: Congratulations to the newlyweds. All right. Thanks very much.

So, what lies ahead for Hillary Clinton? She's being treated for a dangerous blood clot. I'm going to speak with the surgeon about her path to recovery.


BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remains in a New York City hospital being treated with blood thinners to dissolve a clot in her head. Her doctors say they are confident the secretary will make a full recovery but it is a dangerous condition.

Joining us now is Dr. David Deaton, a vascular surgeon at Georgetown University Hospital here in Washington.

Dr. Deaton, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: We know the best-case scenario is she gets healthy in a few days, she's out of there, she resumes her lifestyle, may take some medication for a while to deal with the problem. What's the worst- case scenario?

DEATON: Well, the worst-case scenario, of course, for all of us is death. But that the --

BLITZER: What do you mean when you say death? This is a -- this is a life-threatening disease potentially?

DEATON: No. I'm referring to the worst-case, and for all of us on this planet.


DEATON: But in this case, the worst case is -- it's harder to find, it doesn't seem like there is really a bad case scenario because she doesn't seem to be presented with any neurological symptoms. This was a finding made on an imaging study. And that's a different situation than if you are presented with severe neurologic symptoms which have not been reported.

BLITZER: She is taking medication to deal with the clot. I understand that the medication, and correct me if I'm wrong, you know a lot about this. It doesn't necessarily directly make the blood clot go away but it prevents it from getting bigger?

DEATON: That's correct. There is a class of drug that we use to actively break up clots but your body's own physiology has a way to break up clots and the medications that she is receiving, anticoagulants, simply augment the body's natural system resolving thrombosis.

BLITZER: Because the worst case, if god forbid, this blood clot went into her brain, then you've got major problems, neurological problems, potentially a stroke. So you've got to monitor it pretty closely. How do you do that?

DEATON: But there's no real risk of this blood clot going into her brain. Remember, this is in the venous system going away from her brain and they can't, sort of, move upstream. But all anticoagulant therapies have a risk of bleeding so that's the primary complication from blood thinners or anticoagulants.

BLITZER: Do they all work the same ways on individuals or every individual has a different sort of DNA that a lot of these anticoagulant do work in a different way?

DEATON: Well, that's the art of treating people with thrombotic problems, is that we all are different and we have different genetic background. And so the medication has to be regulated in a very different way based on the individual basis.

BLITZER: Do we know if this blood clot started -- I assumed that -- some people thought I was wrong, I assumed it started as a result of the head injury she suffered. She had a bad flu. She was dehydrated. She fainted, she fell, and she got a concussion and I assumed the concussion led to this blood clot but other people are now saying maybe the stomach virus and the dehydration led to the blood clot.

In your experience, what would be the more logical cause of this blood clot?

DEATON: There -- there's not usually a way to pin, you know, a cause and effect on a blood clot but certainly dehydration, any inflammatory state, any trauma such as a fall all can be contributing factors to a blood clot, and including an underlying predisposition to blood clots.

BLITZER: Because I know blood clots in the leg, the deep vein thrombosis, that unfortunately killed my old friend David Bloom of NBC News.


BLITZER: During the war in Iraq, he was in a sedentary sitting position inside an armored vehicle for a long period of time. That apparently contributed to that. She's on the plane a lot. She's got a little cabin there, she can move around a lot if she wants. She's not in a coach seat, if you will.

But how much of a problem are these blood clots resulting from a sedentary position?

DEATON: Well, venous thrombosis is an enormous health problem in the United States. $5 billion to $8 billion are spent on dealing with that problem. But it occurs because of dehydration, because the stakes is -- so it's a complication often --

(CROSSTALK) DEATON: Just not moving. We depend on the muscles in our legs to push the blood back towards our heart. So if we don't, the blood pools there and that's the classic setup for a venous thrombosis.

BLITZER: All right. So let's talk about recommendations to our viewers who were watching. They don't want blood clots in the legs, in the lungs, in the head, any place. What advice do you have for people watching who are right now?

DEATON: Well, the classic situation, the one that most people hear about it, the airliners situation, that's because on an airliner you often sit in a position for a long time. You may not get up and move around, and that air has no humidity in it at all, so you do get dehydrated particularly on longer flights.

BLITZER: So you should drink a lot of fluid.

DEATON: Right.

BLITZER: Even if it means getting up and going to the bathroom?

DEATON: Well, you simply need to move your legs around. This applies whether you're riding in a car, military vehicle, in David Bloom's case, or an airplane. But generally speaking it's not, you know, an enormous problem if you pay attention to it. Just move your leg muscles.

BLITZER: Make sure you're not dehydrated, move around a little bit, and just -- those are the best reasons --

DEATON: Right. When your legs are in the position, you need to move your legs around a little bit.

BLITZER: Bottom line is you're upbeat, you're encouraged by the statement that Hillary Clinton's doctors put out when they said -- when they said the secretary is making excellent progress, we are confident she will make a full recovery, that sounds good to you?

DEATON: Everything that we've been told about her condition would leads us to believe that she'll have a full recovery with no problems or resulting from this event.

BLITZER: Because she did have a history of that one blood clot behind her knee years ago?

DEATON: Yes, and she will probably need to have a workout, a series of blood tests to see if she is hypercoagulable or if she has a predisposition to blood clots which a number of people in the U.S. have. It's not an uncommon condition and that changes the strategy for long-term therapy.

BLITZER: Dr. Deaton of Georgetown University, thanks very much for coming in.

DEATON: Absolutely, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate your expertise. Don't leave yet.

So here's a question. The world -- the health of another world leader. The Venezuelans, they're ushering in the world quietly on word that the President Hugo Chavez is suffering new complications from recent cancer surgery in Cuba.

Our senior Latin American affairs editor Rafael Romo is joining us.

So, Rafael, what are you hearing about Chavez's condition?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Wolf, Venezuelan officials are not being very specific about what the new complications are but say that the process of treating him is not without risks. So instead of ringing in the new year with traditional celebrations, they asked people to pray for Chavez.


ROMO (voice-over): A call for all Venezuelans to pray for President Hugo Chavez.

ERNESTO VILLEGAS, VENEZUELAN COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER (Through Translator): We know that our prayers are accompanying Chavez in his battle that he's been fighting, and that's precisely what he wants. He wants joy and optimism to make a reality the transformation he's been fighting for.

ROMO: There were masses held for the Venezuelan president who's recovering from cancer surgery. Government officials also canceled traditional New Year's celebrations and concerts to give people an opportunity to join the national call for prayer.

EARLE HERRERA, VENEZUELAN LEGISLATOR (Through Translator): It's an ecumenical prayer, it's a universal love and a planetary feeling for a good man, for a patriot, and somebody who gives of himself to his people.

ROMO: The mood has been somber among Chavez's supporters, especially since his Vice President Nicolas Maduro speaking from Havana Sunday said Chavez's condition is delicate.

NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELAN VICE PRESIDENT (Through Translator): We were informed of new complications arising as a consequence of a respiratory infection that we knew of already.

ROMO: Rumors of Chavez's failing health have spread on social media like wildfire. The Venezuelan Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza has sought to put an end to the frenzy. On his Twitter account, Arreaza wrote, "My fellow patriots, do not believe an ill- intentioned rumors. President Chavez has spent the day calm and stable with his children next to him."

The government has yet to inform the Venezuelan people what kind of cancer Chavez is suffering from. MICHAEL SHIFTER, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: Chavez has wanted to keep this is a secret. He's succeeded in that and he's been able to do it because he got treatment in Cuba and that the Cubans are very good in keeping secrets and that that was for him a high priority.

ROMO: Chavez has not been seen in public since December 10th when he left for cancer surgery in Cuba. And on like prior occasions the socialist leader has not made any phone calls to state media to let people know about his medical condition.


ROMO: And before leaving for Cuba, Chavez left Vice President Nicolas Maduro in charged of all governing affairs after winning the October presidential elections. Chavez is supposed to be inaugurated into a new term on January 10th but there's no indication yet from the Venezuelan government whether he's going to be physically able to attend his own swearing in ceremony -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Rafael, what if Chavez doesn't make the swearing in ceremony? What happens?

ROMO: It is a very important question, Wolf. Essentially he would have to name or his vice president currently would have to take over between the time right now and then. If he doesn't make it, then the president of the National Assembly would have to call for elections within 30 days to select a new president but we may be looking at a constitutional crisis, Wolf, because Chavez's supporters say that they will not accept anybody else as the president of Venezuela.

BLITZER: Rafael Romo, reporting for us, thank you.

North Korea's young leader making an extraordinary New Year's appearance. Is he also making a gesture towards South Korea?


BLITZER: A new style, perhaps a new tone from North Korea's young new leader. He goes public with a call for ending confrontation with the South. But what does he really mean?

Our Brian Todd has been looking into this question. Lots at stake right now.

What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lots of stake, Wolf, not sure if he really means all this. We've heard these calls before from North Korea. But the fact that Kim Jong-Un is at least making a gesture towards South Korea after last month's rocket launch and other recent tensions may signal some hope for a new approach.


TODD (voice-over): Happy new year from a novice young dictator. After a year in power, Kim Jong-Un is showing a style of his own, playing the man of the people, with public appearances and speeches like this one to ring in 2013. A stark change from his father who never once made a televised speech just issued a written statement for New Year's.

Kim Jong-Un struck a more conciliatory tone toward archenemy South Korea, calling for an end to confrontation. He also made no mention of nuclear weapons and focused on economic progress. But he did vow to strengthen North Korea's military. And praised the country's controversial long-range rocket launch last month.

MARCUS NOLAND, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: Nothing about actually systemically reforming the economy or opening up. The other thing is, it really praises the military and it's hard to have a reformed economy. More resources going on into the military and better relations for South Korea. That's trifecta just doesn't added a up.

TODD: Over the past year, the young leader has worked to build his popular appeal with the public and behind the scenes to strengthen his hand with the military.

BRUCE KLINGER, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: He has purged a number of officials, perhaps 200 including the very senior-most military officials. Unclear whether that means it's a weak and embattled Kim Jong-Un lashing out against potential challengers or a very confident, firmly in control Kim Jong-Un who can remove even the most senior generals from the power.

TODD (on camera): An undertone to Kim's speech is the personal history between his family and the family of South Korea's incoming president, Park Guen-hye. It's a history of tension. Cold war conflict and even assassination attempts which makes Kim Jong-Un's latest gesture all the more bizarre.

(Voice-over): Miss Park, the daughter of the late South Korean president, Park Chung-hee, wants South Korea's election to reach out to North Korea and pursue better relations. That's despite the fact that North Korea under Kim Jong-Un's grandfather attempted to assassinate her father twice, one of those attempts killing her mother.

NOLAND: There is a complicated history between these two individuals and two generations of their respective families but President Park is a pragmatist and I believe that she will get on with improving relations with North Korea.


TODD: Of course North Korea was calling her a fascist throughout her campaign but, Wolf, baby steps better than no steps at all.

BLITZER: Kim Jong-Un, the new leader, he was suggesting that there's some steps may be to improve North Korea's pretty poor economy. What is he talking about? TODD: Well, he didn't' give specifics. He has not say if he was going to introduce reforms except to say that technology is the foundation. He also didn't give details on possibly stepping up agricultural and industrial output, which as you know from being there a couple of year's back, that's what they desperately need. They are a starving country.

BLITZER: They need help big time. And they've got --

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: They've got -- whatever money they have they're spending most of it on military.

TODD: All goes to the military.

BLITZER: Or ballistic missiles or whatever.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Instead of creating jobs or having some money for food or stuff like that.

TODD: Right. It's really misspent at this point.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, we'll see what happens. Maybe he's going to start something new and positive that would help.

TODD: That would be good.

BLITZER: All right.

For the Syrians living in a civil war that's lasted almost two years January 1st is just another day of violence and death. Opposition officials report more than 120 people were found dead just today. For Syrian refugees living in a camp along the Turkish-Syrian border New Year's Day is another day of survival.

CNN photographer Joe Duran met with some of them and listened to their stories of endurance.


UM AHMAD, JISR AL-SHUGUR, SYRIA (Through Translator): Life is OK. Thank God. God is tempting us.

UM JOMAA, JISR AL-SHUGUR, SYRIA (Through Translator): May God give everyone long life. He protects us from Bashar, the donkey. We are walking slowly. We are carrying herbs. It's delicious. God's gifts are plentiful.

BOZAN INCE, AID WORKER: I must help these people. Where is America? Assad must go. Now. Tomorrow. Must go. The world don't forget. Assad is killing these people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): We are picking herbs. Bashar Assad made us refugees. He killed two of my children. They destroyed our homes. I wish the world a happy new year and I hope that by that time Bashar al-Assad will be gone and hope that we can go back to our children, to our country, to our land, to our families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): Hamze (ph) had a lack of oxygen. His birth was delayed. He has a neurological disease. Here the doctors give us hope and Shalah (ph) he will walk. What do you like to draw?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): I wish everybody a happy new year. May god bless the rebels and save them and may God save my child, who's a rebel.


BLITZER: Joe Duran, our photographer, put that together.

If you would like to donate to Syrian relief efforts, go to You're going to find a full list of relief organizations, making a difference. You can impact your world.

So how will the world's financial markets look at the struggle to finalize a fiscal cliff deal? CNN's Richard Quest is next.


BLITZER: Financial markets were closed for the New Year holiday, but they'll start opening in just a couple of hours in Asia, followed by Europe and then of course Wall Street.

Here's CNN's Richard Quest with a closer look at how the markets will view the effort to try to finalize this fiscal cliff deal.

RICHARD QUEST, HOST, CNN'S QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Wolf, borrowed time at best. That's how the markets will probably react to the fiscal cliff deal. Yes, to be sure, the worst effects have been put off, but only for a while. There's still those spending cuts. They've been kicked down the road by two months. There's the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, which has to be raised. That's been kicked off a couple of months.

And then you've got the appropriations, the whole budget process, which will come back before the spring is over. So time and again, the markets in Europe are saying we've seen how difficult it is to do these deals. Look at what happened with Greece, with bailouts, with sovereign debt crises, with the euro zone.

It was only at the very last possible minute that compromise was reached, that the big bargain was done. And if you look at the United States, even at a time of -- a moment when really both sides need to do more than the minimum, the markets will be saying they failed to do so. So, yes, they will be relieved, there won't be any immediate reaction, but the markets are certainly putting the politicians on notice that the budget mayhem can't continue -- Wolf. BLITZER: Good notice. Richard, thank you.

Off an island in Alaska right now, a crippled oilrig is running aground. It's carrying diesel fuel, oil, and hydraulic fluid, and the weather is working against recovery. We'll have an update.


BLITZER: An oil drilling barge is grounded in an island off southern Alaska and a fierce winter storm is hindering recovery efforts. On board diesel fuel, lube oil, and hydraulic fluid. No leaks have been detected and teams are assembling to tackle any environmental damage.

CNN's Paul Vercammen has an update.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): High winds and huge waves pounded the Shale drilling rig Kulluk near Kodiak as it was being towed from the Arctic Ocean to Seattle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here comes the upswell.

VERCAMMEN: The Coast Guard evacuated the Kulluk over the weekend. Three crewmembers suffered minor injuries on Shell support vessels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy is just below the cabin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 10 seconds out until the next swell.

VERCAMMEN: Coast Guard company and Alaskan state officials report the Kulluk is grounded on an uninhabited island after being set adrift late Monday night. They said the crew of the tugboat alert was ordered to cut loose the Kulluk for their safety in extreme weather.

The evacuation and grounding of the Kulluk comes after sharp criticism from environmental groups and some Eskimo leaders that Shell's exploratory drilling in the Arctic is too risky. The mayor of Point Hope in the Arctic Circle expressing concerns to CNN this summer.

MAYOR STEVE OOMITTUK, POINT HOPE, ALASKA: Look at Exxon Valdez, look at the Gulf of Mexico, look at all the different things. Yes, they said --nothing would happen. You know, anything can happen.

VERCAMMEN: Shell says it won't begin actually extracting oil for at least a decade, not with exploratory rigs like the Kulluk, but with cutting-edge super structures built to withstand the harshest conditions.

The Kulluk, seen here in Seattle last summer, is not filled with oil for sale, but officials say the now grounded Kulluk does have about 150,000 gallons of fuel on board, mostly diesel, for operating machinery. The officials say no sheen has been seen, suggesting the Kulluk has not leaked fuel. But Eskimo activist Caroline Cannon, one of Shell's toughest critics, says she fears there will be a diesel spill from the Kulluk that could harm sea and wildlife.

CAROLINE CANNON, ESKIMO ACTIVIST: It's a scary thought because you know our food chain is out there. A lot of people are relying on our food.

VERCAMMEN: Paul Vercammen, CNN, Lost Angeles.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news.