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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Sandy Hook Kids Head Back to School; Governor Christie: Shame on Congress; Death Toll in Syria Over 60,000

Aired January 3, 2013 - 05:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. KEITH WHITE, MONROE POLICE DEPT.: I think, right now, it has to be the safest school in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Back to class. The students of Sandy Hook Elementary return to school this morning, but it won't be the one they remember.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fresh faces, same problems. Members of the new Congress take their oath of office just hours from now. And Speaker Boehner finds out if he keeps his leadership job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Sixty-six days and counting. Shame on you. Shame on Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And political war. New Jersey's tough-talking governor explodes at the leaders of his own party.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. John Berman is going to be here a little bit later for STARTING POINT. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East right now.

So, let's get started here. Newtown, Connecticut, this morning, backpacks are being filled with books, tiny teeth are being brushed, and the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School are preparing to return to class for the first time since a gunman took 20 of their friends and took their innocence as well.

Deb Feyerick is joining us live this morning. She is near the new Sandy Hook school. It is in Monroe, Connecticut.

Deb, it's a tough day for a lot of people. How's everyone faring there? DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a very tough day. But, you know, people are ready. They're as ready as they're ever going to be after a tragedy like this.

You know, they want to resume the normal rhythm of their lives. They want to go to class. They want to go to work. They want to go to sports events. They really want to get back into the routine.

Now, you know, "normal" is really going to be the word of the day. That's one of the reasons, Zoraida, we're a couple miles from the school. The last thing officials want is a huge media presence around that building while these children are getting off the school buses. They want it to be a new school, a new adventure.

We spoke to several parents and their kids.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: So, you were in the gym and you were in the art room.

(voice-over): Ben and Ethan Paley heard the gunshots and screams that horrible morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Three weeks is not nearly enough time to understand all the feelings they've experienced since then -- fear, worry, anger.

Still the 9-year-old twins are trying everyway they can.

BEN PALEY, SANDY HOOK 4TH GRADE STUDENT: It's a healing shawl. It's supposed to heal us.

FEYERICK: Going back to school this week is a big part of that healing.

(on camera): Are you guys looking forward to kind of going back to school?

B. PALEY: We just went there today to visit it and look at everything. It's very -- it's a very interesting school.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Originally for teens, the school in Monroe has been transformed for K through 4th grade. Toys, cubbies, carpets and familiar things brought over from Sandy Hook, elementary.

B. PALEY: All of our desks are there. My desk, I noticed someone was in there, cleaned it -- not cleaned it, made it neater, because my desk is usually very messy.

ANDREW PALEY, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENTS: I think them getting on the bus is, for us, it's a moving forward. So, I think a lot of us are look at that as this is the next step. Now, it's getting back to a routine, and it's getting them to school so they get back to that normalcy, and start learning again, and be who they are.

FEYERICK: Ben and Ethan want the school turtle to be Sandy Hook's new mascot.

ETHAN PALEY, SANDY HOOK 4TH GRADE STUDENT: Our motto, it's one step at a time.

FEYERICK: It's also one step of a time for moms and good friends Denise Correia and Sarah Swansiger and their daughters.

DENISE CORREIA, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: There's no real play book for this. I don't think any of us have a playbook. So, we're kind of sensing our child and trying to meet the needs we can.

FEYERICK: Counselors will be on hand for the children and parents can spend the day at the school, just in case.

SARAH SWANSIGER, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: I joked with one of the other moms, I'll see you in the morning, I'll bring you coffee. I think I need that adult time, too, because I'm not sure I'm ready yet to totally let them go, because I think my peace has been shattered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: You know, Sarah and Denise who you just heard from there. You know, they say they don't want to be defined by this tragedy. They want to be defined for how they came together as a community, how they healed, and how maybe they'll even make changes in the gun laws.

But things really are different. You saw Ben and Nathan there -- Ben and Ethan. Well, Ethan was very sweet. He said, you know, I used to be afraid of monsters. Now I'm afraid that somebody is going to come that shouldn't be there.

So, things have definitely changed, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I've got to tell you, Deb, it's great to see Ben and Ethan laughing the way they are. To know that the school is allowing the parents to come in and stay if they need do that. Is it a regular school day for the kids today?

FEYERICK: Yes. For the most part, the kids are going to be getting used to the whole building. You know, they did have orientations and open houses. So, the kids have been there. You heard Ben say that he saw his desk and somebody straightened it up. But they actually moved the actual desks to the new school.

So, yes, it is going to be as normal as possible. For a number of kids, you know, they feel kind of like an adventure, getting to the new school. There are two floors, not just one. So, little things like that. They'll get used to it but they'll know it's different.

SAMBOLIN: It's nice to know they brought the desks over and are trying to keep some normalcy there. Deb Feyerick, live for us, thank you very much.

ROMANS: New Year, new Congress. In just a few hours, the 113th Congress will be sworn in on Capitol Hill. There will be plenty of new faces, 13 freshman senators, 81 freshman representatives take the oath today. Democrats will still control the Senate. Republicans remain in charge of the House and the GOP will decide if House Speaker John Boehner gets to keep his gavel. Boehner drew the wrath of Democrats and Republicans for canceling the House vote on a superstorm Sandy relief bill. The speaker has since done an about-face, scheduling the first of two votes of Sandy aid for tomorrow.

New York Congressman Peter King, who accused Boehner of, quote, "betrayal" now says he's satisfied.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R), KING: The bottom line is that we are now receiving what we asked for. As far as I'm concerned, what's done is done. I've always considered John Boehner a friend, and I said that in the House floor today, which made it all more painful for me to say what I felt I had to say. I owed it to my constituents, and I did feel that New York in a number of cases was being taken advantage of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The House will vote tomorrow on $9 billion in Sandy aid it will consider another $51 billion in aid later this month.

SANDY: And we all know New Jersey was one of the states hardest hit by Sandy, and perhaps no one was more vocal in his anger over the delay of Sandy funding than Governor Chris Christie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner. New York deserves better than the selfishness we saw on display last night. New Jersey deserves better than the duplicity that we saw displayed last night. America deserves better than just another example of a government who has forgotten who they are there to serve and why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Christie also said he was given no credible reason for the holdup.

ROMANS: And after all the debate, the doomsday scenario, the drama from Washington, the bill that kept us from going off the fiscal cliff is now law. Talk about an anticlimax. With the first family on vacation in Hawaii, the fiscal cliff measure was signed with an auto pen back in Washington. It preserved tax cuts for more than 98 percent of Americans.

New battles, though, over taxes and spending await Washington in the coming weeks. I promise, there will be little mini fiscal cliffs ahead.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may be throwing down the gauntlet for a showdown with the president over spending and the debt. In a Yahoo News op-ed, McConnell says, quote, "Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on government programs that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance. The upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfected time to have that discussion. The president may not want to have a fight about government spending over the next few months, but it's a fight he's going to have because it's a debate the country needs."

SAMBOLIN: And three days after being admitted to a New York hospital to treat a blood clot, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been discharged. She walked of New York Presbyterian hospital yesterday. She was accompanied by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter Chelsea.

In a statement, the State Department said Clinton's medical team advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts and they are confident she will make a full recovery. The secretary is being treated with blood thinners to dissolve that clot.

ROMANS: Pakistani intelligence officials say an important Taliban commander was among 15 people killed in two suspected U.S. drone attacks in a volatile region of Pakistan. That commander, Mullah Nazir, was said to be at odds with the Pakistani Taliban over the peace agreement he signed with the government in 2007. As part of the deal, he refused to attack Pakistani government or military targets, but he is believed to be behind a number of attacks that targeted the U.S. military. Two of his deputies were believed to be killed in that strike.

The U.N. estimates that the death toll in Syria is now beyond 60,000 since that conflict began in March of 2011, 15,000 higher than estimates CNN had gone with.

And that number will likely continue to rise as attacks like these persist. An opposition group says 207 people were killed in war- related violence yesterday alone, 207 people -- most of them in Damascus and suburbs, others in Aleppo. CNN cannot independently verify these numbers.

The family of freelance journalist James Foley, missing in Syria since Thanksgiving Day, is now launching a public campaign to find him.

Global Post, a news Web site Foley previously reported for, told "Reuters" the 39-year-old was driving towards Syria's border with Turkey when he was intercepted by a car. He was reportedly forced out of the vehicle by two armed men. He has not been seen or heard from since. No one has claimed responsibility.

Last year, 28 journalists died covering the conflict from inside Syria.

SAMBOLIN: Families of victims of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, call it a disgusting offer. They are furious over Cinemark's invitation to a remembrance ceremony, followed by a free movie at the very theater where their loved ones died. One of the 12 people killed, Jonathan Blunk, died saving his girlfriend. His cousin says the theater is thinking about ticket sales, and not them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JESSICA WATTS, COUSIN OF JONATHAN BLUNK: That is a blatant lack of respect for the families. They're looking to boost their own ticket sales for the grand reopening to the public.

REPORTER: At the expense.

WATTS: At the expense of 12 families who are heart broken at a loss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Blunk's girlfriend plans on going, saying she won't let the bad guy win. Aurora's mayor says for some the reopening may be painful but it might help others heal. Cinemark has been renovating that theater and plans to reopen it two weeks from today.

ROMANS: A 6-year-old Maryland boy gets suspended from school after making a hand gesture officials deemed a threat. We'll tell you what he did and why his parents have now lawyered up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 14 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-date.

The 113th Congress will be sworn in today at noon Eastern Time. And even with new faces in both the House and Senate, the new Congress will need to pick up where the 112th left off. So, it must confront the federal debt ceiling and deal with the deep spending cuts called for in those fiscal cliff negotiations.

ROMANS: With a deep desire for normalcy, students from Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School returned to class today, the first time since the December 14th massacre in Newtown. They'll gather in a middle school in nearby Monroe that's been outfitted to resemble Sandy Hook right down to the desks, bulletin boards, cubbies and security is a top priority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITE: I think right now it has to be the safest school in America. We have many different options in place. Most of Monroe schools were already monitored at the police department with cameras. We've actually installed numerous different security devices at this school. And we are going to will remain, our presence on location, until further notice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The mass shooting killed 20 children and six adults.

SAMBOLIN: The online publication of this map by a suburban New York City newspaper has led that paper to ironically hire armed guards. After the Connecticut school massacre, "The Journal News" posted the locations of licensed gun owners in two nearby counties it is shown by all of those dots there. One gun-owning blogger was so offended that in response he posted the home addresses of newspaper staffers. ROMANS: Seeking a larger voice in the U.S., the Arab news network Al Jazeera has bought Current TV, the cable TV channel that Al Gore co- founded. It will close Current and launch a new channel out of New York in its place. Al Jazeera plans to double its staff and open new bureaus. The network is based in Qatar and financed by that country's government.

SAMBOLIN: And Patti Page, the "Singing Rage", has died. Page hit the big time after World War II with hits like "Tennessee Waltz" and, you know this one, "How Much is that Doggie in the Window." She later had her own TV shows on all three networks and appeared in several movies. She reportedly was the first singer to over deep (ph) her own voice, meaning that she became her own backup singer on records.

Did you know that?

ROMANS: No.

SAMBOLIN: Patti Page was 85 years old. Pioneer there.

ROMANS: In St. Louis, a firefighter is a dog's best friend. The pooch had fallen into an icy lake. Thankfully, this was a city park lake where the water was only four feet deep. Firefighter Dan Hill got the call because he's so tall. The water did not come up so high to him. He put on his waders, brought the shivering shepherd back. The dog should be OK.

Dan, you made our day. Thank you, sir.

SAMBOLIN: And the firefighter is fine as well. How fabulous is that.

Seventeen minutes past the hour, it's time for "Early Reads". This is your local news that is making national headlines.

First from "The Washington Examiner", a 6-year-old student in Montgomery County, Maryland, was suspended for school for allegedly threatening a classmate, look at that, with a pretend gunshot. School officials say he made a gun gesture with his hands, pointed it at another student and said pow! It happened just days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The boy was given a one-day suspension. The school calls this a serious incident.

The boy's parents believe that officials overreacted and they are demanding their son's record be cleared now.

ROMANS: And this from "The Chicago Tribune". Supporters of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois will try again today to get the measure through the State Senate. They fell two votes short yesterday of getting a hearing on the measure. Civil unions in Illinois have been legal for the past 18 months. If the bill is passed, Illinois would be the tenth state to approve same-sex marriage. Supporters are getting help from actor Jessie Tyler Ferguson of TV's "Modern Family." He'll be in the state capital of Springfield for bow the --

SAMBOLIN: Bowtie lobby day.

ROMANS: I can't read. Bowtie lobby day, encouraging investors to wear bowties in support of the gay marriage bill.

SAMBOLIN: And for an extended look at all our stories, just head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart. You can also follow us on Twitter and on Facebook. Just search for EarlyStartCNN.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, Starbucks wants to stop making so much trash. Will their new product catch on?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Listen to this, starting today, Starbucks will sell reusable plastic cups. They're going to cost you a dollar a piece. Customers will receive a 10 cent discount every time they use it to buy a drink as well.

So, Starbucks has been criticized over the volume of paper waste in its cups produced. The chain has sold reusable cups before, but they believe this new low price for the reusable cup will actually spark new customer interest.

I'm a little concerned about this because I lose my cups all the time. I wonder if that extra incentive that they're going to give me 10 cents off my drink will make me keep track of it.

ROMANS: And the convenience of getting a cup of coffee, it's a throw- away experience. But the company has been criticized. It's seen as a green company, except the volume of cups, you know, that they are putting into the environment. It's been a tough nut for them to crack.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to try it. I'm going to give it a good try and see what happens.

All right. Twenty-two minutes past the hour now. And we are minding your business this morning. A very strong day for the markets yesterday.

ROMANS: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Everybody excited. The Dow gained 308 points or about 2.4 percent on the news of the fiscal cliff deal, Christine.

ROMANS: I know. I think we'll see it come off a little bit, though, today. That was such a big rally, you often see -- after a big move like that, you often see stocks pull back a little bit. So, that would be natural. And so, that's what we're expecting this morning, because U.S. stock futures are down. Dow futures down about 20 points right now.

You know, investor enthusiasm over that fiscal cliff deal is expected to be short-lived, because also you have a bunch of other cliff-like deadlines approaching, at least three of them. The debt ceiling, deep spending cuts looming in the coming months, and then there's a continuing budget resolution that has to be done by the end of March. So, there are some other hurdles here. You know, Wall Street's biggest problem here on out is Washington. That's what most of the 30 investment strategists and money managers told CNN Money in a survey. Those money managers said uncertainty in Washington remains the market's biggest headwind. One of them said, quote, "Democrats and Republicans did the least they could possibly do to avoid the fiscal cliff. And the question now is will they do the least amount again when it comes to raising the debt ceiling and how will the rating agencies view that?"

Now, Moody's did warn yesterday, it could lower America's credit rating unless Washington reduces the deficit.

No word yet if your tax refunds will be delayed this year because of the last-minute deal on the fiscal cliff. The IRS put out a statement saying the IRS is currently reviewing the details of this week's tax legislation and assessing what impact it will have on this year's filing season.

SAMBOLIN: That's interesting.

ROMANS: It also said it will issue additional guidance soon. If you look at the 1040 form for 2012, several lines are listed as reserved. An IRS spokesman told CNN Money there are place holder force several fiscal cliff provisions they were working on, like the alternative minimum tax.

So, even though they got it in under the wire, or actually just after the wire --

SAMBOLIN: Right.

ROMANS: -- as we've been telling you for months, it was too late. I mean, they needed to do this, months ago. The 11th hour will not work when you're talking about tax season, when you're talking about how we're paid --

SAMBOLIN: But I thought there were articles coming out saying that it was going to be delayed. So, this is interesting that they're considering what they're going to do about it.

ROMANS: We'll see.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

Twenty-four minutes past the hour. A Wisconsin state senator makes some pretty jaw-dropping claims about the holiday Kwanzaa. Up next, hear what he said, and how he tried to defend his comments right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BRAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A. PALEY: For us, it's a moving forward. I think a lot of us are looking at that as this is the next step.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The students of Sandy Hook go back to school, but not the same school. We're going to look inside their new classrooms.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, she's out of the hospital but is she in the clear? New information on Hillary Clinton's health scare.

ROMANS: And we could use one of these, all right? The 113th Congress set to swear in this morning. Can some new faces tackle the same old battles?

SAMBOLIN: Poor folks.

All right. Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Twenty-nine minutes past the hour.