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House Vote on Sandy Aid; Wintry Weather in Texas; Chavez Has "Respiratory Insufficiency"; Rep: Clinton Ready to Work; Back to School in Connecticut

Aired January 4, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Priority number one. After public outcry and political pressure, Congress will vote today on a $9 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Relief many say is long overdue.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Turn for the worst. Venezuelan officials admit Hugo Chavez is battling respiratory failure, now calling their leader's status severe.

SAMBOLIN: And trapped on thin ice. Two teenagers stuck in the middle of a frozen life, take a look at that, clinging to a dead tree for hours. Their dramatic rescue is just ahead.

Wow. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. We're really happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans this morning. John Berman is going to be around later for "STARTING POINT". It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

SAMBOLIN: And we begin this morning with a snowy mess in west Texas. Heavy snow is blanketing the region around El Paso. Conditions are actually so bad that large portions of Interstate 10 between El Paso and Ft. Stockton were closed overnight.

So, let's check in with Alexandra Steele in the weather center.

I was out looking on mine (ph) this morning because I wonder, do they really get a lot of snow? And they've gotten record snow in that area.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you're absolutely right, Zoraida. You know, it was really the spaghetti bowl on I-10. And the biggest problem where were the icy bridges and overpasses. So, that's what closed portions of the road. Those roads have since been reopened.

Now, El Paso picked up 2.9 inches. But believe it or not, it's not out of the question to get snow in El Paso. Average snow for the year is 4.8. Last year, they got 3.1. El Paso this year has had twice the amount of snow as Chicago. So they've certainly gotten a lot, but it is definitely not out of the question or out of the ordinary, but they are waking up to a snowy scene. All the government buildings, schools all closed yesterday. Half day today. But take a look at some other areas around the region. In New Mexico, picking up about 6. There's El Paso again. It was a record for the day. But on the whole for the winter, they do pick up almost five inches.

Here's a look at the rain and the snow. There's El Paso. For the most part, they're waking up with some flurries and cold temperatures. It is all pushing eastward. When will it end? They do have winter weather advisories. I'll tell you when they expire and what's in store for the days ahead. That's all coming up -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Did you say more snow than Chicago?

STEELE: Two times as much.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness.

STEELE: Thus far this season.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. That's quite a bit. Thank you so much.

STEELE: Sure. See you in a bit.

ROMANS: The 113th Congress already has a full plate, but the first course for the new House is Sandy relief. The first two votes will be held today, authorizing billions of dollars for Sandy victims. House Speaker John Boehner promised the votes after heavy criticism from Democrats and Republicans for delaying it.

Speaking of Boehner, he got to keep his gavel, just barely. Then he got emotional addressing the chamber.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If you come here humbled by the opportunity to serve, if you've come here to be the determined voice of the people, if you've come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not by our constituents but by the times, then you've come to the right place.


ROMANS: CNN's Athena Jones live in our Washington bureau.

Good morning. John Boehner was re-elected, but it wasn't easy, was it?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, no. You know, about a dozen of his colleagues either voted against him, voted for someone else like Majority Leader Eric cantor or just said present. They abstained from voting. You speak to some of them and they said that they wanted to put the speaker on notice. It isn't as though his leadership, him winning that election, was ever in doubt.

Let's listen to what one Florida congressman, a new congressman, Ted Yoho, had to say to explain his vote. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: We are challenging leadership to let him know that we're going to hold him accountable just like I get held accountable in my district. We want to let him know we're watching. We're willing to work with leadership, and I look forward to doing that. That's why I stuck with the Republican Party with Mr. Cantor.


JONES: And so, in the end, Boehner got 220 out of the caucus, 234. So, it's a small percentage of people that didn't end up voting for him, but it still signals there could be a little dissension in the ranks, which is what we've been seeing already.

ROMANS: Dissension in the ranks. We have a debt ceiling to tackle and continuing budget resolution, a whole lot of other stuff to do here. Democrats have gained members. Republicans still control the House.

What's your sense of how both sides will handle the next round of negotiations?

JONES: Well, you know, fresh faces but not really fresh fights here, although we expect Republicans to continue to talk about the need to rein in government spending. We've already heard from Speaker Boehner saying that he's not going to have anymore one on one negotiations with the president.

So, probably a little more of the same. He spoke a little about this just after winning that vote yesterday. He talked about the debt ceiling.

Let's listen to that.


BOEHNER: The American dream is in peril so long at its name sake is weighed down by this anchor of debt. Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free. Jobs will come home and confidence will come back.


JONES: And so, that's the Republican argument here, spending cuts. The Democrats, of course, are going to continue to argue for balance. President Obama has said he's not going to have a debate with Congress over raising the debt ceiling and making sure America can pay its bills, but, of course, as we saw the last time, that's not really up to the president.

ROMANS: Yes. Now, first thing's first, the house taking up the Sandy aid bill today. How is this different than what they've considered before or haven't considered before?

JONES: Well, the thing is the Senate already passed a bill. What the House is doing is breaking it into two pieces. After they reached that big deal to avert the fiscal cliff, postpone it, really, for two months, a lot of House Republicans, especially from New York and New Jersey, were angry the speaker did not put on the floor a vote for Sandy aid for these relief victims.

So, they're going to vote later this morning on a bill, about $9 billion, a little over $9 billion, for the national flood insurance program. That's to be able to give money to that program so it doesn't run out. FEMA has said that money would run out starting next week at some point.

And so, the idea is to vote on that today and then on January 15th they'll vote on another $51 billion in general aid. So, today's the first of two votes.

ROMANS: All right. Athena Jones, a busy day for you and for all those new members today. Thank you.

JONES: Thanks.

ROMANS: Also today, the last official act of the 2012 presidential election. The Senate and House meet in joint session to count the Electoral College votes. Vice President Joe Biden will preside in a bit of political pageantry. There will be a Senate procession carrying the ballots to the House chambers -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is said to be having trouble breathing as he battles a severe lung infection. In a televised statement, Venezuela's information minister described the complication as respiratory insufficiency. Chavez has been in a Cuban hospital since having cancer surgery more than three weeks now. Three weeks ago that happened.

The information minister did not give details about the treatment or Chavez's prognosis. The Venezuelan leader has not been seen publicly since his surgery.

ROMANS: American troops are in Turkey this morning to help that country defend its borders with Syria. They'll operate Patriot air defense missile batteries in an attempt to shot down any Syrian ballistic missile. The Assad regime in Syria has launched Scud missiles near the border with Turkey as its civil war has intensified.

SAMBOLIN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is raring to go. That is according to a state department spokesperson. Clinton is expected to return to work next week after recovering from a string of medical setbacks, including that blood clot in her head.


VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: She's sounding terrific, upbeat, raring to go. She's looking forward to getting back to the office. She is very much planning to do so next week, and we'll have further precise details about that as she continues to make progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Nuland also said Secretary Clinton intends to testify on the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. She says they're working out a date with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

ROMANS: Clinton's return to work will probably be brief. Here presumptive replacement Senator John Kerry is expected to be nominated within days. A Senate hearing confirmation should happen within two weeks.

Kerry has already started preparing for it. A State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland, who you just heard there says he visited the State Department Wednesday, met with senior officials, picked up a huge pile of briefing materials.

SAMBOLIN: Secretary Clinton's departure isn't the only change coming to President Obama's Cabinet. In fact, a big Cabinet shake-up is coming in his second term. High-level vacancies need to be filled, not just the secretary of state job. Secretary of defense, treasury secretary, and a permanent CIA director also need to be filled.

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is still a contender for secretary of defense, despite criticism from pro-Israel group and gay groups over past comments. President Obama said as much on "Meet the Press." and there's this from Democratic Senator Max Cleland. Quote, "I understand his nomination is back on the table, and I believe very strongly he should be defense secretary."

Also, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is planning to leave later this month, sometime around the inauguration.

ROMANS: With little heavy hearts and under heavy guard, classes have resumed for students at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School. They hit the books for the first time since the massacre three weeks ago in Newtown. Classes were held not in the old building but in a school in nearby Monroe, Connecticut, which was made to look like their old school. And students were anxious to resume their studies.


ANDREW PALEY, SANDY HOOK PARENT: They took the bus, so, you know, we had the normal routine of giving them breakfast and getting their backs -- you know, their backpacks packed. Then they went out -- we went out and waited for the bus. And then, as soon as the bus came, didn't even look back. It was bye, guys. They just kind of waved and ran on to the bus.


ROMANS: Teachers and school administrators tried to make the return to school as smooth and normal as possible for children. The kids' cubbies and their desks were moved from the old school, to the new one intact.

SAMBOLIN: Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who almost two years ago to the day survived a mass shooting, is expected to visit Newtown today. Sources confirmed that Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, were planning to meet with families of the Sandy Hook massacre victims. After the shooting, Kelly posted it was time for more than just regret and sorrow in response to the gun violence.

ROMANS: Still ahead, a dramatic story of survival. Two Arizona teens trapped on a frozen lake --

SAMBOLIN: Look at that. Incredible.

ROMANS: -- with nothing but a dead tree between them and the frigid water.


SAMBOLIN: It was all in the family as senators took the oath of office for the 113th Congress. That is so cute. Some senators such as Kristen Gillibrand of New York held their children as they raised their hand in front of Vice President Joe Biden. Some cooperate, some don't, right.

At one point, Biden picked up a young daughter of Ted Cruz, the new senator from Texas. She was a bit overwhelmed by the ceremony.

ROMANS: She was in tears. He said, I know, I know. Your dad's a Republican. I get it. So cute.

All right. Today, the House will address an aid package for those affected by superstorm Sandy. It'll be considered $9 billion in immediate assistance for flood insurance for people along the Northeast coast whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the fierce October storm.

SAMBOLIN: House Speaker John Boehner has been re-elected to that leadership role. He got emotional as he addressed the new 113th Congress.


BOEHNER: If you've come here humbled by the opportunity to serve, if you've come here to be the determined voice of the people, if you've come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not by our constituents but by the times, then you've come to the right place.


SAMBOLIN: So, despite a rocky tenure, Boehner received overwhelming support for re-election from House Republicans.

ROMANS: In just over three hour, we'll get an important health check on the economy. The government will release the labor report for December. Some economists expect a report of modest job growth. Yesterday, the payroll firm ADP reported the private sector added 215,000 jobs in December.

So, some economists this morning telling me they think the risk is job support could be strong. We'll have to wait and see.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Did the CIA mislead the writer and director of "Zero Dark Thirty"?

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the CIA chief for all the information the agency gave the filmmakers. Senators say the movie implies that waterboarding helped identify the courier who led to Osama bin Laden. The committee recently put out a report that said the agency did not learn about the information by waterboarding a terrorist.

ROMANS: Coast guard investigators from New Orleans are headed to Alaska to inspect a shell oil drilling barge that ran aground Monday off Kodiak Island during the storm.

Shell officials say the rig is upright. It is stable. There's no visible evidence of an oil spill, but no word yet when it could be moved. That barge has more than 150,000 gallons of diesel and oil on board.

SAMBOLIN: Check this out. The only thing between two Arizona teens and the bottom of an icy lake, that dead tree. They hung on to it for hours in 20-degree weather after the ice around them started cracking. Later, the boys thanked the firefighters who got them out and promised not to explore anymore frozen lakes either.


CHRISTIAN VAN ALLER, RESCUED FROM LAKE: Dear firefighters, thank you so much for helping me and my friends be able to get back safely to the ground. We're very sorry about making you all come out and do this. We shouldn't have even walked on the ice in the first place.

ALEX ORTEN, RESCUED FROM LAKE: I regret my choices deeply. Thank you for sacrificing so much to save us.


SAMBOLIN: Do you just love that or what? One of the boys used his cell phone to call for help. So, his mom says he can keep that, but the Xbox? Grounded as punishment.

ROMANS: They were smart to stay up there, to call on the phone and stay up there. That could have been disastrous.

SAMBOLIN: This is what a firefighter did in order to go to them. A firefighter in a protective suit crawled across the lake with a rope to reach the tree where the two teens were perched. If you look at the picture right there on the left-hand side, each of the teenagers lost one of their shoes. It was stuck in the ice. Not a good idea, right?

But they promised they'll never explore icy lakes again like that.

BERMAN: But no Xbox, gentlemen.

Seventeen minutes after the hour right now. Time for your "Early Reads", your local news making national headlines.

First from the "Hartford Courant". A Connecticut state worker placed on administrative leave for allegedly showing her husband the body of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza. Officials say it happened just two days after Lanza gunned down 20 children, six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary and killed himself. The employee, Jean Henry, works as a technician at the chief medical examiner's office. Henry and her husband have said to have viewed the body on the day of Lanza's autopsy.

SAMBOLIN: And this from "The Providence Journal." Rhode Island lawmakers moving fast in their new legislative session to make same- sex marriage legal in the Ocean State. Identical bills were introduced yesterday in Rhode Island's House and Senate defining marriage as the legally recognized union of two people. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nine states and Washington, D.C. and that includes all the other New England states.

Hey, folks, for an expanded look at all our top stories, just head to our blog, You can also find us on Twitter and on Facebook, just search for EarlyStartCNN.

ROMANS: We just told you the December jobs report is out in a few hours. Could it be one that sends markets up this market and sends your prospects for getting a job up? I've got your forecast, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, Washington, D.C. Thank you for starting your day with us here at CNN on EARLY START. It's going to be 45 degrees for you today. Nice and sunny. So everybody can get to work.

We are minding your business. It is jobs day for Christine. This is sheer happiness, sheer happiness. She has a forecast for us for the big jobs report for December that is being released later this morning.

ROMANS: I know. If you're a market person like me, you really love the jobs report. It gives you a real good look at the health of the market. It comes out at 8:30 Eastern Times.

Economists surveyed by think about 150,000 jobs were created in December. That's close to the average growth we saw for the year. The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 7.7 percent.

Market check right now, U.S. stock futures are basically near nothing this morning. They're not doing anything after stocks closed lower yesterday. The Dow, NASDAQ, S&P 500 al lost ground after that big rally earlier in the week on the fiscal cliff deal. Why?

Well, minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting showed some division inside the fed over its bond buying program. Some saying it should be ending that program before the end of the year, and that's sooner than first thought. That's pushing markets down worldwide this morning. We're seeing a lot of action in the bond markets.

Now, could we see a bond bubble burst this year? That's what 40 percent of investment and money managements surveyed by CNN think. They think interest rates will begin to rise this year. Attention homeowners, interest rates will begin to rise this year. Another 30 percent say that shift will start next year. Both sooner than the Fed's own projections.

Investors have been pouring money into treasuries, the safety of treasuries. That's been pushing interest rates close to zero. It's been terrible for savers. Last year, investors added more than $90 billion to the bond market. They pulled $150 billion out of stocks.

Did you know the bond market is worth about $31 trillion? Much, much bigger than the stock market. You talk about the biggest market in the world, it's the bond market. It's not the stock market.

So a lot of people watching that bond, quote-unquote, "bubble", as some call it, and wonder if interest rates will start to rise this year.

SAMBOLIN: So, in other words, the way I translate this, it's a very long day for you, right?



SAMBOLIN: And you're going to give us all the details that come out of that report.

ROMANS: Perfection translation.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

Twenty-four minutes past the hour. Speaker John Boehner calls it priority number one. The big vote scheduled for later today that almost didn't happen. That's coming up next.


ROMANS: Decision day. The old Congress didn't do it, so the new Congress will. The vote set today for a $9 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package.


NULAND: She's sounding terrific, upbeat, raring to go.


SAMBOLIN: Raring to go. She's ready to work. After a serious health scare, Hillary Clinton heading back to Washington.

ROMANS: And back to class. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary tried to return to normalcy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALEY: As soon as the bus came, they didn't even look back. It was bye, guys. And they just kind of waved and ran on to the bus.


SAMBOLIN: Some of the kids said they were happy to see all their classmates again after that time off.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 28 minutes past the hour.

Let's get you started.