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Congress Considers Smaller Sandy Aid Bill; 113th Congress More Diverse; Chavez Battling Lung Infection; U.S. Troops Defend Turkey's Border; CDC Report: 1 in 24 Drivers Nod Off

Aired January 4, 2013 - 05:30   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

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

Let's get you started.

The 113th Congress getting down to business after yesterday's swearing in. It's been a rough couple of weeks for House Speaker John Boehner who narrowly held on to his leadership role. In an emotional address to the full House, Boehner offered advice to those, who like himself, returned for another political go-round.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: For those of you who are returning, who have walked these aisles before, maybe it's time we get a little awe struck again. Put simply, we're sent here not to be something but to do something.



ROMANS: To do something. We know the 112th Congress had passed fewer laws than any other Congress in 40 years.

Today, the 113th House votes on the first part of a $60 billion relief package for Sandy victims. Boehner promised the vote after getting blasted for canceling a vote just a week earlier.

CNN's Athena Jones live in our Washington bureau.

Good morning, Athena.


So they're going to vote today. Of course, the Senate has already approved this money. What the House is going to do is vote for it in two parts. The first part is for the national flood insurance program. It's actually about $9.7 billion in borrowing authority because FEMA says next week, they would run out of money to pay out these insurance claims for the victims of Sandy.

And so, this is certainly something that members of Congress from New York and New Jersey and the states affected by Sandy want to see. It's expected to pass later this morning, Christine.

ROMANS: Tell me --

JONES: Let's listen --

ROMANS: OK. Go ahead. I know --


JONES: We do have some -- Mayor Mike Bloomberg spoke about this last night. Let's listen to that.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: We will get the relief. I'm convinced. Boehner's promised to do it. I can't tell him how to run the house, and he's not trying to tell us how to run the city. He's got to decide when it makes some sense to bring it up. He's committed to get it done. We will get the money, and we will use it intelligently and recover.


JONES: So, there you heard the mayor confident that this is going to go through, and that's certainly what's expected -- Christine.

ROMANS: You know, also, when you look at this new House, when you literally look at this new house, more women, people of color, gays and lesbians in the new Congress, these groups now make up a majority of the Democratic caucus. Is there a sense, Athena, that the new demographics of the House will influence what happens with legislative issues like violence against women act, LGBT rights and the like?

JONES: Well, it certainly makes sense that it would. You had a few members, new members talking about the diversity, you know, point blank, yesterday mentioning it and also Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi highlighting it. The most women ever, record number of Latinos.

This is certainly going to influence the kinds of things that the members of Congress push for whether it's LGBT rights or violence against women or even issues like immigration. And so, certainly, one of the things that a lot of people noted yesterday.

ROMANS: I'm going to be honest, I can't remember a day when all these fresh faces coming in for the first time on their new job and a new Congress when they've had such important, very near-term budget battles ahead of them. There are three big deadlines one after another that these new members and these new Senators are really going to have to make some big choices.

JONES: Well, they certainly are. I mean, we've talked about how this fiscal cliff deal. All it really did was pushed back the deadline for another two months. And so, many of the same issues still remain, many of the same fights. We expect to hear Democrats speak more and more about balance, trying to make sure that the deficit is cut, not on the backs of seniors and the middle class.

And we expect to hear the Republicans say that really, what you need to help seniors in the middle class and the entire economy is to rein in spending. That's the big issue here, and that they believe the debt ceiling debate is going to be a time to really bring that up and try to get the spending cuts that they didn't get in this deal that was just passed a few days ago.

ROMANS: Yes. Republicans are telling me, hey, you know what, OK, so you got your higher taxes, Mr. President and Democrats. Now, it's all about cutting spending. Now, it's time for the Democrats to start cutting spending, and so, that'll be the big fight coming up. Athena Jones, thank you so much, Athena.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez 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 the Cuban hospital since having cancer surgery more than three weeks ago. The information minister did not give details about the treatment or about Chavez's prognosis. The Venezuelan leader hasn't been seen publicly since his surgery.

SAMBOLIN: A new role for American troops. They're in Turkey this morning to help that country defend its border with Syria. They will operate Patriot air defense missile batteries in an attempt to shoot down any Syrian ballistic missiles. The Assad regime in Syria has launched scud missiles near the border with Turkey as a civil war against rebels has intensified.

ROMANS: So, she was reportedly -- excuse me -- still running the state department from her hospital bed. Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to officially return to work next week after recovering from a string of medical setbacks, including that blood clot in her head. A state department spokesperson saying she is raring to go.


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.


ROMANS: She also says that Secretary Clinton tends to testify on the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. She says they're working on a date with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton's return to work will probably be brief. Her presumptive replacement, Sen. John Kerry, expected to be nominated within days. A Senate confirmation hearing should happen within two weeks. Kerry has already started prepping for it, we're told. State department spokesperson saying he visited the state department Wednesday, met with senior officials, and picked up a, quote, "huge pile of briefing materials."

SAMBOLIN: And 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 the 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 groups and gay groups over past comments. President Obama said as much on "Meet the Press."

And there's this, from former Democratic Senator Mac 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, we are told.

Meantime, in Connecticut, students from Sandy Hook Elementary School boarded buses, and they returned to their classes yesterday. 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 return.


ANDREW PALEY, SANDY HOOK PARENT: They took the bus. So, you know, we had the normal routine of giving them breakfast and getting their backpacks packed, and then, they went out -- we went out and waited for the bus. 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: Tough moments for parents for putting those kids on their buses. Teachers and school administrators tried to make the return to school as normal as possible for all of the children there. The kids' cubbies and the desks were even moved intact so they had the same stuff that they had at their old school.

ROMANS: Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who almost two years ago to today survived in 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 shootings, Kelly posted on his Facebook page that it was time for more than just regret and sorrow in response to gun violence.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education crusader shot in the head by the Taliban, is now out of a British hospital. She was released yesterday. The teen will continue undergoing rehabilitation at her temporary home in the U.K.

SAMBOLIN: Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, visiting an unlikely place, North Korea, a country that keeps a welded lid on information on technology. Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea with former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. He's been there several times. It's being called a private humanitarian visit, and it is not on behalf of the Obama administration.

But sources say Governor Richardson could try to negotiate the release of an American prisoner who was captured there last month.

ROMANS: All right, the fiscal cliff, hill, slope, time bomb, whatever you want to call it, aren't you glad to be over the metaphor madness about what this thing is?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kick the can down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just kicking the can down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kicking that can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kicking the can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are done with kicking this can down the road.


ROMANS: Oh, yes. The fiscal cliff turned into a can. Too bad, those metaphors aren't gone with the fiscal cliff. That's next.


SAMBOLIN: It is 40 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. Do you drive to work? Consider this stunning CDC report as you hit morning rush hour. One in 24 drivers said that they have nodded off or fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once in the last month. The CDC study says research models estimate 15 to 33 percent of fatal crashes may involve sleepy driving.

That's as many as one out of every three deadly crashes. Also according to the CDC, deaths and injuries are more likely in crashes that involve drowsy driving compared to non-drowsy driving crashes. So, get your sleep, folks.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

And let's face it. Let's face it. The fiscal cliff, Zoraida, sent us all over the edge, metaphorically speaking. From the moment the term fiscal cliff first took hold, there's been a verbal rampage from coast to coast. Admit it, it bugged you, too. The more arcane and wonky the budget fight, the more prolific and irritating the metaphors to describe it. Just like the yodeler in that cliffhangers game on the "Price is Right," we did fall off a cliff. A metaphor cliff.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fiscal cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The so-called fiscal cliff.

ROMANS: Or maybe not.


ROMANS: Cue Julie Andrews in "The Sound Of Music."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is more of a slope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a cliff. It's a slope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really kind of a slope.

ROMANS: Hill, cliff, slope, be honest. It felt more like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This place is starting to have the feel of the movie "Groundhogs Day."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is pitiful.

ROMANS: At least the movie made you laugh. This was more like "The Hurt Locker."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress set this time bomb, now they're scrambling to defuse it.

ROMANS: In the end, the cliff, close (ph) bomb, groundhog day, call it what you will, it became a bill and new metaphor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kick the can down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's just kicking the can down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kicking that can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kicking the can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are done with kicking this can down the road. We grabbed that can, and that can is called spending cuts --

ROMANS: But hey, we're not blameless.

That's Congressional malpractice.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Economic storm of our own making.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are in detox from our fiscal cliff addiction.

ROMANS: But the masters reside in the halls of Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a bull in a China closet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're like sales people who tell their customer they can have a $30,000 car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should look at those who have lit the candle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like an airplane, did we climb over it? No.

ROMANS: So now, can we please put the metaphors out to pasture?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We soon face the Valentine day cliff, and perhaps, the April Fool's Day cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What the president was saying was, I'm not going to play chicken with the debt limit.

ROMANS: I guess not.


ROMANS (on-camera): And so, I promise you months of budget wars ahead and lots more metaphors, analogies, and similes to try to describe what is indescribable a Congress that is not working for you.

SAMBOLIN: I think it's a lot of fun when they use the metaphors, you know?


SAMBOLIN: I think it kind of hones in on the problem and it makes you laugh a little and that's what you need to do because --

ROMANS: And that's what we're doing right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you for that.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-three minutes past the hour. Don't forget Christine's show, "YOUR BOTTOM LINE," Saturday morning at 9:30 Eastern Time right here on CNN. I normally work out to your show. I highly recommend it.


ROMANS: All right. Everything is bigger in Texas, and that goes for the snowstorms, too. Parts of El Paso shut down this morning. We're going do give you everything you need to know. That's next.


ROMANS: The only thing between two Arizona teens and the bottom of that icy lake was a dead tree. They hung on to it for four 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.


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 walked on the ice in the first place.

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


ROMANS: Can you imagine (INAUDIBLE) they got from their parents.

SAMBOLIN: Well, who do you think made them write that letter, right?


ROMANS: Young men. A third boy, who had made it to the shore, called for help on his cell phone. They waited four hours up there. Wow!

SAMBOLIN: Very lucky guys. You know, lots of folks are weighing in on this about ice safety, that it's never really that thick, so be very, very careful and cautious. And actually, don't do this.

ROMANS: There's an expression. You're on thin ice, young man.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: You're on thin ice, young man.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Winter has arrived in a big way in El Paso, Texas. Blizzard conditions have descended into that area. More than 200 miles of nearby interstate 10 have been closed due to all the heavy snow. So, let's check in with Alexandra Steele in the weather center for today's forecast. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi. Good morning to you guys. And you know, last year, we had a lot of those stories about people getting on the ice, falling through, a lot of problems, because last year, it was so warm. And the ice really never got thick, especially in the upper Midwest.

SAMBOLIN: I say it's just not safe. Yes. Don't do it.

STEELE: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: Don't do it. STEELE: That's right. All right. So, let's talk a little bit about El Paso. A record snow for the day yesterday. Kind of a white winter wonderland, 2.9 inches, but you know, I think there was a little bit of the novelty factor, because it was almost a year ago to the day. It was last January 9th that they had their last measurable snow of a tenth of an inch. So, 2.9 inches.

You know, the yearly average is 6.6. So, it's really not out of the question that El Paso sees snow. Hey, the all-time record, they had 22 inches of snow in one dumping in 1987. So, they've certainly had their share, but it really has been all year. Los Alamos picked up six, so you kind of see Santa Fe (INAUDIBLE) good skiing out there, four inches of snow.

So, we certainly have seen some snow in the southeast. And here's what's happening here. What's happening is there's that snow in El Paso. Right now, flurries falling. It's cold, it's chilly. The biggest problems, though, were those icy overpasses and bridges. That's where everyone has gotten into trouble on the roads.

El Paso closed down schools, businesses yesterday. Today, they're opening a little bit late to kind of give some time for the roads. But obviously, in El Paso, they can't treat the roads. They don't have that kind of machinery down there. Say in (INAUDIBLE) a little bit of snow, but mostly it's rain. Temperatures as you head farther westward and eastward are a little bit warmer.

So, we're not seeing the snow. We're seeing rain. We'll see rain for Houston. You can see there's that snow in St. Angelo, but the balance of it is done. That area of low pressure is moving to the east. Rain for Austin, again, it is all moving out. So, by noon today, we're going to see this system completely clear.

But we do have still this winter watch, and you can see where it is, but it's only until eight o'clock this morning. So, pretty much what's fallen is done, also, very cold. The cold air continues in the temperatures in the 20s in the southeast as well. Temperatures in the 20s and 30s. So, a very chilly start.

Temperatures for the most part, guys, a degree or two warmer than yesterday and that will be the trend as we head toward next week. Temperatures about ten degrees warmer than where they were this week.

SAMBOLIN: Very nice. Thank you, Alexandra.


ROMANS: All right. It is 50 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on what's going on this morning.

Fire storm over the superstorm. Today, Congress will consider a smaller $9.7 billion aid bill for victims of Sandy to get it to them ASAP. House Speaker John Boehner infuriated politicians from New Jersey and New York when he canceled a vote on a $60 billion version. Lawmakers will look at the bigger plan later this month. SAMBOLIN: It was billed by some as the savior of Detroit, and now, Chevy Volt sales are really cranking up. General Motor says sales of the electric car tripled in 2012. GM also became the first American carmaker to sell more than one million vehicles with a 30-mile per gallon fuel rating.

ROMANS: Supporters of same-sex marriage in Illinois hope to vote to legalize would happen sooner, but it will probably happen later. A state Senate committee approved the bill last night, but they failed to put it before a full vote on the floor. Supporters hope it will pass in the next legislative session.

SAMBOLIN: Busted New Year's plan for Frank Ocean, a singer and songwriter for guys like Justin Bieber and John Legend. Police say Ocean was pulled over for speeding and busted for marijuana possession on Monday night before midnight, and the police could smell pot walking over to the car.

Ocean kind of commented about the alleged incident yesterday on Twitter saying, "Hi, guys, I smoke pot. OK, guys, bye."

ROMANS: Profound.

A court hearing today for GOP Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, who was arrested outside of Washington two days before Christmas for alleged DUI after reportedly running a red light and failing multiple sobriety tests. He had said he doesn't drink because of his Mormon fate. He's also one of the so-called "Gang of Eight" Senators who was supposed to save us from the fiscal cliff back in November.

SAMBOLIN: We have a packed hour ahead on EARLY START, including anger in Aurora. An invite from a movie theater that was the scene of the massacre, a free movie at the grand re-opening. We're going to talk to the family of one of the victims and heroes from that night.

And if the sharks don't get you, the jelly fish might. A swimmer attempting a record swim in shark invested waters when so many have failed to finish before. We're going to talk to Australian distance swimmer, Chloe McCardel, in our next hour.

ROMANS: But first, the kiss everyone is talking about in the sports world broadcast on cable at a bowling alley. The kiss that made history. We'll explain.


ROMANS: OK. Welcome back. It's about 56 minutes after the hour. I'm Christine Romans along with Zoraida, taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And an early contender for Dunk of the Year in the NBA.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): That is the Knicks J.R. Smith with an insane spinning reverse alley-hoop dunk last night. This is Madison Square Garden. Look at that. It brought the crowd at the garden to their feet. And the Knicks bench almost hit the ceiling.

ROMANS (voice-over): Let's look in slow-mo, because it's so hard to see when it go so fast.

SAMBOLIN: I know. This is what I love when they slow-mo. Look at that. Yep, the Knicks beat the Spurs 100-83. Wish I would have been there.

ROMANS: I know. This is also a sports center moment. ESPN airing what may be the first shot of a gay athlete kissing his husband after a big win.


ROMANS (on-camera): History, really, here, and it was in bowling. Bowler Scott Norton kissing his husband after winning the 2012 PBA Chameleon championship in Vegas.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): What an emotion.

ROMANS The event was held in November, but it was only just aired on ESPN this past weekend. ESPN spoke about the decision saying it was about capturing the emotion of the victory as the network would with any bowler celebrating with his or her family.

SAMBOLIN: It was very emotional.

All right. Check out other top CNN trends. Head to

ROMANS: The first day of the 113th Congress is in the books, and the Senate and the House are more diverse than ever. More women, more firsts for Latinos, more Iraq and Afghanistan war vets.

SAMBOLIN: But the late night funny men say one thing that has yet to change is their "do nothing" reputation.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": John Boehner re- elected Speaker of the House, which is pretty amazing. A Republican winning anything these days, that's amazing he would get elected. You see him lay into John Boehner in the House of Republicans for dragging their on that hurricane Sandy relief bill?

Oh, my god. See, I'm not surprised. Christie is from the Jersey shore. He knows how to deal with people who have spray-on tans. He knows how to deal with --


LENO: Christie also lashed out at Congress for doing nothing for the victims of hurricanes Sandy. But in their defense, Congress says, hey, we don't do anything for anybody.


LENO: We're Congress. We don't do anything.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, he's furious because he can't get the hurricane Sandy storm relief money, and he's -- Chris Christie, people who know him say he's not been this angry since olive garden cut off his bread sticks.



JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": The Senate swore in a record 20 female Senators.


FALLON: Good. Yes. The women said that they're very excited and look forward to proving that they can accomplish just as little as male Senators. It's just so exciting. Beautiful day.


SAMBOLIN: Low blow there. The next hour of EARLY START begins right now.