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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

113th Congress: Now In Session; Chavez Battling Respiratory Failure; U.S. Troops In Turkey; Malala Out Of The Hospital; Clinton To Return To Work Next Week; Big Cabinet Shake Up; Back To School In Connecticut; A "Disgusting Offer"; December Jobs Report Out Today

Aired January 4, 2013 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The next hour of EARLY START begins right now.

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 lake, take a look at that picture, clinging to a dead tree for hours. Their dramatic rescue is ahead.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. John Berman will be here next hour for "STARTING POINT." Right now, it's 6:00 a.m. in the East.

SAMBOLIN: So, we begin this morning in west text. It is a snowy mess there. Heavy snow is blanketing that region around El Paso. Conditions are so bad that large portions of Interstate 10 between El Paso and Ft. Stockton to the east were actually closed overnight. So, let's check in with Alexandra Steele in the weather center. Good morning to you. I was checking this morning. I think you cleared it up for us, 20 -- there it is. 22.4 inches, is that a record for them back in 1987?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely it was a record. Yesterday was a record with 2.9 inches of snow. But I think that is a little bit of the novelty factor. Waking up in El Paso, kids didn't have school yesterday, late today because it's been almost a year to date.

The last time they had any measurable snow and it wasn't 2.9. It was a tenth of an inch, last January 9th. So it's been a year. The snow is coming down and certainly a pretty picture, but the roads and the overpasses, we have on I-10 around that spaghetti bowl because of the problems on the roads, bridges and overpasses especially. So all-time record for the day as well today, but you know, on the average, they see over 6 inches of snow. So it's not outlandish, these kind of numbers. Los Alamos from New Mexico, there's El Paso. So the snow has fallen. What's fallen has done, some flakes around this morning.

But it's pretty much complete. It's all pushing eastward so things will be on the in prove. We do have winter weather advisories posted only until 8:00 this morning and then the storm pushes east. Where does it go? I have that for you and the full details on the forecast -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right, thank you very much, Alexandra. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Ready, set, vote. The 113th Congress jumps right in today with the House ready to approve the first installment of a $60 billion relief package for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

John Boehner promised the vote after canceling one earlier this week, which outraged Democrats and Republicans in the affected states. Speaking of Boehner, he got to keep his gavel after being re-elected as House speaker then he got emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN's Athena Jones live in our Washington Bureau. Good morning. You know, John Boehner re-elected as speaker, but Athena, it wasn't easy, was it?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. No, you know, you had several defections yesterday. It was really interesting to watch that vote. You had people who just stayed silent when their name was called. You had people who voted for people like Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

In the end, of course, he was able to win. But let's listen to what one new congressman from Florida, Ted Yoho, a Republican, had to say about these defections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And so ultimately, Speaker Boehner was able to get 220 votes out of a caucus of 234 so in the end, it's a small percentage of defections. There was no serious challenge. But it's been a pretty rocky road for Speaker Boehner certainly in the last Congress when it comes to corralling his caucus. This seems to indicate that kind of thing could continue.

ROMANS: As we know, we have a Congress sworn in. They have to tackle the debt ceiling and "The Sequester." They have a lot of work to do. The Democrats gained some members. Republicans still control the House. What's your sense of how they will handle the next round of negotiations?

JONES: Well, I think we'll see more of the same. You know, even though you have a few fresh faces, the balance of power remains the same and we know that Republicans really want to see spending cuts. They did not get spending cuts out of the most recent deal.

They were able to push off the fiscal cliff for another two months, so they will really focus on that. Speaker Boehner spoke about that yesterday, just after winning that gavel. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And so there you we heard from the speaker. We've also heard from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Republican side also making the point about how spending cuts are going to be the main focus.

President Obama has indicated he doesn't want to have another big argument with Congress over raising the debt ceiling, over making sure America can pay its bills, but this is something that's up to Congress and we certainly expect to see the other fight.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the fight over the Sandy aid bill. Now it seems as though this is moving forward. What they are voting on today is a different version. Explain it to me.

JONES: Right. So the Senate has already passed the larger measure. The House is going to break it up into two pieces. Today, they are going to vote just on the part for the national flood insurance program. It's over $9 billion. It's $9.7 billion to be exact in borrowing authority.

FEMA has said the national flood insurance program is going to run out of money to payout claims starting sometime next week so that's very close. And of course, the victims of Superstorm Sandy want to be able to see that money come in. Congress has -- the House wants to be voting later this morning. Sometime late morning, we expect that to pass and then later this month on January 15th, they will take up another $51 billion in more general aid to those victims.

ROMANS: All right, Athena Jones. Thank you, Athena.

JONES: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: It is 5 minutes past the hour. Also today, the last official act of the 2012 election, the Senate and House meet in joint session to count the Electoral College votes.

Vice President Joe Biden will preside there. In a bit of political pageantry, there will be a Senate procession carrying the electoral ballots to the House Chamber.

ROMANS: 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 a cancer surgery more than three weeks ago. The information minister did not give details about the treatment or Chavez' prognosis. The Venezuelan leader has not been seen publicly since that surgery.

American troops are in Turkey this morning. They flew in 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 its civil war against rebels has intensified.

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

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is raring to go that is according to a State Department spokesperson. Clinton is expecting to return to work next week after recovering from a string of medical setbacks including that blood clot in her head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Her spokesperson also says that Secretary Clinton intends to testify on the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. She says they are working on a date with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

ROMANS: A big Cabinet shakeup is ahead in President Obama's second term. High-level vacancies that need to be filled soon including the Secretary of State post, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury, permanent CIA director, all need to be filled.

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is still a contender for defense, despite criticism from pro-Israel groups and gay groups over past comments. President Obama said as much on "Meet the Press."

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 Tim Geithner is planning to leave later this month, sometime around the inauguration.

SAMBOLIN: It's 7 minutes past the hour. With heavy little hearts and under very 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 just three weeks ago in Newtown.

Classes were held not in that old building, but in a school in nearby Monroe, Connecticut, which was made to look like their old school. Students were anxious to resume their studies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW PALEY, SANDY HOOK PARENT: They took the bus. So, you know, we had the normal routine of giving them breakfast, getting backpacks packed and then we went out and waited for the bus. As soon as the bus came, they didn't look back. Bye, guys. Waved and ran on the bus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Everybody has been working so hard to make this as normal as possible for those little kids. Teachers and school administrators tried to make the return to school as normal as possible.

Also the kids' cubbies and the desks were moved intact into the other school. You know, they tried to recreate some of the rooms for them as well. It's just such an amazing effort. We wish them all well.

ROMANS: There is also word that former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, she may visit the Newtown, Connecticut families today. A spokesman for the state lieutenant governor said that the visit is planned, but not confirmed. You might recall that Giffords barely survived an assassination attempt two years ago while meeting with her constituents in Arizona.

SAMBOLIN: It's 9 minutes past the hour. An invitation triggers outrage from some of the families of victims killed in the Aurora movie theater massacre. Up next, why some are calling the invite disgusting, even offensive. I am going to speak to one of the family members. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It's 12 minutes past the hour. It's a story we first told you about yesterday. Five months after the tragic shooting massacre at a movie theater in Colorado, some families are outraged over a plan to reopen the theater.

Twelve people died, 58 people were injured, when a gunman opened fire in the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The theater is set to reopen in two weeks. They invited families for a special remembrance ceremony. It's followed by a movie screening as well.

Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper and Aurora's Mayor Steve Hogan are both expected to attend. But several family members are furious that such an event is happening in the first place.

Jessica Watts is one of those family members. She is the cousin of Jonathan Blunk. He is a victim of the shooting in Aurora who used his body to shield his girlfriend from the bullets. Died doing that.

Thanks for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it. And we're very sorry for your loss as well. As I understand it, Cinemark actually sent out an invitation to a victims' assistance group, which was then forwarded to some of the families.

You didn't actually receive an invitation, but you read it. What did you feel when you read that invitation? Can you tell us what it said?

JESSICA WATTS, COUSIN OF AURORA SHOOTING VICTIM, JONATHAN BLUNK: Thank you for having me this morning. When we received this invitation from Cova, which is the victims' assistance group here in Colorado, it was an invitation, calling it a night of remembrance where the victims would be remembered and also going to do a movie screening at the theater itself for the families.

SAMBOLIN: And how did that make you feel when you read that?

WATTS: It was very painful to read because there are 12 people and one of those being my cousin, who absolutely paid the final ticket price with their lives and being anywhere near that theater is hard for so many victims. It was almost unspeakable, that they would give us this invitation, like it was a Hollywood premiere.

SAMBOLIN: Jessica you took action along with eight other families who wrote a letter to Cinemark. I want to read some of it. It says, "Our family members will never be on this earth with us again and a movie ticket and some token words from people who didn't care enough to reach out to us nor respond when we reached out to them to talk is appalling."

This was signed by 15 members of eight victims' families. We want to also add here that we tried to reach out to Cinemark. They declined to comment.

What can Cinemark do in order to change the way that you feel about this? I know that you also mentioned that they never reached out to you directly. What can they do?

WATTS: Mainly the big problem with Cinemark, they have never reached out to victims to offer sympathies, their condolences or their support. And we have never had communication with them. But they went ahead and gave us this invitation.

And to be honest, it was one of the worst things that they could have done, and so that was our decision to write that letter so that we could boycott, not only the Aurora Cinemark, but also Cinemarks, nationwide.

SAMBOLIN: Jessica, there are people that don't agree with you. Not all family members, in fact, agree with you. Your cousin saved his girlfriend Jansen Young in the theater that day and she said that she plans on going.

She said this, "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I can see how it would be bothersome. But I think the theater is still standing, it kind of proves how strong we are as a community. It's going to be a memorial to all of the victims that passed. And I don't know about you, but I'm not going to let the bad guy win."

What do you think about her response?

WATTS: To each their own. We're all in different states of grieving. And, definitely, I know of several family members who plan on attending. But those of us who have written that letter and signed it, are choosing not to attend because of the way that we've been treated.

SAMBOLIN: You say to each their own, and I suppose when I read this, I think this is their way of healing. This is their way of coping. And I suppose that your way of coping, it's like that. If Cinemark reached out and offered an apology, would that help you heal?

WATTS: It would definitely be a step in the right direction.

SAMBOLIN: All right. You know the suspect is back in court this coming Monday. Do you plan on attending?

WATTS: Yes. I have attended all of the court hearings previous to this up and coming week, and I plan to attend the full week of the preliminary trial.

SAMBOLIN: Jessica Watts, I so appreciate you being with us this morning . I know that Jonathan had a birthday coming up. And right before he died, you were supposed to be celebrating your birthday for him. We're terribly sorry for your loss and we certainly pray for your healing as well. Thank you.

WATTS: Thank you so much.

ROMANS: It is now 17 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-date with the morning's top new story.

Today, the House will address an aid package for those affected by Superstorm Sandy. It will consider a $9.7 billion package 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 post and he got emotional as he addressed members of the 113th Congress. Despite a rocky tenure, Boehner received overwhelming support for re-election from House Republicans.

ROMANS: In just over two hours, we'll get an important health check on the economy. The federal government will release the labor report for December. Some economists expect a report of modest jobs growth. Yesterday, the payroll firm ADP, it gave its own gauge of how things did in December. It said 215,000 jobs were created.

SAMBOLIN: Coast Guard investigators from New Orleans are headed to Alaska to check 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 and that there's no visible evidence of a spill. No word yet when it can be moved. The barge has more than 150,000 gallons of diesel and oil on board.

ROMANS: The only thing between two Arizona teens and the bottom of this icy lake was this dead tree. They hang on to it for four hours in 20-degree weather after the ice around them started cracking. Later, the boys thanked firefighter who's got them out and promised not to explore anymore frozen lakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A third boy who made it to shore and called for help on his cell phone. Happy ending there and we're so glad and I'm sure their parents were.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, can you imagine getting that phone call? It's where your son is.

ROMANS: They are where? Doing what? Huh?

SAMBOLIN: Once you save them, I'm going to kill them.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly.

As we mentioned earlier, a couple of hours away from the monthly jobs report.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

ROMANS: One company that wants to add a bunch of new jobs right now. I'll tell you who is hiring?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

A possible sign of turnaround for air travel. Delta Airlines is hiring as many as 400 flight attendants this year. They are looking for bilingual applicants who are fluent in Hindi, Mandarin, Japanese or French, because about a third of them will service overseas flights.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

ROMANS: Delta says it does not expect to increase its flying level next year, but it's looking abroad to increase business.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, let's mind your business this morning. It is jobs day. This is what Christine does, because she gets very excited. She has a forecast about the big jobs report that's happening today.

ROMANS: There's nothing more exciting on a Friday than tables and tables and tables of Labor Department data. I love it. It comes out of 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

And economists surveyed by briefing.com predict 150,000 jobs were created in December. That's close to the average, average growth for the year. The jobless rate is expected to remain unchanged at 7.7 percent. We'll know for sure at 8:30.

And, of course, this can also move the markets. Market check right now, U.S. stock futures are doing nothing as they are waiting for that report. And, of course, markets closed slower yesterday. The Dow, the NASDAQ, S&P 500 all lost ground following the big rally earlier in the week.

The big rally because of the fiscal cliff conclusions, and then the setback because minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting showed some division inside the fed over its bond buying program. Some saying it should end before the end of the year, sooner than first thought. That's pushing markets down worldwide this morning.

And drilling contractor Transocean smacked with a $1.4 billion fine from the Justice Department over the gulf oil spill. Transocean leased the oil rig and provided the crew where that spilled occurred in 2010, the worst maritime oil spill in U.S. history. BP which leased the rig from Transocean, agreed to pay $4.5 billion fine last year.

So, the government squeezing fines and penalties out of the major player out of the horrific oil spill in the Gulf.

Now, the one thing you need to know about your money today. SAMBOLIN: I don't want to know.

ROMANS: Interest rates can only go up from here today.

SAMBOLIN: No.

ROMANS: And people are thinking, it's time for them to go up. When rates do start to rise, it means borrowing costs rise for cars, houses, credit cards, it gets more expensive, but it also means savers -- savers, if interest rates start to rise, savers will finally be able to get a little something for their money.

That's the -- that's the curse of the low interest rates. People who depend on CDs are getting nothing. Interest rates rising helps savers.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, but if you miss out on the opportunity, right? Too bad.

All right. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Speaker John Boehner calls it priority number one. The big vote scheduled for later on today that almost did not happen. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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.

SAMBOLIN: Talk about a new year's resolution. Meet the woman who says she's ready to become the first person ever to swim cageless from Cuba to Florida. You know there are sharks in the water and jellyfish.

ROMANS: And it's cold.

And a discovery from out of this world, literally. Why scientists believe this black beauty is one of a kind.

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.