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Biden Meets With Gun Rights Groups; Obama To Name Jack Lew For Treasury; Trapped Killer Whales Now Free; Syria, Jordan Seeing Stormy Winter Weather

Aired January 10, 2013 - 12:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everyone, to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Michael Holmes, in for Suzanne Malveaux. We're going to take you, as we always do, around the world in 60 minutes. And here's what we're working on today.

Three women shot to death in Paris execution style. All of them Kurdish political activists.

And those 11 killer whales, well, they're apparently free now after being locked in by ice in a Canadian bay.

We'll bring you those stories. But also we're going to begin with this.

The national debate over gun control taking another turn today. Vice President Joe Biden meeting with members of gun advocacy groups, including the NRA. Biden heads a panel looking for ways to curb gun violence. Right now as we speak, he is meeting with sports men and women, as well as representatives of wildlife interest groups. That meeting started in the last hour. Next hour he meets with the NRA and gun owners groups. Later, he hears from representatives of the entertainment industry. White House Correspondent Dan Lothian joining us now live.

Dan, the vice president says he's committed to hearing from all sides in the gun debate. Sounds like that's what's happening. But what do we expect from the meeting with the NRA? One imagines there's not a whole lot of common ground, or is he just there to listen?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I don't think that there's a lot of common ground. One thing that everyone agrees on is that there is this problem of gun violence. You know, you had a number of these mass shootings, and that something needs to be done.

But I think how to tackle the problem is the big challenge here. The White House believing that there has to be this comprehensive approach of gun control, but also dealing with some of these other issues, such as mental health. And the gun owners and gun associations have been saying that gun control is not the answer here, that you need to focus on things such as violent video games or perhaps you should put armed guards at all of the schools across the country.

And so, as you pointed out, both sides saying they're coming to listen, but no doubt will also be making their concerns clear during the meetings, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, before the meeting yesterday, the vice president talked about President Obama using perhaps executive orders to put in place some new gun regulations. That perhaps predictably outraged some conservatives. What are the kinds of things that the president could do without approval from Congress?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, one of the things the president could do with an executive order is streamline the background check process. That's one thing that, you know, you've heard talked about. In addition to that, he could push states to share more crime and mental health information. That perhaps could head off some potential violent acts.

But the White House isn't saying specifically what it is that the president would do with an executive order. You heard the vice president say how this is something that's in the early discussion process, talking with the Justice Department about what is legally feasible. So they're not laying it out specifically, just seeing it as a way to move quickly.

As you know, they also are pushing things legislatively. But you see sometime how thing move up on Capitol Hill. So they believe this is just another option for the president to be able to move on this issue very quickly.

HOLMES: Yes, as we've discussed, you and I discussed this yesterday, some states not waiting for the federal government to act. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, wanting to make the state's already tough gun laws tougher. He wants to strengthen the assault weapons ban in particular, expand background checks as well, ban those high-capacity magazines. We'll discuss it in a moment. But listen to what he said during his state of the state address.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Gun violence has been on a rampage, as we know firsthand and we know painfully. We must stop the madness, my friends. And in one word, it's just enough. It has been enough.


HOLMES: Dan, does that kind of action on the state level help the White House effort, or hinder it, or dilute the effort? How does it seem where you are?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, what I can say is that it's very similar to what the White House has been pushing lawmakers on The Hill to do, starting with extending that assault weapons ban. And so what you're seeing -- whether or not what's happening in a state like New York will impact lawmakers on The Hill and their decisions, I think it's unclear at this point. But what is clear is that you're seeing this effort not only at the federal level, but also on the state level, to address a very real problem. And everyone's looking at all aspects of this. A comprehensive approach, if you will, to prevent another mass shooting from happening again.

HOLMES: Keep an eye on it for us, Dan. Thanks so much. Dan Lothian there at the White House.

Well, the Pentagon put on some pomp and some circumstance for the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. He received a full honor cordon (ph) welcome when he arrived last hour. Yes, that's what it's called. Following that, it was time to get down to business on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. The Pentagon trying to determine how many troops will remain after the end of combat operations in 2014. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. is committed to a secure Afghanistan going forward.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have sacrificed together. That has created a bond that will not be broken in the future.


HOLMES: And, tomorrow, the president, Karzai, meets with the U.S. president, Barack Obama. That's going to take place at the White House. There has been tension between the two men in the past. We'll see how that goes.

Next hour, President Obama is going to be nominating his chief of staff to be the next Treasury secretary. Big job. He want Jack Lew to replace Timothy Geithner. Lew has been a budget director for President Obama and former President Clinton. He also has experience with banks. The former chief operating officer for Citigroup. He has a wife, Ruth, two adult children.

I want to bring in our chief business correspondent Ali Velshi.

Ali, always good to see you, my friend.

Now, Lew is considered a budget whiz, as we were discussing yesterday.


HOLMES: A bit of a shrewd negotiator if you like.


HOLMES: Quality that will come in handy when he takes the lead on those negotiations with Congress on the debt, reining in spending.


HOLMES: Tell us what you know about his negotiating style.

VELSHI: Well, I'll tell you, the one problem is that this White House in general has not been seen as the most successful group of negotiator. So being the chief of staff to President Obama, you know, it might be seen as a bit partisan for the job.

But let me tell you, four years ago, Michael, when the world was in a financial crisis, it all circulated around banks and credit and central banks. And Timothy Geithner was the guy for the job. He was the head of the New York Federal Reserve. He had been in the room when they decided to let Lehman Brothers fail. He didn't have a learning curve. He got in. He knew exactly what was going on.

Now, four years later, it's all about the budget, right? Whether it's the debt ceiling or the sequestration or the actual budget that the U.S. hasn't created since 2009, the next six to eight months is all going to be about the budget. So, my sense is, I don't know whether Jack Lew is the guy for all four years. He's definitely the guy for the next several months because he headed the Office of Management and Budget, that's called the OMB, twice. Once under Clinton, and then after Peter Orszag left under President Obama.

So this guy knows budgets. He knows everything about it. No learning curve. He is dropping in right into this debt ceiling debate. Very weird because Geithner's leaving. He's got to get into it. So for the immediate problem, he seems to be eminently qualified, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, a heck of a job to take on, that's for sure.

Now, his tenure at Citigroup, we mentioned he was at Citigroup --


HOLMES: Has raised concerns in some quarters. He was the COO, the chief operating officer, of the alternative investments unit.


HOLMES: All of these miss (ph) turns (ph). But that basically was a unit that bet against homeowners paying their mortgage, picked up a nice million-dollar bonus check.


HOLMES: Citigroup was bailed out. How is that all going to go down in the conformation process?

VELSHI: Yes. Yes, that's -- that's definitely going to come up. That's going to come up. On one hand he can say, hey, I understand Wall Street, I understand how it worked. I was in on that as well. Clearly he'll get some tough questions. I don't really think he's in for a rough ride in the nomination process, the confirmation process. It's the Treasury secretary. The president's going to largely get who he wants.

But it's funny because the general response on Wall Street isn't that he was one of us, it's that he hasn't had much Wall Street experience. They don't actually like him all that much. They don't feel that he has a good sense of regulation. He's an inside guy. He's a policy wonk. He's a budgetary wonk. He's a partisan. So it's kind of interesting that Wall Street's not really all that close behind Jack Lew.

Although it doesn't matter. I mean Wall Street doesn't have a seat at this table right now. Right now the only game in town is budgetary. Yes, that stuff that he did at Citigroup will come up. I don't think it's going to go anywhere though.

HOLMES: Yes, funny (ph) enough, if Wall Street hates him, he might be perfect for the job.

VELSHI: That's what a lot of people think, Michael, actually.

HOLMES: Good to see you, Ali, always.

VELSHI: You, too, as always, my friend.

HOLMES: Ali Velshi there.

All right, let's go live to the White House now. Want to talk with someone who knows Jack Lew. Kenneth Baer joins us. He's a former associate director of communications for the White House Office of Budget and Management. That must have been quite a business card (ph).

Now, you were a senior adviser to Lew. Tell us what we can expect from him as Treasury secretary. What makes the White House so sure he's the guy?

KENNETH BAER, FMR. ASSOC. DIR. FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND STRATEGIC PLANNING, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Well, there's very few people in the country who have as much experience at the highest level of the public sector, the private sector, and non-profits. You know both at OMB and then also as White House chief of staff, he's seen it all. He's seen every policy. He's been involved in both the fiscal negotiations in a very serious way, as well as looking at international economic issues that the White House has dealt with in the past year. He's someone with an impeccable reputation and, you know, I think this is a real -- you know, a really great pick for Treasury.

HOLMES: And what about his relationship with the president? Obviously they know each other well.

BAER: Yes. See, listen, I think the president knows that, you know, his values and Jack's values are the same. And I think that's why he trusts him so much. You know, Jack comes from a working class background in Queens, New York. You know, public school educated. He understands, you know, that economic policy really should be about what's on main street.

And that's where the president comes from as well. He understands that as well. And so there -- this similar outlook on what we need to do and what policies should be doing and who should be helping, you know, I think makes it -- that makes their relationship a tight one.

HOLMES: Yes. Kenneth, thanks so much. Great to get your insights there. Kenneth Baer there, former associate director of communications for the White House Office of Management and Budget.

All right. There is a bit of a loopy side to Jack Lew. And I mean that literally there. Have a look at his signature. Looks like random squiggles, doesn't it? Some have compared it to a slinky gone awry. And, guess what, it could appear on newly printed bills because the Treasury secretary's signature is on every new bank note that is printed while he is in office. Some say Lew may have to change his signature for the dollar bills. Timothy Geithner actually did, by the way.

And our Wolf Blitzer is going to bring you the president's nomination live when it happens in the next hour. That's at about 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

We've got some news coming in regarding President Obama's inauguration ceremony. Pastor Louie Giglio, a man we just interviewed two days ago on this program, has now withdrawn from delivering the benediction. Why? Well, he's facing criticism for comments in the 1990s on homosexuality. In that sermon from way back then, it was printed in "The New York Times," by the way, he cites scripture saying that homosexuality, quote, "is sin in the eyes of God and it is a sin in the word of God," unquote. And here's Giglio talking about the president and ending modern day slavery on this program.


LOUIE GIGLIO, PASTOR, PASSION CITY CHURCH: Well, you know, last year, at his National Prayer Breakfast speech in February, a year ago, the president mentioned what had happened at Passion 2012 because the voices of this generation, these what are called poor college students giving $3.2 million or $3.3 million or $3.5 million in four days. That's a big message. And their voice has reached the White House. It's reached a lot of streams of culture. And we pray the White House is listening, engaging, and doing what they can. It's not any one person or organization that's going to solve this. It's every --


HOLMES: It's fair to say that he was caught off guard by that quote resurfacing at this moment. And said that it would be a distraction, so he's stepping away. A source close to the inauguration planning said, quote, "we respect Mr. Giglio's decision. We wish him the best."

OK. Here's more of what we're working on this hour for NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL.

The fires continue to rage on in Australia. The flames have already eaten almost a million acres of farmland. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Well, it looks like some good news for almost a dozen killer whales that were trapped by ice.

The town manager of that small Canadian village -- coming up there on the map there -- on the Hudson Bay says hunters who were sent to break up the ice to help out those whales can't find them anymore.

The ice shifted, apparently. That opened up the way for the whales to swim to open water.

Chad Myers joins me. Well, we hope that's what happened.


HOLMES: It looks that way, do you think? I mean, how did they get trapped in the first place?

MYERS: The wind was from the west and it pushed all of this open ice or free ice, not ice that's attached to land, but just out there floating around. It pushed it up against the barrier, up against the islands and into the bay and then they couldn't get out.

Last night, the winds shifted significantly, blew that ice out, back into the Hudson Bay and now we're good. This is what they had. They were saying at a time, this was almost as small as a pickup truck, this hole, and this is where these orcas were just getting the air from. They were coming up for air and that's all they were doing, 11 orcas trying to get air from this one little spot.

Let me show you how it all happened here. The area here is in kind of in a northwest-to-southeast pattern and, when the wind was blowing in from the west, it pushed all of that sea ice into this little town. We can go right into the town. It's not a very big village. I mean, look, there you see the huts. There you see the homes, maybe 100 of them or so.

But, as these people saw, the hunters were out and they saw this hole and they saw these orca just popping out of this hole. It was quite a tremendous event. And now, finally they know that they are free. The wind blew off from the northeast all night long. We were north at about 13. I'm pushing you ahead, north at 25.

And with that little northeast in there just for a moment, just cracked the ice just enough to push it offshore.

HOLMES: That's amazing.

MYERS: It was like for two hours.

HOLMES: Yeah. I mean, does it have anything to do with overall weather patterns that we also discuss with you, I mean, where they get confused? What do you think?

MYERS: You know, I was reading a lot about this since last night when we knew this and I found out from oceanographers that they believe that one of the major causes of mortality to many species is being locked in ice.

HOLMES: Really?

MYERS: So, this happens a lot. We just happened to get video of this for our show to realize what happens out there in nature. And, luckily, there's a good outcome here, but I bet a lot of times the outcome isn't so good. And you know what? The ice came in early. You know, earlier than they thought. The water was still warm, but it was that flow of wind that pushed the ice against these whales. It wasn't so much that it froze up earlier than normal. It was the wind that pushed it there, normal. They still have to get out. They have a long way to go to get to really warmer water, so ...

HOLMES: It's not over yet.


HOLMES: They should make a movie about that. Oh, wait, they did, didn't they? What was that called, that film about whales caught in the ice? I forget.

Anyway, all right, good to see you, Chad. Thanks so much.

Always interesting when he's here, isn't it?

All right, a snowstorm in the Holy Land, gorgeous sight, just check that out. You don't see that very often, do you?


HOLMES: Just to the north, though, winter weather could cost refugees their lives. We'll talk about that.


HOLMES: And that movie about the whale rescue, by the way, "Big Miracle," I've been informed.

Now, the Holy Land seeing its stormiest winter weather in a decade. Got some images for you from Jerusalem. Heavy snowfall there overnight. Does not happen very often. Schools and businesses were closed, transportation limited. Crews now working on restoring electricity to thousands of people.

For the rest, snow day is, of course, always fun for children. And even the country's president got outside to help build a snowman. Shimon Peres, there. But nearby, brutal winter weather is making dire conditions even more unbearable, especially tough for thousands of Syrian refugees.

And during the frigid temperatures in flimsy tents that were not designed for such weather, Nick Paton Walsh now takes us to the Zaatari refugee camp. This is in Jordan where families have been struggling to make it through.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In Jordan, life was supposed to get better for these Syrians, but in Zaatari camp, lives are collapsing all over again.

These flatlands conjuring unimaginable cold, rain, wind, and simply too many people to fit. Some nights nearly 2,000 Syrians arrive here. It can't grow fast enough.

"There were children sleeping inside," he says. "See what happened."

Water destroyed here this family's second home in four months. Fire lit by the regime destroyed their first in the city of Daraa.

"They destroyed everything," he says. "We left the house because it was burned."

"They destroyed the house," she says. "The police came in and burned it. There's water in the tent, inside, everywhere around. All our blankets are destroyed."

They have lost their original homes to the war, but now in the dead of night, their new tents, so often flooded with icy cold rainwater, causing thousands of people in this camp to seek drier areas if at all possible. And still, every night, hundreds pour in seeking refuge, even here from the escalating violence inside Syria.

They pack up hoping for new tents, but in these icy storms without solid prefab housing, it's a matter of time until they may move again.

The U.N. say they can't afford to do more.

ANDREW HARPER, REPRESENTATIVE TO JORDAN, UNHCR: We've got 20 percent of the population is under the age of 4. We're getting children five- days-old, nine-days-old, ten-days-old, and they're coming across in these sort of conditions.

We knew this was coming. We knew that the weather was going to get worse. And it's not going to be the last of the wet weather and the snow, unfortunately.

WALSH: So, why isn't there more prefab housing if you knew it was coming?

HARPER: It's money, simple as that. Our funding is about 25- to about 50-percent of what we asked for.

WALSH: So far, the U.N. insists, despite rumors flooding the camp, children are not dying of the cold. But they are simply holding back the tide. Snow is coming.

French soldiers providing medical care to those who reach their tiny field hospital.

What are the kind of injuries you see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essentially war injuries, shrapnel wounds, gunshot wounds, explosions.

WALSH: The trauma of 22 months' brutality evident in the faces of the old and of the young. Numb, perhaps, but tellingly finding this cruel world better than the maelstrom they left behind.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Meanwhile, Australia bracing for more fires. Now the temperatures are heating up again after a slight cool down. More than 100 fires are already burning in New South Wales. Firefighters calling it the worst outbreak they have ever seen. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed along with sheep and almost a million acres of farmland. Australia is in its worst heat wave on record. All sorts of records have been broken.

Also, the Australian wet season has not arrived. It should have by now. Conditions that have turned large areas of bush and scrub into a tinderbox. Some families who were forced from their homes now returning to see the devastation firsthand.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we were home like we normally are, I really don't think we would have got out at all. So, someone was looking after us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bit shocked and devastated, but we'll just start tidying up and rebuilding now, I suppose.


HOLMES: Well, that's the spirit, isn't it?

Well, he's too sick to be sworn in as president, but that's not stopping Venezuelans from taking to the streets in support of Hugo Chavez. We'll have that and a lot more when we come back.


HOLMES: We'll take you now to the White House where Vice President Joe Biden just made an announcement on that gun task force that we've been discussing.

Biden has been meeting, as we said earlier, with members of gun advocacy groups, including the NRA looking for ways to curb gun violence.

Let's listen to part of what he said.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You all know this is a complicated issue. There's no singular solution to how we deal with the kind of things that happened up in Newtown or in Colorado or the general gun violence that exists in America today.

The president and I and the cabinet, we understand that it's a complicated issue. And that's why when the president asked me to do this in conjunction with my colleagues in the cabinet we put together a pretty extensive list of what I would consider -- we consider the stakeholders and wanting to deal with the issue of gun violence in America. And the first groups we met with will not surprise you because of my long association, but with all the national law enforcement organizations, but we also -- just to give you a sense of what we've done so far and how you kind of fit into the matrix here -- is we met with the medical community, the Academy of Family Physicians, the Academy of Neurology, Pediatrics, et cetera, a group about 15 leading medical doctors, representing organizations across the country who've had an interest in us dealing with this issue.

We've met with at-risk youth and children advocacy groups from the After-School Alliance to Promise America to Boys and Girls clubs, et cetera, because part of this is cultural as well as it is the actual weapons themselves.