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The Gap Between Rich And Poor; Second Chemical Involved In Spill; Charges Straight Out Of "Goodfellas"

Aired January 23, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In other political news, I think this has to be a first, two Democrats fighting over who gets to pay for Pre-K funding like picking up the check at the end of the meal. But that is what is happening in New York City right now. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a state budget that included $1.5 billion to fund Pre-K programs across the state. Back in New York City, Bill De Blasio says he has that money and he'll tax the wealthiest living in his city.

CNN national correspondent, Deb Feyerick, is here with more -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, imagine butting heads over a total of $2.2 billion, the governor says, I've got it covered. The mayor says, not so fast. These are two friends within the political arena, but they are also former colleagues. It is becoming increasingly clear, however that they have a growing practical, philosophical and political divide.


GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK CITY: It's time for New York State to have universal full day Pre-K statewide.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Less than 24 hours after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo offered $2.2 billion to pay for Pre-K and after-school programs, New York City's mayor essentially said thanks but no thanks.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: I want revenue that the people of New York City provide and control.

FEYERICK: Mayor Bill De Blasio says he promised voters he would tax the New York City's rich to pay for Pre-K. It's a promise he intends to keep. Governor Cuomo is running for re-election and he's adamantly opposed to raising taxes. Speaking on radio, one of his top aides questioned the mayor's logic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the money is there, why raise taxes on anybody to pay for something when you don't need the money for it.

FEYERICK: Conservative critic and New York City resident, Amy Holmes, says Mayor De Blasio is being disingenuous. If, in fact, his real goal was to get universal pre-k, well, he got it. AMY HOLMES, ANCHOR, THEBLAZE.COM: Mayor De Blasio is a progressive leftist and his agenda is to raise taxes. I think it exposes his ideology and his true agenda.

FEYERICK: The mayor can't raise taxes without getting the approval of state lawmakers. He says he needs dedicated revenue immediately and not an inconsistent money stream subjected to the whims of state politicians.

BLASIO: When we've had our own revenue dedicated and consistent, we've been able to achieve consistent outcomes.

FEYERICK: The governor's team questions what happens to those Pre-K and after-school programs when the mayor's five-year tax plan ends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going to happen after the five years?

FEYERICK: A De Blasio official tells CNN the mayor is happy to use the governor's $2.2 billion on other school programs reliant on state money, just not universal Pre-k or after school, which he wants the rich to pay for.

DOUG MUZZIO, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, BARUCH COLLEGE: He does not hate the rich. He wants more New Yorkers, if not to become rich, certainly to become middle class and move up the socioeconomic ladder.


FEYERICK: So how does it resolve itself? Who picks up the check as you say? That's anyone's guess, but the kids at least are winning because both men are on the same page when it comes to having universal pre-care and after-school programs. The question in this political war is to tax or not to tax -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Deb Feyerick, thank you so much. Mayor De Blasio is actually not in New York today. He is here in Washington, D.C. with other mayors meeting with President Obama at a White House reception. He spoke to reporters defending why he thinks his proposal to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers makes sense.


DE BLASIO: This question of inequality and the lack of opportunity, people are feeling this all over the country. Mayors feel it profoundly because we're close to the ground. I think this will be the paradigm going forward while we constantly work to get Washington into the game.


TAPPER: President Obama seems to agree with the mayor. He's expected to talk about incoming equality in his "State of the Union" address next week and the president said this when he met with De Blasio and other mayors at the White House last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We still have a lot of work to do to deliver a vision that we all share, which is an America where if you work hard, you can make it.


TAPPER: So is this about fulfilling campaign promises in Manhattan, Queens, et cetera both for De Blasio and Cuomo who is running for re- election and wants to lower taxes or is this part of a larger fight against income inequality with national implications?

Let's bring Rick Lazio, a former Republican U.S. congressman from New York who is now a partner at the law firm, Jones, Walker, and Peter Beinart, a contributing editor for "The Atlantic" and "The National Journal." Thank you both for being here.

Rick, Mayor De Blasio argues he's fulfilling a campaign promise. He was overwhelmingly elected with 73 percent of the vote and this is what he told the voters he was going to do.


RICK LAZIO (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes. I mean, absolutely. Nobody should be surprised by the fact that Bill De Blasio is advocating policies that are re-distributional policies. I mean, this is what he's talked about during the entire campaign, income inequality. Interesting today, there was a release of a Harvard study, a very well respected group of authors that have now documented after looking at millions of income tax returns.

That income inequality has not changed over the last 20 years. Maybe the real issue is productivity mobility and not income mobility. That's an issue that I think you'll see Republicans I hope engage in with President Obama and this will be much more of an issue over the coming weeks and months.

TAPPER: Peter, what do you say to people who view this as just the redistribution of wealth and not a particularly effective way to help with income inequality?

PETER BEINART, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC" AND "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Look, the government is inevitably in the business of redistribution of wealth. I think the good news here is that you have two politicians fighting over how to provide universal Pre-k and there is good evidence that giving poor kids Pre-K gives them a chance of not falling behind when they are in primary and secondary school and having a chance of going to college and we know the best way for poor kids out of poverty is college.

So in general I think this is a really good thing. I think that probably there's a pragmatic solution to the conflict between these two guys. What De Blasio needs is enough money to provide the Pre-k he wants. Cuomo's initial proposal was not enough money, but I think if Cuomo ultimately comes up with enough money to sustain this over a five-year period, I think De Blasio may have to step down. TAPPER: Rick, I want to touch on something that you seem to be alluding to, when you said you hoped Republicans would be talking about this. Do you think the Republican Party has put enough focus, in recent years, in moving people up the economic ladder? I mean, I'm old enough to remember Jack Kemp Republicans who talk about opportunity for people. Did that idea die with Jack Kemp, rest in peace?

LAZIO: It didn't die, but Jack Kemp was the last effective communicator on the issues of poverty and income mobility among Republicans I would argue. You now have Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan both delivering speeches talking about this issue. It's an important issue for Republicans to engage in. What they have to make the case about is this is not just about income mobility and inequality.

It's about building skills and productivity so that people can move from those bottom rungs and stay elevated, not by taking from one and giving to the other, but by building the skills so that they can get better jobs, get employed, build capital and own their own businesses.

That ought to be the message and the aspiration that Republicans talk about and when president Obama, and I'm confident he will in his "State of the Union," gives remarks that addresses income mobility and disparity, it's important the Republicans kind of remind people of the facts embodied in these two recent studies.

And the fact that they think this is a real issue, but the answer is not redistribution. The answer is building skills through, yes, better education, better access to education, better access to capital, helping people to build the skills so they can be employed and earn more.

TAPPER: Peter, I want to put up this poll about how Americans think that income inequality has changed over the last decade, 65 percent think the gap has gone up between rich and the poor. In the last 10 years, what has happened between the gap?

BEINART: I think the most important thing to know about this question about income inequality and mobility is that it's almost universal accepted now that there is less upward mobility in the United States than there is in most of Europe and in Canada. I mean, that's really shocking when you think about the fact that we define ourselves as Americans almost more than anything else as a society where people are not prisoners of their verdict.

In the United States today you are more a prisoner of your birth economically than you are in Europe, which we tend to define ourselves against. The pro -- the supporting universal Pre-k because we know how much of learning happens now when you're 2, 3, 4, 5 years old is a really good way of giving poor kids the skills they need to compete.

So my question for Republicans would be, why have you not proposed this? Why are you not coming up with the money to do the kind of the thing that we know will give poor kids a more equal chance of getting ahead?

TAPPER: Well, Congressman Lazio, where is the money? The money has to come from something. If not higher taxes and Republicans in general take a hard line against tax increases, where should the money come from to fund the programs that you're talking about?

LAZIO: Well, I actually think there are some early childhood education programs that work. Not everyone does and success doesn't get measured by how much the federal government spent in an area. Parents, for example, play an incredible -- the most important role in determining whether that child has the skills for development and the encouragement to stay in school, graduate, get a high school diploma, go on to college. And that's something that the left doesn't want to talk about, unfortunately.

BEINART: That's not true.

LAZIO: The Republicans can contribute to the debate by talking about the fact that we do need balance. There are things the government can do, but you look at income disparity and it's as if, you know, Republicans look at it as a symptom. Many Democrats on the left look at it as a disease --

BEINART: It's just nonsense. Barack Obama has given speech after speech after speech, especially in the African-American community, talking about the importance of fathers and turning off the TV, talking about how parents are more important than any social program. But it's not either/or. When you have parents working two, three jobs desperately trying to get by, it's important that they have a good place to send their kids while their kids' brains are developing at critical early ages.

LAZIO: So I agree with much of that. It's absolutely the case. But President Obama has made some speeches. He hasn't sustained any. He hasn't done anything. There are no programs to back this up. We are not doing anything comprehensive and sustain to kind of tell parents it's not just about bad teachers or bad schools. Parents themselves have to be more involved in helping to encourage children to do their homework, to go to class, to build the skills and have the commitment to be good students and to stay at it, even when they have setbacks.

So, yes, there is a role. I'm not arguing that there isn't any role for some additional resources, especially in the education area. But the message too often I would say on the left, let's just take from one and give to the other. When you look at income inequality in the abstract, that doesn't tell you anything, you want to know, among people, who has made the extra effort? That's what America is all about. It's about opportunity, not guarantees.

TAPPER: Peter, I'll give you the last word.

BEINART: That's the point.

TAPPER: Peter, I'll give you the last point.

BEINART: That's the precise point. We live in society where people's chances of succeeding are far too connected to their parents and what they were given at birth rather than to their God-given abilities and ability to work hard. This is really what it is all about and it seems to me the people who succeed the most in America over the last several decades who can afford to do something to create and make this a society where other people have the chance to succeed as they have.

TAPPER: We'll be talking about this a lot more in the coming weeks. Peter Beinart, Rick Lazio, I hope you'll come back and continue the conversation. Thank you so much.

Still ahead, what did Jimmy tell you? Don't buy anything. Did the feds just catch up to the wise guys who pulled off a legendary heist made famous in "Good Fellas?"

And in Pop Culture, can Cliff Huckstable succeed where (inaudible) failed. NBC is hoping that Bill Cosby can fix its sitcom problems, but is America's love affair with '80s sitcom stars over?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for the Buried Lead. These are stories we think are not getting enough attention. By now you've heard that it was a coal processing chemical that leaked into West Virginia's water supply forcing 300,000 people to stop using their faucets for days upon days. No water for drinking. No water for bathing. No water for washing.

Since the spill, 533 people have been evaluated at emergency rooms for potential health issues from the leak according to state health officials. Here's the party that was buried, for the better part of two weeks since it happened. Freedom Industries, the company responsible, waited until Tuesday of this week to tell state and federal regulators that, by the way, there was a second chemical involved in the spill.

Freedom hasn't revealed exactly what the chemical makeup is, saying it is propriety, a trade secret like the colonel's blend of 11 herbs and spices perhaps except with chemicals and not the kind that make you crave chicken. The CDC says it does not believe this new chemical poses a health threat at this point.

But state environmental officials say that by not fully disclosing the nature of the leak in the first place, Freedom Industries violated the law. Whether the company will be held accountable is another matter entirely. The company has filed bankruptcy protection. That's not good for plaintiffs. At least two dozen lawsuits have been filed over the spill so far.

Let's welcome back Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston, West Virginia where the spill originated. Mayor Jones, what do you know about this newly released chemical? Does it make you more nervous about your city's water supply? The other day we have you on you said that you were drinking the water from the tap, are you still?

MAYOR DANNY JONES (R), CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA: Yes, I believe that as long as the water in the systems in our homes and in our businesses, as long as they have been flushed properly, the new water coming in is clean. I believe that. The new chemical that has come out, I'm not a chemist, but I know that I have been told that it's a solid. It does not blend with the water.

So it would have gone in, if somebody would have consumed it, they would have consumed a block of it and it would have caused a rash and maybe some other things that I'm not really educated about. But we don't know of anything like that that's happened. But this is pretty typical of Freedom Industries and basically just a few renegade gangsters that run that company.

TAPPER: How confident are you that in another two weeks Freedom Industries won't come out and say, by the way, there is a third or fourth chemical that was in there. Are you sure that this is it, two chemicals?

JONES: No, I'm not sure. But I would hope that the Department of Environmental Protection, our state environmental protection would have evaluated all of this, would have found a way to have tested the chemicals in these in this plant and in the storage facility to find out exactly what is in there and to determine what all of our future is going to hold.

TAPPER: We have not been able to get any answers directly from Freedom Industries. There was a disastrous news conference on January 10th, of course. Have you been able to talk to anybody at the company to find out the answers to the questions that your constituents need answers to for their health and the health of their children?

JONES: No. And they are not going to talk to us. They had a bankruptcy hearing the other night and they came out of the federal bankruptcy court and would not speak to any of the members of the media or any of the legal representatives that were there and they have assumed the posture of being victims themselves. So we don't look for any type of coherent response out of Freedom and we would hope that our government leaders and mainly the DEP, Department of Environmental Protection, would protect us from Freedom Industries and companies like that.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, I want to read something that your governor, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomlin said on Monday. He said, quote, "it's your decision if you do not feel comfortable in drinking or cooking in this water then use bottled water. I'm not going to say absolutely 100 percent that everything is safe, but what I can say is that if you do not feel comfortable, don't use it."

I got to tell you, Mayor, I would not find that an acceptable statement from my governor about the safety of the water that my kids bathe in. Are you satisfied from that from your governor?

JONES: I've known him for about four decades and I think what he was saying is, if you want to drink bottled water, continue to drink it. We have an abundance of bottled water. It's still being distributed freely in some areas, not as many as we had. The grocery stores are selling it for $1.99 a case. So maybe what he meant to say -- and I don't people for him -- was that if you don't feel comfortable drinking the water, don't drink it. But you can drink this bottled water. There are a lot of people here that still feel that way, unfortunately. I think the water's OK.

TAPPER: Well, God bless the citizens of West Virginia. Mayor Danny Jones, thank you so much for your time.

Coming up next in pop, to quote the famous mob flick, whenever we needed money we'd rob the airports, to us it was better than city bank. A new twist in what wise guys call the greatest heist in American history. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In national news, it's a good story. A certain well-suited gentleman might have even called it funny. Funny how? Funny like I'm a clown, like I'm here to amuse you? To our favorite wise guys, it was the greatest heist in American history. Now decades later, there's finally been an arrest in the real Lufthansa heist. Go ahead and roll it, Tommy.


TAPPER (voice-over): It was the heist that inspired the dramatic climax of the classic 1990 film "Goodfellas."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daring pre-dawn raid at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at Kennedy Airport. The FBI says $2 million.

TAPPER: But 35 years after the record-breaking theft, the real-life wise guys behind the crime are now listening to a different kind of news report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI has arrested a Queens' man in connection with the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist.

TAPPER: The December 1978 Lufthansa robbery at New York's JFK airport was, at the time, the biggest cash heist in American history. And this morning, five members of the Banado crime family including 78- year-old Vincent Asarro, Thomas "Tommy D" Fioro and John Bazurigano were arrested on charges that could have read straight out of a Scorsese script, racketeering, murder, extortion, arson, and, yes, robbery, including the incredible haul of more than $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels from the airport cargo haul. Until now, no one got caught because, as "Goodfellas" taught us --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got out of line, you got whacked. Everybody knew the rules.

TAPPER: Of course, "Goodfellas" is the classic that used the audacious theft as its muse. In the film, just the suspicion that some involve were being indiscreet set off a rash of whackies and real life reports were as many as 16 were killed or went missing in the heist aftermath.

Today's round-up stems from the discovery of human remains last year buried in the basement of the home of the late ring leader, Jimmy "The Gent" Burke. You know, the guy played by De Niro. Allegedly linked to that murder, his son allegedly helped with the cover-up, all five men arraigned in court this afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to go anyplace that's cold.

TAPPER: As for the alter ego, the late Henry Hill, well, he became an FBI informant and died in the summer of 2012, living out the rest of his years with this mantra in mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just trying to be a decent person today and, like I said, everybody is deceased or doing 100 years. So, you know, I don't think I have anyone to worry about.


TAPPER: And in pop culture, Bill Cosby is heading back to TV, but will he bring along with him the biting wit and atrocious sweaters we came to love in the 1980s?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got everything I need for the month.

BILL COSBY: You plan to have a girlfriend?



TAPPER: The comedian has inked a deal with NBC for a new sitcom. According to Deadline, he will play the patriarch of a multigenerational family. We will watch him wave through the muddy waters of parenting and marriage and if NBC gets its way, polarity will ensue and ratings will soar just like they did when the Cosby Show hit the airwaves three decades ago. The timeline for the show's debut has not been released, but Cosby said to be already working with the team of writers.

That's it for THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper.

I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.