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All Eyes on the Senate in Cliffhanger; SEAL Cmdr. Dies in Apparent Suicide; Potential Pentagon Chief Draws Fire

Aired December 24, 2012 - 11:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Carol, thank you.

And hi, everybody. I'm Alina Cho, in for Ashleigh Banfield today. So glad you're with us on this Christmas Eve.

And topping our news, speaking of Christmas, if you're hoping for a fiscal cliff averting, tax-reforming, deficit cutting package all wrapped in a big red bow, better fire off a quick note to Santa. A so-called grand bargain isn't going to come from Washington by Christmas or even New Year's when all sorts of tax increases and automatic spending cuts begin to take effect.

Later this week, the Senate may take up President Obama's bare bones stopgap measure. That plan would block tax hikes for households earning less than $250,000. It would extend unemployment benefits to 2 million Americans and put off spending cuts until the New Year brings a new Congress.

Our expert on all matters relating to the fiscal cliff is Dana Bash. She joins me now from Washington.

So, Dana, great to see you again.

Tell me does even a Band-Aid approach stand any chance of passing before the New Year?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know what? It is going to be tough, very tough. And the reason is just because this is all math, right? But it really has to do with the math with regard to votes.

And Democrats especially who I'm talking to in the Senate which is probably where this will originate, they say, look, the reality still is that Democrats don't hold a very big majority. They're going to need to have a handful if not more of Republicans to cross party lines and vote with them on the whole concept of raising any taxes, especially what the president wants, which is something that is anathema to many Republicans which is raising taxes on all Americans making more than $250,000.

That's the Senate. Never mind the House, which of course, made clear to the House Speaker that they won't even go for something that's a million dollars or more when it comes to tax increases. That, of course, was last week. CHO: Yes, it's pretty incredible.

BASH: Yes, exactly --


BASH: So, it's very, very difficult.

CHO: Yes. And you were saying that when you were reporting on it when that was breaking that evening, you called that really devastating for John Boehner. And so, now the Republicans have clearly rebelled against John Boehner.

Can the Senate save the day? I guess that's the big question, right?

BASH: You know, we'll see. We'll see what happens when the Senate comes back on Thursday. That's at least the plan right now, the House as well.

But, again, it all has to do with those votes. And as far as I'm told, there are no discussions going on, no real talks about trying to find common ground or more specifically to find those votes.

We did hear from some Republicans over the weekend who -- you would be surprised they would say they'd vote for any tax increases, but they did, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, maybe Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, who is retiring at the end of the year. So, we'll see.

But the betting from Democratic and Republican sources at this point is that we're likely to go over the fiscal cliff and there's a big political reason for that, Alina, and that is once we go over the cliff, everybody's taxes go up. And that's important to remember. Everybody's taxes go up.

The way that lawmakers will be able to vote to change that is for a tax cut. Now, they're going to be voting for a tax hike of some sort. And there's a very different political reality between those two votes.

CHO: Well, let's hope they meet in the middle, somebody has got to give, right, between now and the end of the year -- we hope.

All right. Dana Bash, thank you. We'll talk to you later.

BASH: Thank you.

CHO: And stick around, at half past the hour, we'll check out the view of the fiscal cliff from Hawaii. Our Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president. She's going to join us live. That's about 25 minutes from now.

U.S. Senator Michael Crapo says he's deeply sorry for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Idaho Republican who is also a Mormon was pulled over, tested and arrested after running a red light early yesterday morning in Alexandria, Virginia. Crapo says he made a mistake and deal with whatever penalty he is given. The U.S. Navy SEALs are again mourning the loss of one of their own. A military official tells CNN that Commander Job Price apparently died Saturday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while serving in Afghanistan. Price was a commanding officer of SEAL Team Four. That's the unit with more than two dozen members that operates in central Afghanistan.

The official says there's no indication at this point that Price was under any investigation or involved in any controversies.

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has not been nominated as Defense Secretary, but senators, including members of his own party, already signaling an uphill confirmation battle if he is.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Star has more on this surprising backlash.

I have to tell you, Barbara -- good morning to you -- you know, I think a lot of people thought after Susan Rice's nomination for secretary of state went away and everybody thought, OK, here's John Kerry. He's going to sail through the confirmation process. So is Chuck Hagel. You know, I think a lot of people were surprised by this news.

What happened?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, in the classic Washington case, people are asking the question, was Hagel a trial balloon being floated that already is getting holes poked in it. Not nominated yet, but all the chatter had been he was the front runner to be President Obama's choice as Secretary of Defense. Where that stand now is no announcement, the silence is deafening from the White House, from the administration.

But the opposition already mounting. A lot of criticism coming from both Republicans and Democrats about some of Hagel's positions while he served in the Senate, where I've got to tell you, over the last several years he's been known as somewhat of an independent maverick. Concerns about his position on Iran, was he strong enough about Iran being a terrorist state, about voting for sanctions against Iran.

But a lot of it focusing on his position regarding Israel, many criticizing him of a remark he made back in 2007 about the, quote, "Jewish lobby in Washington." A lot of pro-Israeli groups coming out, voicing their concerns.

I want to play you just now a bit of a commercial already running on television opposing Hagel, even though he's not nominated.


NARRATOR: President Obama says all options are on the table for preventing a nuclear Iran. Hagel says military action is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.

President Obama, for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option.


STARR: But, you know, if the White House was thinking of nominating Hagel because he was a Republican, an independent, it would bring some bipartisan support to a second Obama administration, over the weekend, a very prominent independent and Republican voice in the Senate offered their thoughts. Have a listen.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I would have some really serious questions to ask him. Not just about Israel, but to me, the most significant for a policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran, and its nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think he'll get many Republican votes. I like Chuck, but his positions I didn't really quite, frankly, know all of them, are really out of the mainstream and well to the left of the president.


STARR: So this so-called Hagel nomination that hasn't even happened yet, it's at least going to sit, you know, I think until well after the New Year. No indication at this point of a nomination coming forth. And that builds up a lot of time for some of his opponents to launch their attacks -- Alina.

CHO: And I know there are other names floating out there in Washington if he doesn't get the nomination. So, Barbara Starr following the story for us from the Pentagon -- Barbara, thank you.

STARR: Sure.


CHO: Newtown, Connecticut, memorial sites where Americans around the country and really around the world have gathered to support each other and honor the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting will now become of a permanent memorial.

Newtown, Connecticut's first selectman Pat Llodra joins me now on the phone. She is leading the effort.

Ms. Llodra, thank you so much for joining us.

Tell me a little bit about this effort to preserve these memorials. What's the process and when will it begin?

PAT LLODRA, FIRST SELECTMAN (via telephone): The process will begin probably later this week. The magnitude of the outpouring of sympathy and flowers and teddy bears and beautiful prayers and posters and signs is really overwhelming and very much valued and honored by our town. So, we have decided that we would convert all of those items, those tributes into product that would be part of our permanent memorial.

We don't know what the nature of that memorial will be or even where it will be located at this point, but we know that we will be preserving all those items probably in the form of soil or in some related form if the product is inappropriate for soil, it might become a brick or something of substance that would be part of this permanent memorial that will be planned for some time in the near future.

CHO: I mean, I think the images of those memorials are so powerful. And particularly for so many people who can't get to Newtown, Connecticut. So comforting to see all of that. As I'm sure it is for you.

Having said that, there are so many thousands of flowers, cards, teddy bears, trees, each probably having very special meaning. How will you even -- will you even try to keep them all and what will you do if you don't?

LLODRA: We can't keep them all. The ones -- the tributes that I'm speaking of specifically are the ones that have been located outside. So those can no longer be preserved, but we want to make them a part of our heartfelt sympathy and remembrance for those who lost their lives.

So this was the best way we could think of to do that. You know, we have had some weather situations here over the past couple days and many of the materials really would not be preservable in an appropriate form. So we think it's fitting that all of those kindnesses be part of the permanence of the offering for those who died.

CHO: Can you tell me a little bit more -- I know you're still working out and it's still early, but if you were to envision what you wanted the permanent memorial to look like, is it a museum, is it a park? What -- have you spoken to people in Newtown, what do they want?

LLODRA: Well, we have many, many, many wonderful ideas and concepts and suggestions that are pouring in from all over the world. And many of those elegant suggestions and meaningful suggestions are also coming from members of our community.

I think the process here has to be to collect all of those wonderful ideas and then have a group of people that represent our community really look at those ideas and do some good thinking about what's right and fitting for our community and what is right and fitting for this event, understanding that it was young school children and school personnel who are so grievously hurt in this event and the incident occurred on school property, so there's clearly a connection with schooling and education.

But there's also a great value in this community for memorializing in terms of a park or a playful place, but also a place of quiet. So I think all of those ideas will be seriously considered and evaluated and a decision was made by a group of people that will be selected for that purpose. CHO: Well, I wish you the best of luck, First Selectman of Newtown, Pat Llodra. I think I speak for everyone around the country and around the world when I say I wish you a holiday season of healing and I wish you the best of luck as you preserve all of these memorials around Newtown. Thank you so much.

LLODRA: I appreciate that so much. Have a peace-filled holiday.

CHO: Thank you so much. And please keep us posted on your progress.


CHO: Welcome back. It's 18 minutes after the hour.

2012 was a year filled with bright moments, significant achievements and of course, tragedy. There were stories and people that grabbed our attention and kept us talking, and talking -- people for better or for worse who captured the spotlight in 2012. So we asked you to decide, and we listened to you.

Here's Brooke Baldwin with what you, the viewer, chose as the top 10 most intriguing people of this year.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Number 10: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The United States Supreme Court in a major decision, a 5-4 decision, upholds the president's health care reform law.

BALDWIN: You could have imagined the deciding vote was cast by the chief justice himself. Conservatives stunned. Liberals perplexed but thrilled. Forging ahead, the Roberts court takes on same-sex marriage.

Number nine: Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer. At 37, head of a major tech company, a CEO in a male-dominated field, pregnant. It's the baby part that became problematic, shall we say, when Meyer decided to take just a couple of weeks for maternity leave. The mommy blogosphere went nuts. Sure, she could be woman in charge, but what message was she sending by not staying home longer with her baby?

Number eight: South Korean rapper Psy.


BALDWIN: Say what you want, his lasso inspired dance style first discovered on YouTube had everyone going Gangnam. And we mean everyone.

ALAN SIMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The lasso again and then the horseback.

BALDWIN: Psy was riding high in 2012, star performer in the most watched YouTube video of all time.


BALDWIN: Number seven: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election is over, but our principles endure.

BALDWIN: Romney ran on his impressive business credentials, but it was his multiple gaffes during the campaign that analysts say helped seal his fate. Remember the 47 percent comments?

ROMNEY: The 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government --

BALDWIN: Oh. And this one --

ROMNEY: Binders full of women.

BALDWIN: Number six: ex-CIA director, General David Petraeus.

Have some breaking news now coming in regarding the chief of the CIA, General David Petraeus.

REPORTER: General Petraeus, can you talk with us, please?

BALDWIN: The news was unexpected. The reason, shocking. Petraeus, a retired four-star general, had quit his CIA post and admitted he had cheated on his wife.

Petraeus' mistress was also his biographer, Paula Broadwell -- an embarrassing exit from the public stage by one of the most respected public servants of his time.


CHO: And don't touch that remote. There is more -- much more. We're going to show you who you picked as the top five most intriguing people of 2012. That's coming up next right after the break.


CHO: Just before the break, we showed you five of the ten people who you the viewer picked as this year's most intriguing. Stories filled with bright moments and of course, tragedy.

Here's Brooke Baldwin with the top five people who made their mark, for better or for worse.


BALDWIN: Number five: super jumper Felix Baumgartner. Let's face it -- he did what no human has ever done, diving 24 miles from the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier along the way.

FELIX BAUMGARTNER, STRATOSPHERE JUMPER: I'm still the same guy, but as soon as you start traveling, people do recognize my face.

I was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were scared?

BAUMGARTNER: I was a little bit scared.

BALDWIN: Number four: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The shore and the boardwalk in Seaside Heights of my childhood no longer exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for everything.

BALDWIN: The rough and tumble governor took charge when a super storm named Sandy ravaged his state days before the presidential election. A Romney backer, suddenly Christie was standing arm in arm with the president, praising Mr. Obama's leadership as they toured Sandy's wrath.

CHRISTIE: When you know you have responsibility for those folks, you could give a damn about the politics of things. I could care less today.

BALDWIN: Number three: Olympian Gabby Douglas.

ANNOUNCER: Gabby Douglas!

BALDWIN: One of the fab five of the London Games, she captured our hearts, becoming the first African-American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all around and team competitions at the same Olympics.

GABBY DOUGLAS, U.S. OLYMPIC CHAMPION: I wanted to inspire a nation, and the whole point about this is inspire a generation. And I love that.

BALDWIN: She did just that.

Number two: school age activist Malala Yousafzai. Malala rose to fame blogging about the brutality of her life in Pakistan under Taliban rule. Not yet a teenager, she dared to suggest girls not only deserve but have a right to an education.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI, PAKISTANI TEEN ACTIVIST: I will get my education if it is in home, school or any place.

BALDWIN: The Taliban retaliated, hunting her down, shooting her in the neck and back. The attack outraged even hardened Pakistanis, and all around the world Malala quickly became an international symbol of good against evil. Today she is recovering in England.

Number one: President Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, you voted for action. Not politics as usual.

BALDWIN: After a long -- and we mean long -- and bitter campaign, President Obama won re-election. In 2012, the president also won the Supreme Court's stamp of approval for his health care reform program and made history with this statement.

OBAMA: I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

BALDWIN: As 2012 comes to a close, the president joined in grief with a community shocked by senseless violence.

OBAMA: These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

BALDWIN: Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Atlanta.


CHO: President Obama, also "TIME" magazine's person of the year. Don't miss our top 10 special as CNN revisits the stories that captured our nation's attention. Our Don Lemon shares the biggest stories of the year in crime, politics, money and even the most scandalous.

The top 10 of 2012 -- that's tomorrow night, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.