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AMERICAN MORNING

Taxpayers Get Lump Of Coal; "Shouldn't Be Politics As Usual"; Obama Approval Rating Rebound; Iowa Faith Group Asked Bachmann To Quit; Santorum Gets Key Conservative Backing; Family: Captured American Is No Spy; U.S.-North Korea Discuss Food Aid; Rise In Home Construction; Iraq's Vice President Denies Allegations; Women Protest Violence in Cairo; Two Earth-Size Planets Discovered; House Rejects Senate's Payroll Tax Plan; Fine Accuser Pleads Guilty To Sex Abuse; Family: Captured American Is No Spy

Aired December 21, 2011 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our House GOP negotiators who are here and ready to work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not Lucy. I'm not Charlie Brown. We're not falling for that again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And taxpayers get a lump of coal. Congress skips town with no action on extending that payroll tax cut. The president is blasting lawmakers for putting politics ahead of your paycheck.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Merry Christmas, Mr. President. His approve rating flirting with 50 percent, his best showing since the spring. The surge coming just in time for an election year.

VELSHI: Scientists find earth's evil twin far, far away. The size is right, but strange life might sizzle on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROMANS: All right. Good morning, everyone. It is Wednesday, December 21st. I'm Christine Romans along with my friend Ali Velshi.

VELSHI: I have to tell you. I'm so excited that there's this news of these new planets. It's different. It's not a political log jam. It's not payroll tax cut. It's not some kind of argument. It's not a poll. New planets! We're going to tell you all about it this morning. Love it.

ROMANS: Other space cases.

VELSHI: That's right. We got to talk about Washington first.

Washington's dysfunction could mean less money in your paycheck next year. Yesterday, the Republican-led House rejected the Senate's two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday.

Now that drew a swift response from President Obama during a surprise visit to the White House briefing room, he railed against the partisan or bust politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I saw today that one of the House Republicans referred to what they're doing as, quote, "high stakes poker." He's right about the stakes, but this is not poker. This is not a game. This shouldn't be politics as usual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Kate Bolduan live in Washington for us. She's been following this at every step. Good morning, Kate. The president seemed a little mad yesterday. It was a surprise that he came out. Bottom line, though, no deal and they've got 10 days to get one. Do you think it's going to happen?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll say this, as this fight's dragged on, Ali, there is a real question now whether Congress will be able to find common ground.

I mean, yesterday, the House rejected the Senate's two- month extension of the payroll tax cut instead pushing for the House and Senate to go to conference, which is a procedural way that the House and Senate do sometimes hash out their differences.

Listen here. This is how House Speaker John Boehner responded to the president shortly after the vote when he said, the House has acted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Now it's up to the president to show real leadership. He said he won't leave town for the holidays until this bill is done. The next step is clear.

I think President Obama needs to call on Senate Democrats to go back into session, move to go to conference and to sit down and resolve this bill as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Well, after that, most House members have since left town. So Senate Democrats, they refused to move to a conference pointing to the bipartisan support for the Senate short-term extension that they passed this past weekend.

So essentially not even essentially, this is definite a standoff, staring contest, Ali, whatever you want to call it, it continues.

VELSHI: What happened to just a bill on Capitol Hill?

BOLDUAN: You know what? That may be a little too simple, when you play -- I am still just a bill, but then throw in politics and -- don't get me started.

VELSHI: That wasn't in the little ditty. Anything supposed to happen today on Capitol Hill that might affect us?

BOLDUAN: Not much. I mean, the negotiators that John Boehner appointed to go to conference, they could meet today. But there's not much, obviously, to negotiate, as the Senate's out and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he is standing firm with the president saying he will not reopen negotiations until the House passes this two-month extension.

The one funny thing that I think we -- or maybe it's just really sad, Ali, that we should remind our viewers that at this point, both sides agree on one thing. They want a one-year extension. They're just talking past each other on how to get there and well then how to pay for it.

VELSHI: Yes, all right. Thank you for that, Kate. We'll check in through the course of the morning. If anything develops, you will let us know. Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill, who's not just a bill.

ROMANS: So talking past each other about $200 billion measure, but they have like $4 trillion, $5 trillion --

VELSHI: That's the problem. They get stuck on the little things.

ROMANS: OK, deep breath.

New poll numbers bring in the president some holiday cheer. His approval rating on the rebound flirting with 50 percent, which means his re-election chances are getting better.

A brand new CNN/ORC poll showing that 49 percent now approved of the job he's doing as president. That's a five-point boost in a month.

CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser live in Washington. Paul, good morning. You know, the news gets even better for the president in the matchups against potential GOP opponents.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, let's get right to those numbers, Christine. We asked about this hypothetical matchup, President Obama versus some of his challengers.

Let's start with Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. It looks like 52 percent for the president, 45 percent for Romney. That's a shift from last month when Romney had a four-point margin over the president.

What about Ron Paul? Well, let's take a look at this one. The president, 52 percent and Ron Paul, 45 percent that's a larger margin for the president over the congressman from Texas than it was last month.

And what about Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker? Well, the president at 56 percent. Look at that a 16-point advantage over Newt Gingrich and last month, it was just an 8-point advantage for the president. So what's behind this boost and these numbers -- the numbers you just showed as well, the approval rating?

Well, what Ali and Kate were just talking about, that battle over the extended payroll tax cut and the Democrats in the White House's attempt, I guess to portray the Republicans as kind of, you know, being in favor or helping out the wealthy.

One thing about all these numbers though, Christine, remember polls change, people change their minds. The election is 11 months away. It's a long way to go.

ROMANS: It sure is. You know, Paul, Michele Bachmann's campaign claims that she was asked to drop out of the Iowa race. What can you tell us about that?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, here's the story line on this one. Yesterday, just two weeks to go until those caucuses, a guy called one of the leading prominent Iowa faith leaders.

He endorsed, personally endorsed, Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator for president, for the nomination. Now, Bachmann's campaign, you know, Bachmann has been reaching out to social conservatives in Iowa.

She says her campaign says that they called them on Saturday and asked them to consider the possibility of merging with another candidate and they did not say whether it should be president or vice president and the campaign, the Bachmann campaign, of course, well, we did not consider that at all. So this story, I'm sure has more tales to be told.

ROMANS: All right, Paul Steinhauser. You know, we're going to ask Congresswoman Bachmann about her campaign's claim that the family leader wanted her out and about her chances in Iowa in two weeks when she joins us here at 7:30 Eastern.

VELSHI: And of course, on that same topic, Rick Santorum is talking about that endorsement from the family leader, the group that reportedly wanted Bachmann out. Not from the family leader itself, but from its leader.

Santorum has placed all his chips on winning the Iowa caucuses. He's visited all 99 counties in the state. Michele Bachmann says she will have done the same thing. Now, Santorum told John King it's a sign of all the hard work in Iowa and it's paying off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel very confident that, you know, our campaign is on the rise, and the governor told me early on. You can't buy Iowa. You've got to work it and we've done it.

We've -- actually, 349 town hall meetings, which we'll finish by the end of this week. I'm not predicting any order of finish. Look, we're in the bottom right now of your poll and you're telling me top three finishes.

We're going to do better than everybody else projects. We're focused on trying to win here in Iowa and that's where we want to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now the leaders of the group, the family leader, we'll talk to them later on. That is the same group that asked candidates to sign a marriage vow that originally included a line suggesting black children born into slavery were better off in terms of family life than African-American kids born today.

That line was later taken out. Now the Santorum endorsement comes with a little controversy. After the "Des Moines Register" reported that the family leader asked for money in return for its influential backing.

A Santorum spokesman said he's campaign made no deal with the group. We'll speak with a man later who said the family leader only asked for cash so it could help promote the candidate. Not because it was trying to sell its support.

We will ask him for answers about the report. The Santorum decision and what happened with his conversation with Michele Bachmann. He'll join us at 8:10 Eastern.

ROMANS: Yes, look forward to that. All right, people in the plains states this morning are dealing with what's left of a deadly and blinding winter storm.

Forecasters are warning pre-holiday travel might be close to impossible in several states. The storm left a sheet of ice and two feet of snow in some areas.

You know, highways are still closed, and cars stranded across five states including Highway 50 in Kansas. You're looking at it right here. Winter storm warnings are up again as another storm moves in there.

VELSHI: Rob's in Atlanta for us. You warned us about this earlier in the week. How's it looking? Is it passing through? What else you got on the map?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The good news is, is that we're looking at rain now across much of the northeast. Here it is that's moving there. So the back side of this thing was the worst part of it, but we do have another system that's coming on the gills of it.

But if you are traveling eastward the rainfall, it will be a bigger issue than the snow with this system. The next system could cause a little bit more in the way of some problems. New York, Philly with some rain and low clouds.

Boston, Charlotte, Atlanta, D.C., almost rain and low clouds, Detroit and Chicago, St. Louis and Cleveland also. Fog, a big problem this morning because of the mild air and all the moisture in place with this system as it heads off to the east.

All right, next system coming in will drop in out of Canada. It will get into the I-plains and northern Rockies, drop into Denver. That will be a problem later on today, tonight and tomorrow.

New Mexico, which just got slammed with this last storm, five to eight inches of snow expected with this. Roads are now or at least the interstates are now open in New Mexico and Kansas, Texas and Eastern Colorado, the places that were shut down with this last storm.

A lot of state roads and state highways, guys, remain closed. We'll update you more on the storm a little later on.

VELSHI: Christine is driving -- you're running from Chicago to Iowa?

ROMANS: No, from New York to Iowa. I know. I'm crazy. All weather permitting. Looking at Rob Marciano like he's my guru.

VELSHI: He's good at this. Rob, do me a favor, on Thursday morning, that's tomorrow, can you do a Christmas snow map? Where it's likely to be a white Christmas? I don't know if that a meteorological thing.

MARCIANO: I'm glad you gave me 24 hours to work that out. By the way, I'm off tomorrow, but you know --

VELSHI: You'll pass that on to whoever -- I would love a Christmas map tomorrow. Whatever, there are a lot of things in life I'd like. I'd like to look like Brad Pitt too. That's not working out.

ROMANS: I know. I'd like a million dollars in small unmarked bills and so far, you've never been able to turn in that for me.

All right, new this morning, the family of an accused U.S. spy captured in Iran says these allegations are untrue. Amir Hakmadi (ph) is a former U.S. Marine.

This week Iranian officials aired video of his confessing to being a trained CIA spy. His family says that the confession is obviously false and likely coerced. They say he was in Iran visiting his grandmother.

VELSHI: The U.S. talks with North Korea, the first contact since the death of leader Kim Jong-Il. A State Department spokesman says it was a technical discussion about how the U.S. could provide food aid to North Korea. Officials say further discussions will most likely be put on hold as the period of mourning for Kim Jong-Il runs through next week. ROMANS: Signs of strength. I can't believe I'm reading these words -- signs of strength in the housing market. The number of new homes breaking ground rose to an annual rate of 685,000 in November.

That's up a whopping 24 percent from a year earlier and that helped spark a surge on Wall Street. The Dow was up more than 300 points. That rally may be extended for another day. Right now, U.S. stock futures are up significantly.

VELSHI: We should remember it's a slow trading week. A lot of people are gone so something that otherwise would have a muted reaction in the market, up or down, exaggerated.

ROMANS: And there was strong data from Europe, too, on their economy and that was important. Remember, the housing starts are still way down from where they were in 2006. But any little piece of good news was something Wall Street wanted to hear.

VELSHI: All right, explosive allegations just as U.S. troops have left Iraq. Coming up, Iraq's Sunni vice president responds to allegations that he is behind a hit squad that's been targeting public officials.

ROMANS: Sharp criticism from Senator John McCain, why he says the president shouldn't be doing victory laps after the last American troops left Iraq.

VELSHI: And Homeland Security is making big chances on the U.S. border bringing in high-tech surveillance aircraft and shipping out guards on the ground. Details on this new strategy straight ahead. It is 13 minutes after the hour. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: An arrest warrant has been issued and he's been barred from travel. But Iraq's Sunni Vice President is denying terror charges. The Iraqi government claims Tariq al-Hashemi organized a death squad targeting government and military officials. It's the sign of escalating sectarian tensions on the heels of the American troop withdrawal.

Let's go to Arwa Damon. She's live in Baghdad. Arwa, good morning. You know, what al-Hashemi is saying about these charges?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's saying that they've been fabricated and they are -- that they are politically motivated. You must remember that al-Hashemi is a Sunni leader here, the Vice President. He's the senior most Sunni to hold a government position.

And his party, Iraqiya, have been accusing the Iraqi Prime Minister, who is a Shia, of trying to consolidate power and take out his opponents one by one. So this is very much being viewed by the Sunnis as just being another maneuver by a Shia dominated government to try to consolidate more power. The issue, Christine, is that this threatens to rip the country apart along sectarian lines once again. The Vice President is currently in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. He's saying he's willing to stand trial only if it's not in Baghdad. Because the judiciary here he says is mired in politics.

ROMANS: Now, what -- the other side. What does the prime minister is saying?

DAMON: Well, we heard from Prime Minister al-Maliki in a press conference that just ended a short while ago. He is saying that the Vice President must see justice, that the Iraqi government is quite simply implementing rule of law and he's actually demanding that the Kurdistan regional government hand al-Hashemi over to the Central Iraqi authorities.

And this, again, threatens to open up yet another potential battle line here that one between the Arabs and the Kurds. The issue right now is that this is so mired in politics, and politics as we know very well given Iraq's recent history tend to go hand in hand with violence. So great concerns that this situation is moving towards and this from which is going to be incredibly difficult for the various parties to dial the nation back from -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Arwa Damon. Thank you very much, Arwa.

VELSHI: Well, a symbolic end to the conflict in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. ARMY: I'd like to report the safe return of the colors of the United States Forces Iraq to the rightful place of the United States of America.

VELSHI (voice-over): And the return of those colors at a ceremony outside of Washington yesterday. Army General Lloyd Austin returned the United States Forces Iraq command flag, which once flew over Baghdad.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined military officials for the traditional homecoming. It is the formal conclusion of the nine-year war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI (on camera): Meantime, some people are still questioning the decision about the full withdrawal of troops. On "THE SITUATION ROOM" yesterday, Senator John McCain said an American presence is needed in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's ironic that the President and Vice President are taking victory laps while the government in Iraq unravels more rapidly than I thought, but I thought it would unravel and simply because we did not maintain a residual force of some 20,000 troops which we should have, which the Obama administration would never agree to a specific number, and now the president's re-election campaign is already putting out propaganda saying, promises kept.

It's really a low point in my view in the history of American involvement in national security affairs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Senator McCain went on to say that the U.S. was never serious about keeping a residual force in Iraq.

ROMANS: All right. The Department of Homeland Security has a new strategy for U.S. border protection. They're flying in new high- tech surveillance aircraft to -- to spot smugglers and catch illegal immigrants. They're shipping out three quarters of National Guard troops downsizing from 1,200 to 300 on the ground.

Homeland officials say that the changes will increase border security. They've already seen arrests dropped more than 50 percent in the last three years. The Republican lawmakers say draw downs on the ground troops could undermine border security.

VELSHI: All right, still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, his economic plan has been endorsed by "The Wall Street Journal's" editorial board, but what's in Huntsman's plan and what does it mean for your money? We're going to break it down for you.

ROMANS: And why are they calling it the very bottom --

VELSHI: Yes. Bottom of the --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: He's the economic plan that the "Journal" really likes.

All right, from a -- a guy with a loyal pack of Internet- obsessed followers to serious contender. Could Ron Paul really win Iowa, and could the GOP live with that?

It's 21 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Twenty-four minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

U.S. stock futures are up again after a promising housing report helped send the Dow up 337 points. New home construction jumped more than nine percent in November, much higher than expected. Housing permits are a gauge of future construction and may climb nearly six percent.

Positive news from Europe also helping to lift stocks today. Struggling banks there can begin placing orders for unlimited three- year loans from the European Central Bank. It's an attempt to keep credit flowing during the debt crisis.

The unemployment rate dropped in 43 states this past November. That's according to the Labor Department. Just three states -- New York, Rhode Island and Wyoming -- reported an increase in their jobless rates.

Can California attorney generals file law suits against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? The state wants more information on the company's involvement regarding the 12,000 foreclosed properties in that state but also wants to find out what role the companies played in selling mortgage-backed securities.

The Justice Department taking a closer look at Verizon's bid to buy $3.6 billion's worth of wireless airwaves. That's what companies use to provide voice and Internet service to their customers' cell phones. Officials want to make sure the deal does not hurt competition in the wireless and cable industries.

Saab, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, says it will no longer honor the warranties for vehicles sold here in the U.S. and Canada. However, this morning General Motors is stepping in, announcing it will cover the warranty for any Saab as long as it was sold before February of 2010.

AMERICAN MORNING will be right back after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS (voice-over): Deadly clashes in Cairo, women taking on the ruling military after female protesters were beaten, stomped and humiliated in the streets, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Welcome back. It is 29 minutes after the hour. It's time to bring you this morning's top stories.

President Obama is slamming House Republicans for not accepting the bipartisan Senate deal for a two-month extension from the payroll tax holiday. But with just 10 days to go before time runs out, House Republicans have so far only passed a measure calling for more negotiations in hopes of a one-year extension.

ROMANS: With Congress taking most of the heat, President Obama is getting a pre-Christmas boost in the polls. Call it a Santa Claus rally. A brand new CNN/ORC poll showing that 49 percent approve of the job he's doing as president, a five-point jump in a month.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann says a key faith group in Iowa asked her to consider getting out of the race. The president of that group, The Family Leader, just threw his support behind Rick Santorum. the Bachmann camp says they didn't even consider dropping out.

We will speak to both Congresswoman Bachmann and the president of The Family Leader later on this morning.

ROMANS: All right. The Egyptian military this morning reacting to a massive women's protest. Demonstrators organized a million woman march to protest military violence against women. The movement sparked by a video of a woman being beaten -- you can see it there -- by security forces. Military officials are expressing great regret over attacks on women.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is in Cairo with the latest.

And I'm going to tell you something, it's hard to watch that video and the emotion from the women who took to the streets in solidarity with that woman and other women is palpable. What's the military saying this morning?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, as you said, it was absolutely remarkable yesterday to see so many women out. You know, they were so emotional. They were carrying placards, calling the military council here liars, condemning them for the violence that has been practiced against so many female protesters these past few days.

And, really, outraged more specifically by this video that has emerged that you were speaking about, showing an Egyptian female protester. She was veiled, she was dragged, she was beaten, she was hit repeatedly. She even had her abdomen stomped on after she was partially stripped by these riot police. It's something that's been so shocking to people here inside Egypt.

Now, after this march happened yesterday, the supreme council of the forces, that's the military council that's been ruling here since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, they did issue a statement. It read, "The supreme council expressed its great regret to the great women of Egypt for the violations that took place and reassure its respect and appreciation for Egyptian women and their right in protesting and their active, positive participation in the political life" -- Christine.

ROMANS: Hmm. But it is an image. I mean, that one image alone and the image of the women marching, certainly something that showed that their voices are not going -- are not going to be quieted in this, really, a warning to the military.

You've been talking to some of the women from the march. What are they telling you?

JAMJOOM: Well, to put it simply, Christine, they just don't believe the military. They say that it's high time that the supreme council of the armed forces step aside, that a civilian government is put in place here in Egypt, that that will be when this revolution will have really come to fruition.

They say the revolution here has been hijacked. And they are upset particularly that more women aren't participating in political life. They feel that women here have been hoarded by the major political parties, by the military council, but they're not backed in their parliamentary races.

They want to see women representing other women in this country. They want to see abusive women stopped. They want to see harassment of women that come out into the streets by the military stopped.

And they don't believe the military and armed forces when they say they're respecting the great women of Egypt. They say simply that's a lie and the treatment they've been receiving must stop and stop and stop immediately and they're emboldened to keep coming up until it stops -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Mohammed, thank you so much.

VELSHI: Well, blood is spilling on the streets of Syria. The violence is now at its worse ever. Rebel groups say more than 100 people were killed on Monday, the deadliest day since protests began.

Syria's government says it is cracking down on armed and violent terrorists, which is what it's calling them, announcing yesterday that it will execute anyone who participates in terror acts.

The U.N. says Syria has killed 5,000 people since March.

Dozens of journalists arrested in Turkey. Police there raided a number of newspapers, busting an alleged terror plot by Kurdish separatists. Human rights groups claim the government is simply cracking down on dissent. Turkey imprisoned more journalists than any country except China.

Piers Morgan denying any link to Britain's phone hacking scandal. The CNN host and former newspaper editor testified before a British panel investigating media ethics yesterday. He says he did not believe any phone hacking had taken place when he worked for "News of the World" or for "The Daily Mirror." A lawyer asked Morgan about a story based on a voice message Paul McCartney left for his then wife Heather Mills. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At what stage, I was played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone. Can you remember the circumstances, Mr. Morgan?

PIERS MORGAN, FORMER BRITISH NEWSPAPER EDITOR: Well, I can't discuss where I was played that tape or who played it, because to do so would be to compromise a source and I can't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm not sure about that, Mr. Morgan. You can discuss in general terms where it was, can't you?

MORGAN: Actually, no, I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a tape of a voicemail message, wasn't it?

MORGAN: Well, I'm not going to discuss where I heard it or who played it to me for the reasons I've discussed and I don't think it's right. And, in fact, the inquiry has already stated to me, you don't expect me to identify sources.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but I think we do expect you to identify what is obvious to anyone reading this, is that you listened to a tape of a voicemail message. Is that correct?

MORGAN: I listened to a tape of the message, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a voicemail message. Wasn't it?

MORGAN: I believed it was, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Meantime, the publisher of the now defunct "News of the World" announced its settled with seven of the paper's accusers -- Christine.

ROMANS: To politics now, and a candidate who's sitting out Iowa focusing on New Hampshire, it's Jon Huntsman. He's polling single digits, but he's got an economic plan that's garnered the endorsement of "The Wall Street Journal." He's a two-time governor of Utah. He speaks Mandarin fluently and recently stepped down as President Obama's ambassador to China.

Now, we've analyzed for you Gingrich's and Romney's plan. Now, we're doing Huntsman today. What's in his plan?

Well, he is the only candidate to come up with a plan to break up the big banks. He'd shut down Fannie Mac and Freddie Mac and he would increase transparency, Ali, in the derivatives market. He'd repeal Obama's health care plan, as well as the Dodd-Frank banking laws. That's a lot like a lot of the other Republican candidates as well.

Now, what about taxes? He'd simplify it, creating three personal income tax brackets, 8 percent, 14 percent and 23 percent. No more mortgage interest deduction or child tax credit, and he would cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. So, lower taxes for everyone, but get rid of all of the loopholes.

Capital gain, dividends and alternative minimum taxes all gone under his plan, Ali.

And this is something different -- he would change a tax code so that financial players don't get tax breaks for their risky behavior.

Now, on to Europe. He weighs in on this as well. He says 18 months into the debt crisis there, the U.S. will not be offering any financial assistance or loans to the E.U. He's very clear about that. No bailouts from the U.S. But there's not that risk in that because the Federal Reserve chief recently assured Republicans in Congress, Ali, the U.S. will not lend to Europe again.

Jon Huntsman, polling single digits. He's got the big endorsement of "The Wall Street Journal."

VELSHI: Yes.

ROMANS: But he's not really resonating with the Republican Party quite yet.

VELSHI: Right.

ROMANS: He's focusing on New Hampshire.

VELSHI: Well, it's good that we're continuing to remind people about these candidates what they stand for and their various economic plans and we'll continue to do that for all the candidates.

Christine, thank you for that.

Well, he's outsider in his own party. But there's a real chance that the GOP may have to live with the reality that Ron Paul could be a force in Iowa. He's suddenly very much in contention with less than two weeks to go. And, frankly, that is making a lot of Republicans uneasy.

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday has him in third place, but surging at 14 percent. This could also help his chances later on in New Hampshire.

Gloria Borger spoke to the governor of Iowa who's now saying that if Ron Paul wins, it doesn't really matter all that much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: In terms of the importance of Iowa, is what I'm getting at. If Ron Paul wins, some Republicans are going to say, who cares about Iowa?

GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: Well, it's still the first test, and it's --

BORGER: The test of what?

BRANSTAD: It's the test of strength and who's the best -- first of all, we've always said Iowa winnows the field. So, you want to be in the top three.

So, you know, it's not only about who wins Iowa -- Huckabee won Iowa last time -- but, you know, it's also about -- and obviously, this is where Obama got his start. So, we want to be the state that not only launched Obama, but sunk him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Governor Terry Branstad has also said that Ron Paul has the best organization in the state and the most loyal following, but he doesn't think Paul will end up winning in the end.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, two earth-sized planets discovered beyond our solar system. We'll tell what it could mean in the search for alien life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back.

A cosmic milestone for planet hunters. For the first time, NASA's Kepler space telescopes spotted two earth-sized planets outside our solar system. They're orbiting a sun-like star.

VELSHI: But scientists say they are way too hot for life, at least as we know it. Temperatures top out at 800 degrees, 1,000 light years away. So, even a space nut like me is having a hard time getting excited about this.

But Derrick Pitts is having no problem getting excited about this. He's going to tell us why this is important. He is a chief astronomer in my other hometown at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.

ROMANS: Good morning.

VELSHI: Good morning. Good to see you.

DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE SCIENCE MUSEUM : Good morning. Thanks for having me.

VELSHI: Talk to me about -- I love space. You know I love space.

Why is this relevant to us? It's forever away. It's 800 degrees. What does this mean to us?

PITTS: Yes. Well, here's what it really means to us. It means that we've made another step closer to finding the holy grail of all this astronomical research we do, and that is to find a planet that's the size of the earth in the right location around its star so that it could possibly have liquid water and, therefore, of course -- you know the next line -- possibly have some form of life.

So that's the big step here. We found planets for the first time that are about the size of earth. That's a big step forward.

ROMANS: But it's too hot, 800 degrees, we're told. Does that, I guess, I don't know, cause concern there couldn't be life there or just finding a planet that's our size circling the sun like that is exciting enough?

PITTS: Well, let me put it in perspective this way. You know, it is extraordinarily difficult for us to be able it find these little, tiny planets orbiting stars at such an incredible distance. It tells us the equipment that we are using is absolutely incredible and the engineers that create these things are really great.

But the other fact is that we are now discovering planets at such a high rate that it's only a matter of time. Maybe even less than a year before we find an earth-like planet in the right location where water can be liquid. And that's the real big thing.

So, it could be really soon.

VELSHI: So, this is like in the search for a cure for a disease. You get to a discovery that isn't anywhere close to being your discovery. But the fact you've gotten that far means we're making progress.

What would progress -- what would the end goal look like? Are we thinking somewhere with some distance that we could one day reach, there may be a planet that may have life on it?

PITTS: Of course that would be the ultimate thing. If we could find a planet that was only a few light years away that was earth- like, that we might be able to create some sort of a generational space journey. You know, we're really talking fantasy here now. But it would be really exciting.

And the reason why it's so exciting, basically, is, for us to answer this question once and for all. Are there other planets like earth, and ultimately, is there any chance for life anywhere else in the universe? And when we look at the number of stars available in this galaxy alone --

VELSHI: Yes.

PITTS: -- some 300 billion stars. Well, the chances are that there are about 23 stars with planets like ours for every 100 stars we observe. So -- there's a huge number of possibilities for us.

ROMANS: And that Kepler telescope, I mean, that technology is unbelievable. I mean, we know about one of these planets, what, like a 19-day orbit, because the telescope is looking at a star and sees something flash in front of it, and we know that's an orbiting planet. Amazing what this thing can see.

PITTS: Imagine like this. Imagine, you're looking at car headlights from, maybe, a 100 feet away, maybe 200 feet away. Can you imagine seeing the drop in brightness if a mosquito flies in front of the car headlights?

That's essentially what this spacecraft is doing, and it's doing it over this incredible distance with some 150,000 stars at a time. So, again, my hat is off to the engineers and the astronomers that have the ingenuity to create such a system.

VELSHI: Derrick, sold.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: I mean, you love the space, but I came in here little skeptical about why this is important as it is. You have convinced me. Thank you for that, Derrick.

PITTS: It's a good thing, Ali. Thank you. VELSHI: Derrick Pitts is the chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. I know you're a Philly fan. You've been there many times.

ROMANS: Yes.

VELSHI: This is a place you got to visit. Take the kids.

ROMANS: It so hard to sell me on something that gets a little nerdy. That's the other thing.

VELSHI: That was a compliment, by the way.

ROMANS: Yes. I meant that in a nice way.

VELSHI: It is 46 minutes after the hour. Coming up, words of wisdom from the world's oldest stock broker. We're not kidding you. He is 106 years old and still goes to work. He says the secret to long life is surprisingly simple. We're going to tell you what it is. It's 46 minutes after the hour. Look at this guy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. It's 48 minutes past the hour. Here's what you need to know to start your day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): President Obama is pushing the House to vote on the Senate plan to extend the payroll tax holiday by two months. So far, though, House Republicans have only passed a measure calling for more negotiations.

President Obama is getting a pre-Christmas boost in the polls. A brand new CNN/ORC poll showing that 49 percent approve of the job he's doing as president. That's a five-point jump in a month.

Rick Santorum picking up the support of a leaders of a key faith group in Iowa. The president of the Family Leaders saying he's backing the former senator for the GOP nomination.

He accused former Syracuse basketball coach, Bernie Fine, the molestation. Now, Zach Tomaselli pleaded guilty to charges that he sexually abused a teenage boy in 2009. He faces more than three years in prison after striking plea deal.

The family of an accused U.S. spy captured in Iran says these allegations are untrue. Amir Hekmati is a former U.S. Marine. This week, Iranian officials aired video of him confessing to being a trained CIA spy. Hekmati's family says that confession is false, and he was likely coerced.

The Department of Homeland Security is flying a new high-tech surveillance aircraft to spot smugglers and catch illegal immigrants. They're shipping out three quarters of National Guard troops downsizing from 1,200 to 300 troops on the ground. Homeland Security officials say the changes will increase border security. They've already seen arrests drop more than 50 percent in the last three years.

More than a thousand people killed in the Philippines from flash floods. Tropical storm Washi swept through the area last Friday in the middle of the night while most people were sleeping. Hundreds of people are still missing. Tens of thousands are now homeless.

Another sign Cuba is moving toward capitalism. Banks in the communist-run island are now reportedly offering loans to individual citizens. These loans are for people hoping to re-do their home or invest in a private business. Big change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on-camera): That's the news you need to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING back right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Hmm!

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Look at that! Look at that! Fifty-one minutes after the hour. 6:51 in New York City. I'm a little taken by that. That is beautiful. I've not seen 51 outside in over a lifetime, because I'm usually in here.

ROMANS: You're the happiest person.

VELSHI: Look out your window. For heaven's sake. The fountain of youth is here in New York, on Wall Street. (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: The fountain of youth right here in New York, on Wall Street. A stock broker, Irving Kahn,106 years old. Not only is it a beautiful skyline outside, but the guy is 106 years old, goes to work everyday.

ROMANS: He's the original Occupy Wall Street. He's been occupying Wall Street for 100 years. Kahn began investment banking right before the great depression more than 80 years ago. He says his secret to long life is just going to work and doing this job. CNNs Poppy Harlow has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM (voice-over): Wall Street 80 years ago, who was there? Irving Kahn.

When were you born?

IRVING KAHN, STOCKBROKER: December 1905.

HARLOW: He rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on his 100 birthday. That was six years ago.

(on-camera) How has Wall Street changed during your life?

IRVING KAHN: Well when I got to the street in 28, it was much more a rich man's game. Not that I was rich, but I mean, it was designed for banks, for insurance companies or railroads, public utilities. It's no longer a rich man's business. It's a business for everybody.

HARLOW: Do you still watch the stock market very closely every day?

IRVING KAHN: Well, I have the Bloomberg, which is right here. I don't watch it, because I'm not a trader.

HARLOW: You're a value investor?

IRVING KAHN: Right, and I stick to the 29 stocks that I hold.

HARLOW: Who is your idol, Irving?

IRVING KAHN: Van Graham.

HARLOW: Van Graham. That's Warren Buffett's idol, too.

IRVING KAHN: I know. A lot of other people. I wish they could do what he did.

TOM KAHN, SON OF IRVING KAHN: He works every day.

HARLOW: What do you think is the thing (ph) for your father's longevity?

TOM KAHN: Oh, I would say that the fact that he has an office to go to, and a job, and responsibilities is extremely important.

HARLOW: Do you think that you will live to be as old as your father has so far?

TOM KAHN: Well, let me ask -- am I going to live --

HARLOW: Did you want to?

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: You didn't always have Bloomberg terminals right?

IRVING KAHN: Oh, no. I was very lucky being born in 1905. I was just in time for a lot of the new technologies, radio, television.

HARLOW: Do you have a cell phone now?

IRVING KAHN: Yes, I do. I don't use it much, except t to -- to remind myself what my number is.

(LAUGHTER) HARLOW: I see.

(voice-over) But Irv doesn't think technology necessarily makes things easier when he looks at the gadgets his grandson, Andrew, uses.

IRVING KAHN: He also has to know how to work except what should they call it, the ibook. You have to (INAUDIBLE) too much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW (on-camera): What a joy. What a pleasure it was to spend the day with him. Irv, happy birthday. It was his 106th birthday on Monday, and he had all the coconut pie, his favorite.

VELSHI: I love the fact that he uses his cell phone to remind himself what his phone number is.

ROMANS: You do that, right?

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Does he know a lot of people older than him?

HARLOW: It's a great question. I'll have to ask him that on his 107th birthday. No, I highly doubt it, but I said, you're the oldest stockbroker around, right? He said, there was one lived older than I. 107, but I have this feeling that Irv's going to make it far past that.

ROMANS: So, he was eating Thai food for lunch.

HARLOW: He was eating Thai food for lunch. No wheelchair.

ROMANS: No wheelchair.

HARLOW: No breathing assistance. Nothing. The guy is a miracle. The guy is a miracle. I asked his son, Tom, you heard from, you know, do you want to live this long? And he's sort of like, I don't know. But what's interesting is I said, all right, who's the boss here? Because the grandson, the son, and Irv all work together at Kahn Brothers Investments.

They're just so cool. And he said, you know, we're partners in this business, but my dad meets with clients, big clients, big portfolios, and he's really working.

VELSHI: Christine remembers when we talked to him on his 100th birthday when he rang the bell.

ROMANS: I know. And even then, I was like wow! A 100 years. Are you -- now, wow! A 106 years.

HARLOW: Unbelievable. It's a great story.

VELSHI: I'm telling you, move to New York. You'll live forever.

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: Keep working.

VELSHI: All right. Coming ahead -- coming up next hour, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann live from her bus tour Ohio. She'll come and to talk to us to tell us about a response the leader of faith group reportedly asking her to get out of the race in favor of Rick Santorum. It's 56 minutes after the hour.

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