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AMERICAN MORNING

Full-Blown Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza; Obama to Push for Economic Stimulus Plan; Aging and the Presidency; Gaza School Takes a Direct Hit in Gaza; Seizure, the Cause of Jett Travolta's Death; Special envoy in Middle East; Economy getting worse according to Obama

Aired January 6, 2009 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: It's part of his plan to rescue the United States from recession. The president-elect saying the economy is bad and getting worse. He's also planning to deliver a major economic speech on Thursday.
The FBI wants you. The agency is said to be on its biggest hiring blitz since 9/11. The FBI's career Web site says it must hire 850 special agents and more than 2,000 support staffers. The needs are in part because of a large number of retirements.

And back to our top story this morning and breaking right now, Israeli tanks and troops surrounding densely populated Gaza city. The Red Cross is warning that the situation for Palestinian civilians is "extreme and traumatic." Israel says it has launched more than 40 air strikes since midnight and killed 130 Hamas fighters since the start of the ground war over the weekend, but that has not stopped Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour is live for us in Jerusalem.

Christiane, you heard the word just a few minutes ago about a couple of United Nations-run schools being hit by Israeli air strikes. Do you have more details on that?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, details are according to the UNRWA itself, the U.N. Refugee (ph) and Works Agency, is that one of those schools, particularly the Asma School, there were three youths killed there overnight when the school took a direct hit.

Now they're bitterly complaining because they say that they had well before the fighting begun given the GPS coordinates of all their buildings and installations there, including that school. And apparently, these people who were killed all from one family were among 400 Palestinians who had fled one of the towns there, Beit Lahiya (ph), which is one of the places where Hamas is said to be launching rockets from.

So it fled there obviously on the IDF instructions and the leaflets fled to the Asma School for refuge and then the school takes a direct hit. Again, UNRWA asking for an immediate investigation and protesting very, very strongly. In the meantime, Israel continues its ground and air operations. You mentioned those 40 air strikes that had gone on today. Some Hamas rockets continuing to come out of the Gaza Strip and one landing in a town that's the furthest inside Israel that Hamas has reached yet, and that has slightly injured a 3-month-old little child. In the meantime, there are increasing calls for cease-fire -- John.

ROBERTS: On that point, Christiane, back on Friday, four days ago now, we heard U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say that the U.S. is trying to push the parties toward a cease-fire.

It's got to be a durable one though, and it means that the status quo prior to this engagement cannot stand. But what do we know about the progress toward a cease-fire?

AMANPOUR: Well it does appear to be progressing, and I spoke to Tony Blair, who is the former British prime minister and special envoy for the quartet that's dealing with peace here, and right now dealing with this crisis right now. And he said that what Israel wants is to show some achievement, some tangible achievement from this military incursion.

For instance, in getting a commitment to shut down the smuggling of weapons and cash to Hamas through the Egyptian border. And if that can happen, then there could be a cease-fire pretty quickly. If not, this will go on.

But then, of course, I asked him about what happens when you get the kinds of things that happen today and civilians are killed and what kind of pressure that puts for any quicker cease-fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: The civilian casualties in Gaza are obviously going to put a big pressure on Israel. How long can Israel withstand this pressure?

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think Israel would like to see a halt to this quickly, but I think it is prepared to go on. And, you know, there are a lot of parallels drawn with Lebanon, but Gaza isn't Lebanon. Gaza is, as you know, it's a strip of 20 miles or so by four miles, and Hamas on Hezbollah.

So I think Israel is prepared to go on. The question is, can we find a basis for bringing this to a halt immediately?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So again, that basis, as far as Israeli officials are concerned, are to stop the smuggling of cash and weapons, and also to deter Hamas's ability to fire as well as its motivation to fire into Israel -- John.

ROBERTS: Christiane Amanpour for us from Jerusalem this morning. Christiane, thanks so much for that. KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, disturbing cell phone video is surfacing this morning appearing to show a Bay Area transit police officer shooting a rider in the back while he was face down on the ground. The bullet killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was ordered to lie chest down on the ground after a fight early New Year's morning.

Witnesses say the man was not resisting arrest when the gun fired. The attorney for Grant's family plans to file a $25 million lawsuit. The transit police chief is urging patience while the agency, as well as other agencies thoroughly investigate the shooting.

Melted seats, twisted metal inside the burned out fuselage of Continental Flight 1404. It's our first look at the damage. It's now at a hangar at Denver International Airport.

This is the Boeing 737 that veered off of the runway into a ravine December 20th while trying to take off for Houston. It caught fire during the crash.

Thirty-seven people were injured, but all 115 people on board survived. In fact right here on our show, we interviewed a family who had a small child with them, able to escape the plane unharmed. The NTSB's final report could take a year.

What do Barack Obama, Britney Spears and CNN's Rick Sanchez all have in common? They're among the more than 30 accounts that were hacked on the twitter Web site. Twitter says the hackers accessed tools used by twitter support team to help users login or reset their passwords. The hackers then posted false and inappropriate messages on those accounts.

President-elect Barack Obama is pushing his massive $775 billion stimulus plan this week. Forty percent of that would go to tax cuts. It's big, it's bold and it could be in your pocket soon. But as our Christine Romans reports, there's a catch.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, John, it's an emergency stimulus that will, without a doubt, explode the budget deficit and add to a staggering national debt, but ask just about anyone and they'll tell you, there's no other choice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): The president-elect and Congress must act quickly and spend big to rescue the economy.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The situation is getting worse. We've got to act boldly and we've got to act swiftly. We cannot delay.

ROMANS: Tax cuts, about 40 percent of this evolving emergency stimulus. $300 billion worth.

BILL GALE, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The tax cuts in the first two years would be larger than the tax cuts in either of the first two years of the major Bush tax cuts. ROMANS: A $500 individual tax credit, a $1,000 for couples. Not rebates like the checks taxpayers got last year but maybe money in your pocket immediately.

DANIEL CLIFTON, STRATEGAS RESEARCH PARTNERS: The Obama team is looking very hard at putting it into people's paychecks right away. By our estimate, it suggests that about $25 per paycheck for each worker and the reason for that is, it gets into the economy much faster.

ROMANS: Businesses would also see huge tax relief. Small businesses would have more generous provisions to write off their losses, also new tax credits for hiring new workers, or for not laying them off.

The idea, instant money to credit-starved companies so they can grow and hopefully create jobs. Business breaks may help bring Republicans on board, but economists caution there must be an exit strategy from this spree of tax cutting and big spending.

GALE: Right now, we need to cut taxes to stimulate the economy, but as soon as the economy turns around, we're going to be facing a massive long-term budget shortfall that will have to be addressed at that point.

ROMANS: At that point, a very big bill comes due.

CLIFTON: It's very clear, doing a package of this size in the range of roughly $1 trillion with an already growing budget deficit and the retirement of the baby boomers is going to lead to tax increases in the next two years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: For now, it's more important to get the economy back on track. To counter this crisis, President-elect Obama is expanding on his tax cut promises from the campaign. How to pay for it, that comes later -- John, Kiran.

CHETRY: Christine Romans for us, thanks.

Well the alleged $50 billion conman, Bernie Madoff, is back in court. Prosecutors saying they want him locked up now because of some precious jewels that he mailed away.

ROBERTS: And after the autopsy shows that John Travolta's 16- year-old son actually died from a seizure, questions still remain. What could have caused the seizure that caused him to hit his head? We're paging our Dr. Sanjay Gupta for answers.

CHETRY: You've heard of counting in dog years. Try counting in presidential years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The typical president ages two years for every year they're in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Politics and stress, fast forward way past January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID ZINCZENKO, "MEN'S HEALTH" MAGAZINE: This is not a broccoli-shunning, pork rind-eating McDonald's popping into guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: How our history-making president will handle the demands of office.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, we have breaking news this morning. A direct hit on a school operated by the United Nations in Gaza, where refugees were taking shelter. The U.N. saying the Israeli air strike killed three Palestinians.

Joining us now from Gaza city is John Ging. He is the director of operations in Gaza for U.N. Refugee and Works.

Thanks for being with us this morning, John. What can you tell us about the situation that happened at this school, Asma Elementary?

JOHN GING, UNRWA DIRECTOR: Well, you know, it's horrific really. This poor people had fled the fighting in the northern areas, sought safe sanctuary in one of our schools which was set up as a temporary shelter. And a couple of hours later, three of them were killed in a direct hit on the school itself.

There is no safe sanctuary here in Gaza at the moment. The scale of the fighting is phenomenal, and even in U.N. installations people are not safe.

CHETRY: Israel is defending itself saying that Hamas focuses the battle in these densely-populated areas and uses residents as shields. Do you agree with that?

GING: Look, Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world. If you're going to conduct a military operation here, then that's a fact. It's a reality that cannot be changed. That's why they should stop this military operation. It also means the Palestinians need to stop firing the rockets.

This conflict should be fought out in a political forum, not at the end of a gun. The people will always be the ones who will pay too heavy a price if it comes to conflict. And that's why it's so urgent now, 600 dead, 2,500 Palestinians and more injured.

It has to stop because that's what's going to continue. We're going to continue to see that level of casualty for as long as it goes on in a military conflict.

So many world leaders have said there is no military solution to this. It has to go back to a political forum. Well, let's have a cease-fire and let's get it back there.

CHETRY: I mean, it's heart-breaking. We're seeing pictures of people crying over the dead bodies of their children and you're right, it's the innocents that are really suffering in this situation. No electricity, no running water for thousands there.

What is the status of getting any type of humanitarian relief or medical supplies into Gaza and to the people that need it?

GING: Well, again, it's hugely difficult, because of the scale of the fighting, and such a small and confined area. Getting the goods across the border is a very big challenge, and then getting them to our points of distribution. But even for the people to come to our points of distribution, it's also extremely dangerous.

This morning, ten people were injured in one of our health clinics, because it was adjacent to a house that was targeted. They had no warning, and they were all injured inside one of our health centers.

The real danger here, the population have no safety, they have no security, but they are entitled to protection and conflict under the roofs of the Geneva Convention. You cannot conduct a conflict in accordance with the rules of the Geneva Convention in such a place as Gaza. And that's why we have to stop and get it out of this conflict and back into a political forum.

CHETRY: John Ging joining us this morning, the director of the U.N. relief situation there, the refugee situation. Thank you for joining us and for giving us your firsthand account of what's going on.

ROBERTS: The first contracts for a book deal from the first family, Laura Bush ready to reveal intimate details of her eight years in the White House. We'll have that for you.

It's 15 minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, they used to wear powdered wigs. Now gray hair is a side-effect of being president of the United States. And some new research suggests that Oval Office stress really can accelerate the aging process.

Our Alina Cho joins us now. How many times have you looked at a president after a couple of terms and said, oh my goodness, he looks older than me before.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's stark, isn't it?

ROBERTS: It's almost like he's aged in dog years as opposed to human years.

CHO: Yes. I mean, we've all seen it, right, John? You know, U.S. presidents seem to age right before our eyes. It's really remarkable.

There's the stress of it all, of course, a few real confidantes and all of those state dinners, it's not exactly healthy food. All of those factors add up to this formula. According to one doctor, for every year a president serves in office, he ages two years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice-over): Barack Obama is about to become leader of the free world, but that job comes with a hefty price.

DR. MICHAEL ROIZEN, CHIEF WELLNESS OFFICER, CLEVELAND CLINIC: The typical person who lives one year ages one year. The typical president ages two years for every year they're in office.

CHO: Two years for every year as president? Dr. Michael Roizen, best-selling author, has studied the relationship between stress and aging particularly in presidents.

ROIZEN: You're alone and you're relatively isolated, so you don't see any poker games in the White House. Everything is formal. Everything is on the record.

CHO: Take Bill Clinton. Good habit, running. Bad one, fast food. One thing that changed, the stress. And eight years later, it showed.

Despite 9/11, Roizen says George W. Bush fared well during his first term but made up for it in his second. A troubled war and economy, bad poll numbers have taken a toll. Yet some say gray hair or not, Bush is nothing, if not fit.

DAVID ZINCZENKO, "MEN'S HEALTH" MAGAZINE: I mean, did you see him dodge that shoe?

CHO: So how will Barack Obama fare? The admitted gym rat is also a foodie and the cover story of "Men's Health" magazine.

ZINCZENKO: This is not a broccoli shunning, pork-rind eating, McDonald's popping into guy.

CHO: Another point in his favor besides the basketball, the president-elect is known to be calm, no drama Obama.

ZINCZENKO: He's better suited than any former president, than any predecessor to weather it emotionally and physically.

CHO: But there's only so much you can do.

ZINCZENKO: I know. I know. And it's the worst -- and it's the worst that happens is your hair goes a little gray so be it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: You know the stress of the office. Now the doctor who came up with this formula says he looked at 191 factors. Stress, he says, was number one, no surprise there, followed by diet. And interestingly enough, the number three factor, the loss of friends.

Now remember, when you become president, friendships do change because everything is so closely monitored. It's on the record. Dr. Roizen says, John, that his advice to Obama would be keep your basketball buddies, because they're not just going to help you work out, they're going to be there when you need to vent too. And certainly with all the stress of the office, he's going to need to vent.

ROBERTS: Yes. You know, it's difficult to see them because once you get inside the White House...

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: ... it's difficult to get back out. You can see the gray already at the temples a little bit on the incoming president.

CHO: You absolutely can. I mean, remember it was a long primary season and this doctor that we spoke to said, you know, in some ways that may be more stressful, getting to the office. But we'll have to wait and see what happens.

ROBERTS: Exactly. Fascinating stuff, Alina. Thanks so much.

CHO: You bet.

ROBERTS: Kiran?

CHETRY: Well, tough times even hitting some of the more successful automakers. Toyota, now shutting down for two weeks, sending an industry deeper into crisis.

And officially John Travolta's son died from a seizure. But the actor says that cleaning products used in their home in the past may have contributed to his son's medical problems. We're paging Dr. Gupta to see if there could be a connection.

It's 22 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Updating you now on our breaking news. The United Nations says there was a direct hit on an elementary school that it operates in Gaza, where refugees had left their homes and were taking shelter. The U.N. saying that the Israeli strike killed three Palestinians.

Extreme and traumatic is how the Red Cross is describing the situation in Gaza right now. Israel says it's launched more than 40 air strikes since midnight and killed 130 Hamas fighters since the start of the ground war over the weekend. A couple of moments ago we spoke with a representative from the United Nations who says that they're calling on both Israel to stop the invasion and the bombings but also on Hamas to stop lobbing rockets over into Israel, which has also continued despite the 11 days of fighting -- John.

ROBERTS: We now know it was a seizure that killed John Travolta's son, but still questions remain.

Randi Kaye has got the latest on the investigation into the sudden tragic death of John Travolta's son and how the actor was with his boy at the very end.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A family of four, suddenly three. The question is, why?

The death certificate lists seizure as cause of death, but we may never know all the details. Forensic pathologist Larry Kobilinsky says the autopsy, now complete, likely focused on Jett's brain.

DR. LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC SCIENTIST: A seizure can result in stiffening of muscles and loss of consciousness in a person would simply collapse. That could result in what we call a subdural hematoma, which is a bleeding underneath the skull and that leads to a buildup of pressure.

KAYE: Resulting in death. Jett died suddenly Friday, while the Travolta family was vacationing in the Bahamas. The Bahamian minister of Tourism escorted the actor's family to the morgue.

OBIE WILCHCOMB, BAHAMIAN MINISTER OF TOURISM: And his words were "that is my son." And then he asked for some moments, he and his wife, to spend with Jett and they stayed in the morgue for several hours.

KAYE: The funeral director in the Bahamas says there was no sign of head trauma, but Travolta's lawyer said Jett fell to the bathroom floor, striking his head on the bathtub.

(on camera): The lawyer said the nanny found Jett and that he may have still been alive when his father started CPR. Jett was pronounced dead at the hospital but the lawyer told "Us" magazine he believes John Travolta had a chance to say goodbye, that Jett may have died in his dad's arms.

(voice-over): The seizures, Travolta's lawyers told tmz.com were like a death each time, with Jett losing consciousness and convulsing. The lawyers said Jett was on anti-seizure medication for years. It reduced the seizures initially, but eventually, they returned. It's unclear if any medicine could have prevented the seizure that killed him.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS: Well the word seizure is frightening to anyone, especially when we're talking about a child. And now we're hearing talk of cleaning products in the Travolta home possibly having a connection to the Travolta son's medical condition.

We're paging our Dr. Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. He's in Atlanta this morning.

First up, Sanjay, the autopsy revealed a seizure was the cause of death. Originally it was thought that he had fallen and hit his head, as Lawrence Kobilinsky was talking about. What does all that say to you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's tough to diagnose a seizure after someone has already died. Now that is part of the problem, so what this really tells you is this is a diagnosis of exclusion. It's more about what the autopsy report didn't say than what it said.

It did not say a brain bleed, for example. It did not say a coronary aneurysm, which is something people thought might have happened in relation to the Kawasaki disease. So there's a lot of things that it could have said that it didn't say so it probably was one of these reports that may still stand a little bit incomplete.

One thing that I would look for, John, and we talked about this with respect to other autopsy reports, is you have to do a toxicology screen as well. You have to find out what substances were in the body, were in the blood and around the brain at the time of death to see if that may have contributed in some way.

ROBERTS: Just to remind our viewers at home, Sanjay, he did have Kawasaki's disease which leads to an inflammation of the arteries and narrowing of the coronary artery which could potentially bring on a heart attack.

The Travoltas say it was potentially cleaning products in the home that were the trigger for the Kawasaki disease. But I have read some experts in Kawasaki disease who say that and seizure disorders have nothing in common.

GUPTA: Yes. So it's a little bit complicated and keep in mind we're talking about a pretty rare disorder. Kawasaki disease, again, John Travolta mentioned that his son had been diagnosed with that at the age of 2. It's sort of an autoimmune disease where your body is attacking itself.

What exactly causes that? Some people think a bad infection. It can be the inciting cause of it.

There was one paper written back in 1991 said there was an association, as you pointed out, between cleaning products, specifically rug cleaning products and the onset of Kawasaki disease. The lethal -- possible lethal problem of Kawasaki disease, it can cause coronary aneurysms and those aneurysms can rupture.

But again, as we mentioned, there was no mention of that in this particular autopsy report.

So the Kawasaki disease may not have had anything to do at all with this and there's no relationship that we know of between household cleaning products and seizures. They can cause skin irritation. They can cause breathing problems.

But as far as seizures specifically, there really doesn't seem to be an association there.

John --

ROBERTS: Terrible tragedy, though. Dr. Gupta, thanks for being with us this morning. We'll see you again in the next hour.

GUPTA: All right.

ROBERTS: Kiran --

CHETRY: Well, we're coming up on 7:30 here in New York. And breaking right now in the Middle East, an Israeli air strike making a direct hit on a United Nations-run elementary school in Gaza city where hundreds of Palestinians have taken shelter. The U.N. says that attack killed three Palestinian men.

Thirty-six million Americans were at risk of having their identity stolen in 2008. That's according to a new report in today's "Washington Post." The report says that data breaches were up 50 percent last year.

Toyota shutting down factories for 11 days, the company says. The shutdown will affect a dozen plants in Japan. The company says cars already made have to start moving again, especially ones that are sitting in dealer lots in the United States.

He calls himself the junior Senator from Illinois, but Roland Burris could get shown the door today when he tries to get on to the senate floor. It's the kind of story our political panel lives for.

CNN contributor, Dana Milbank, and Roll Call reporter, Emily Heil, are both in Washington this morning.

Thanks for being with us to both of you.

DANA MILBANK, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Morning, Kiran.

EMILY HEIL, ROLL CALL REPORTER: Glad to be here.

CHETRY: It's really interesting. We're going to hear from Roland Burris said when he was asked yesterday about whether or not he's going to be a Senator taking over Barack Obama's seat, a little bit of controversy surrounding that appointment, because of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the allegations of pay-to-play against him.

Let's hear what Roland Burris says. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROLAND BURRIS, APPOINTED ILLINOIS SENATOR: This is all politics and theater, but I am the junior Senator, according to every law book in the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Dana, you're going to be there. What's going to happen today when Burris tries to make it there on to the senate floor?

MILBANK: I don't know if he means just theater. It's terrific theater. Emily and I are going to get opera glasses and popcorn and get up to the senate gallery to watch all of this.

Certainly, Harry Reid and the Democrats have no plan to seat him at the very least postpone his appointment, but there's no telling just what Burris is going to do. Is he going to run in there and then force the sergeant of arms to put him in cuffs, start up the water cannons? It is all under the control of Burris right now.

CHETRY: Emily, is this the type of fight or is this the sort of attention that the Democratic Party leadership wants to be dealing with right now? I mean, perhaps things will change, if there's more that happens with the Blagojevich case right now, but for Burris, I mean, is this what they want to begin the session dealing with?

HEIL: Absolutely not. This is not the opening act that they were looking for, as dramatic as it is. The senate is a very formal, very mannered sort of place. These guys are very drama-averse. And Roland Burris is bringing serious drama, as Dana mentioned, to Washington, and right to their doorstep. They don't want armed guards keeping him from the senate floor, no handcuffs. They don't want any of that. This is not the way they wanted to open the session.

And it's also engendered this partisan fight. And that's not a great way to start a session where you have a huge multibillion stimulus package you want to pass within a few weeks. Not a great way to start and not the way senate Democrats wanted to start the session.

CHETRY: Dana, Emily was alluding to the partisan fight, because it's a slightly different situation with Al Franken right now. He's declared himself the winner of the Minnesota race after he was officially certified by the Minnesota State Board. Of course, as we both know, we were vote counting up until yesterday in Minnesota between incumbent Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

The John Cornyn, when we interviewed him, said the Democrats want to have it both ways. They don't want to seat Burris, but are willing to seat Franken, despite the fact that Coleman says he'll continue the legal fight over the voting. So what's going on with that?

MILBANK: It puts him in a pretty awkward spot. And Harry Reid did back down and said, look, they will not try to seat Franken today, just to reduce the level of controversy. But they're going to have to deal with it. Particularly, if they're going to try to deny Burris, who has been certified by his governor, and not Franken, who has not been satisfied by the governor of his state.

CHETRY: I think the opposite. Franken has been certified and Burris has not at this point, right?

MILBANK: Burris is certified, and Franken has not been certified by the governor of his state.

CHETRY: I got you. OK, so just the Minnesota State Board. And of course, the legal fight is going to continue in Minnesota. So stay tuned for that.

I want to ask you, Emily, about this situation as well. For the most part Barack Obama has been praised for a lot of his cabinet selections, for a lot of the people he's chosen to put into various positions of power in his incoming administration.

One that's raising eyebrows is the appointment of Leon Panetta to head the CIA. Caught a lot of people off guard. And, in fact, Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is sort of asking why Panetta -- she goes on to say that she believes the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at the time.

What's going on with the Panetta appointment, Emily?

HEIL: This is really unusual. Like you said, until now, Democrats have almost been unanimous in praising Barack Obama's picks, not just the picks, but the way he's done them. And this is a very unusual note to hear on Capitol Hill. But Dianne Feinstein clearly didn't feel like she was consulted.

And it's also unusual on the Obama team's part. They've until now been savvy about how they've managed their relationships on the hill, how they've mansion managed the transition process and a lot of the employments appointments. So it is unusual.

It could spell some trouble. Clearly, these are issues we'll hear more about during his confirmation process. Senate Feinstein doesn't just have a problem with not being consulted. She thinks they need someone who is more of a professional intelligence expert in that spot. These are things we'll hear more about during the confirmation process for sure.

CHETRY: Dana, quickly, last word on the Panetta selection?

MILBANK: It's just shocking that, first of all, the lack of consultation sounded sort of Bush-like, but more, that Panetta has a lot of experience, none of it in intelligence and now being asked to head the chief spy agency.

CHETRY: Thanks to both of you. Keep us posted about the drama in the senate. It could be much ado about nothing, but we never really know.

Dana and Emily, thanks.

MILBANK: Thanks.

HEIL: Sure.

ROBERTS: 36 minutes after the hour, things heating up in Gaza. According to the U.N., a couple of schools they run have been hit. Five people have been killed.

Our Anderson Cooper is on the border between Israel and Gaza. He'll be joining us live when the most news in the morning returns. Stay with us.

You're looking at live pictures here. These are live pictures coming to us, looking over the border into Gaza. Flares apparently falling. I don't know why they would be dropping flares, there, at this time of day. We're hearing a lot of explosions and obviously the smoke from that.

Again, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency saying that over night, a couple of its schools were hit. Three people were killed in one school, and two in another. Israel continues its assault both on the ground and air with no sign of letting up. The Red Cross is saying the situation in Gaza is dire. A full-blown humanitarian crisis.

We heard from one of the U.N. relief workers in Gaza City a few minutes ago here on the most news in the morning that it's literally impossible to get aid to people on the ground there. The Israelis are allowing it to cross the border.

The Red Cross is able to get it into their hands, but getting it into those areas is extraordinarily difficult, because Gaza City is one of most densely populated places on earth. There's about 500,000 people living in that city proper, 1.4 million in the greater metropolitan area.

And it would be like if the lower part of Manhattan were being targeted, just trying to get relief supplies into these areas with all of the bombs falling and with the ground assault going on as well.

So a dire situation there, and as we continue to watch what's going on, our Anderson Cooper will be with us in just a couple of minutes to tell us more on the situation on the ground. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Coming up now on 41 minutes after the hour. More live pictures looking at Gaza City and the situation on the ground there, 11 days into the fighting since Israel first started launching those air strikes against Hamas, in the wake of the cease-fire not being renewed. It expired back on December the 19th.

Our Anderson Cooper is along the border between Israel and Gaza. He's got a great vantage point to see what's going on.

Anderson, we understand you've been hearing a lot of new explosions from the observation area that you have. What can you tell us about what you see on the ground?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there have been. We're looking right now -- over my shoulder, you can see a large plume of smoke arising over Beht Lahiya, which is one of the towns we've been watching. We have seen an uptick of activity over the last, say, half hour or so, with an outgoing of fire from the Israeli side, as well as at least one incoming rocket -- what appeared to be an incoming rocket from the Gaza side.

The battle has apparently reached some sort of a critical juncture. Israel trying to decide how far they want to go at this point. The last word we had was that Gaza City was virtually surrounded. But there were conflicting reports whether or not they were sliding inside Gaza City itself.

There were I-reports further south of Israeli troops moving -- on the move down south. But again, we're not on the ground to independently confirm what's going on, on the ground.

The death toll continues to rise, though. Palestinian sources saying it has continued to rise, as well as both civilian population and Hamas fighters. Israel says they have killed more than 130 Hamas militants in the last three days of this ground operation.

And just in the last 24 hours or so, they say they have captured more than 70 Hamas militants. Many of them have been taken in for further questioning.

So the operation here continues. The diplomatic operations also continue. A high level E.U. delegation is in the region, so is France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Great Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair. At this point, there is no let-up in the fighting -- John?

ROBERTS: Anderson, it's a similar situation of the one you and I witnessed this firsthand back in December of 2006, where the Israeli military was pounding Lebanon from the air. Soldiers were going in on the ground, trying to stop Hezbollah from firing rockets into the northern part of Israel.

And it didn't cut down that much on the number of rockets that Hezbollah was able to fire. And we've seen this, as you said, Gaza City literally being encircled by Israeli troops on the ground, and still the rockets are being fired. Why is the Israeli military unable to eliminate those rocket attacks?

COOPER: Well, as you know, John, they're highly mobile. They're able to be moved relatively easily. Also, up until recent times, up until this intense air bombardment by Israel, Hamas has been able to resupply rockets through the underground tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt. That's where most of these rockets come from. even those longer range rockets are smuggled in underground. Israel has been targeting these tunnels.

And in any negotiations that take place, in any sort of settlement, Israel is saying that the future of those tunnels is going to be a key point in terms of any kind of peace deal that is signed. And at this point, one Israeli report -- member of the Israeli Defense Forces gave a report yesterday to the parliament here, saying that Hamas has weeks' worth of rockets left in their supply. There has been a drop in the number of rockets falling in to Israel but, according to Israeli Defense Forces, that may just be a tactical move on the part of Hamas, kind of holding back some of their fire.

It does not necessarily mean that they are running out of rockets -- John.

ROBERTS: Anderson Cooper for us this morning along the Israel- Gaza border with a good overlook at Beht Lahiya there and the renewed fighting that's going on.

Anderson will be joining us again at the top of the hour.

We'll let you continue to work your sources a little more and get some more information for the top of the hour. We'll see you soon. Thanks.

Beauty and the beast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN LUCCI, AMBASSADOR LIMO: It's a rolling tank with windows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A sneak peek at the president-elect's luxury new ride and the muscle it's packing inside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LUCCI: That door probably weighs as much as a 757 aircraft door. And the inside of that cab is as sealed as a jet plane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Forget horse-drawn carriages and convertibles, shifting security into overdrive for the new first car. You're watching the most news in the morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: They used to be driven in horse-drawn carriages, much later in bulletproof sedans, but Barack Obama's may be the most secure heavily fortified vehicle in the world.

Jeanne Meserve is live in Clearwater, Florida, to show us.

Hi, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This is a 1984 Cadillac limousine used by President Reagan. A new limousine is going to be unveiled on January 20th and we got an early peek.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Secret Service agents called the presidential limousine the beast. And if spy photos are any indication, president Obama's new ride lives up to the name.

LUCCI: It's a rolling tank with windows.

MESERVE: At the turn of the last century, when President McKinley was inaugurated, he relied on an entirely different kind of horsepower. President Harding's inaugural parade in 1920 was the first to use a car. President Franklin Roosevelt used the first bulletproof ride, one seized from mobster Al Capone. President Johnson's limo was armored and enclosed, a byproduct of the Kennedy assassination.

Ken Lucci owns a limousine used by Presidents Ford and Carter and another that carried President Reagan.

LUCCI: This is a 1975.

MESERVE: Though its doors and undercarriage are armored, it seems quaint, next to the high-tech limousine president Obama will use.

(on camera): I like this. No campaign no, election, instant president. Great.

(voice-over): Lucci notes the new limo's windows are smaller to make it less vulnerable. Some of the body appears to be built of a different material. He speculates it's a tougher composite. Lucci says rubber gaskets could protect against chemical weapons. And he guesses the holes in the door are for a mechanism to lock it like a bank vault.

LUCCI: That door probably weighs as much as a 757's aircraft door. and the inside of that cab is as sealed as a jet plane.

MERSERVE: And that may surprise Obama, says Joe Funk, a former Secret Service agent, who drove President Clinton's limo.

JOE FUNK, U.S. SECRET SERVICE, RETIRED: It's a good call. And the everyday noises will be gone. And he will be totally isolated in this protective envelope.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Now Ken Lucci took the bullet-proof glass out of this limousine. Here's a piece of it. If you've ever seen this, it is about 1.5, 2 inches thick, layer upon layer of safety glass and very heavy.

Lucci says taking the bullet proof glass out of this vehicle reduced its weight by about 6,000 pounds.

Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: That's unbelievable. What will they think of next?

Jeanne Meserve for us. Thanks so much.

If you want more information on the president-elect's fortress on wheels for more information and photos of the super limo they are calling "The Beast," you can go to CNN.com. It's 50 minutes after the hour.

How would you like to have the Obamas move to your block?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hoping that maybe when he comes, we'll just see a finger or a glance. That's enough.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN REPORTER: That's enough for you, a finger?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The Obamas' new neighborhood. We found all of the hot spots.

Plus, smoking and your weight. Dr. Sanjay Gupta on how to keep that New Year's resolution.

You're watching the most news in the morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Six minutes down to the top of the hour. Continuing our breaking news, live pictures from Gaza. New Israeli air strikes there. You can see the smoke rising from buildings in the background. The renewed fighting follows reports from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that a couple of its schools were hit overnight.

We heard from our Anderson Cooper, a few minutes ago as well, that there is increased activity in what is now mid afternoon there in Israel. This air strike in conjunction with a ground operation, that now, according to some sources, sees Gaza City completely surrounded.

Anderson Cooper is on the border between Israeli and Gaza and will be joining us with a live report coming up in just a few minutes.

Meantime, President-elect Obama will meet again today on Capital Hill with members of his economic team, laying the ground work to offer $300 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses. So far, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they are optimistic about the plan.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was inside the meeting with the president-elect yesterday. He joins us now from Washington to talk more about this stimulus economic plan.

Congressman Hoyer, it's good to see you this morning. REP. STENY HOYER, (D), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning, John.

ROBERTS: What about the tax cuts? The first one, last year in a stimulus package, didn't do a whole lot. Why will basically doubling the amount of tax cuts stimulate the economy this time around?

HOYER: Quite obviously, the first one was more of a rebate payment, simply a payment to people on a lump-sum basis. This will be an actual tax cut which American workers, 95 percent of them, will experience throughout the year and will take place immediately upon signature by the president.

So we think this will be additional dollars in working people's pockets every week, every biweekly paycheck or every month. We think that will have a very positive effect, not only on individuals, but also on businesses on their ability to reinvest, expand their businesses, keep employees on the job.

ROBERTS: We're learning some of the details of this coming from various sources. "The Wall Street Journal" has got a story today suggesting that people who do not earn enough income to actually pay taxes will be allowed to participate under this plan and some changes to tax law in which they will be able to receive that thousand-dollar child tax credit. Can you confirm that is part of the plan?

HOYER: I think that is certainly part of the discussion. The plan is not totally in place yet, but that is part of the discussion. Yes, I can confirm that.

ROBERTS: So that would amount to a tax subsidy for people who don't pay taxes, correct?

HOYER: In a fact, we want to get money into the hands of people who need it and are struggling in this economic time to just get by. We think Americans feel that's appropriate. And they'll get that money. And they'll have to spend it right away, whether they spend it on food, prescription drugs, other necessities of life. That will be money put into the economy and help spur the economy.

ROBERTS: The incoming president-elect says he wants to hear all ideas, regardless of which side of the political aisle they come from. Republicans want these tax cuts. However, they are a little concerned about the size of all of this.

Let's listen to what House Minority Leader John Boehner said about that point yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I'm a little concerned myself about the overall size of the package. This is not a package that's ever going to be paid for by the current generation. This will be paid for by our kids and grandkids.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Congressman Hoyer, can you tell us what the ultimate cost of this bill is going to be? The president-elect is looking at something under $800 billion, but some analyst say this could top $1 trillion, maybe even rise as high as $1.2 trillion.

HOYER: John, it's clear that we've heard from economists from across the board. from conservative economists like Marty Feldstein (ph) to more liberal economists, as well as the Obama economic team and, indeed, some in the Bush economic team have said this package needs to be very, very substantial, in light of the challenge that confronts us.

In order to get this economy moving, which is a huge economy, you need to make a huge investment in doing that.

John Boehner's concerned are shared I think by all of us. Unfortunately, the economic policies we've been pursuing for the last eight years under President Bush have created the largest indebtedness in America in our history. So that we are confronted, as we begin this new administration, with some very dire numbers.

In the short term, we're going to have to have very significant deficit spending. But I think I am committed, and I think the president is as well -- president-elect as well, in the medium term and long term, to returning to a fiscally sound policy that will bring us back to balance.

ROBERTS: Mr. Leader, can you guaranteed to American taxpayers who may be a little skeptical about another bailout package that this, indeed, will be an ear-mark free or pork-free bill?

HOYER: That's our intent. That's our hope and that's our expectation. We think this bill needs to be focused on formula-based distribution of the dollars to states and localities, particularly as it relates to infrastructure. Not individual projects added by members, but projects that are felt to be shovel-ready, if you will. That is to say, they can get under way immediately.

And we can create jobs here in America towards the creation of those three million jobs, which is the objective of the administration and ourselves.

ROBERTS: We will watch very closely. A lot of people certainly have a lot of big expectations and are putting a lot of hopes on you.

Congressman Steny Hoyer, thanks for joining us this morning. Good to see you.

HOYER: Thank you, John. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: We're coming up at the top of the hour here. A look at the top stories now.

We're continuing to follow breaking news. It's day 11 of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Israeli forces moving deeper into Gaza. Gaza City surrounded, yet the Hamas rockets keep coming.

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