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THE SITUATION ROOM
Report Faults State Department for Benghazi Attack; Police Searching for Shooting Motive; Should Teachers Be Armed?; Coping with Losing a Child; Finger-Pointing over Fiscal Cliff; Week from Hell; Abuse Scandal at Military Daycare Center
Aired December 19, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a blistering report faults the State Department for the deadly attack on four Americans in Benghazi.
Just ahead, I'll ask one of the first reporters on the scene whether she was contacted for testimony.
Also, surprising new details emerging about the father of the Newtown gunman, Adam Lanza. What one source says about the last time the two had any communication.
And one father's message to the parents in Connecticut, five years after losing his daughter in the Virginia Tech tragedy.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Three State Department officials have resigned now. They've resigned their posts in the wake of a scathing report on the September 11th attacks in Benghazi, Libya that left the United States ambassador and three other Americans dead. The 39-page independent review cites systematic failures at the State Department, which it says resulted in a security plan that was, in the words of the report, "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
Despite the criticisms, the report concluded that no employee engaged in actual misconduct and did not recommend any individual be disciplined.
And Arwa Damon is joining us now from Beirut -- Arwa, you were one of the first reporters to get to the scene of what happened in Benghazi. You've now gone through this report.
Did anything jump out at you?
Did anything really surprise you, based on your own eyewitness reporting from the scene? ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What the report really did was validate information that we were able to obtain from witnesses at the scene, from some of the local guards that we interviewed at the compound itself. And then, of course, we now know, through this report, as well, that this was a gross miscalculation of the threat that existed and that security measures were, in fact, not adequate at the consulate in and of itself.
Some of the detail in the report has helped us put together a better picture of exactly what took place as the attack was unfolding. Just as chilling to read through it now as it was to actually be there and be able to picture it, to a certain degree, in one's mind.
The window that is spoken about at the report, which is how one of the security guards managed to crawl out, it was the window that led to the so-called safe room where Ambassador Stevens and -- and -- and -- was -- was, in fact, later on found dead. These sorts of details were what jumped out.
But in terms of what took place, how it took place and the fact that there wasn't adequate security, no, that was not surprising at all.
BLITZER: The lawlessness, the wild nature of what was going on in Benghazi, the various militias, the al Qaeda elements, there seemed to almost be a recklessness, as far as allowing U.S. diplomats, U.S. officials, in Benghazi at the time. That certainly comes across in this report.
DAMON: And, also, at the time that the attack took place, the U.S. consulate was, to a certain degree, the only Western target that existed there, or among the only Western targeting that existed there. There had been a series of attacks in the months leading up to the September 11th attack that had caused the British government, for example, to withdraw its personnel. The U.N. had been targeted there. The ICRC was targeted, as well. They withdrew, as well.
So, of course, it does beg the question of why did the U.S. decide to stay, not to mention that, as we were reporting at the time, a number of Libyan security officials, members of the Libyan security forces, were warning the Americans that these Islamist militias were growing in strength, that they were concerned that they could not control them and they were warning the U.S., not, perhaps, specifically about an attack that was going to be taking place on September 11th, but they said they were warning that such an attack was, to a certain degree, inevitable, and perhaps unstoppable, because the Libyans were not capable of taking down these groups.
BLITZER: I've gone through the report, Arwa. I've gone back and re--- take -- taken another look at all the reporting you did in the days immediately following the Benghazi attack. And your reporting was spot on. It was perfect. It was all validated by what we see in this final report, even though you got some criticism at the time for reporting what you were reporting by some critics. But your -- your report -- your reporting was excellent, as all of our viewers know.
Here's the question -- did the State Department, did any members of this commission come to you and say, you know, Arwa, you were there, we weren't there, do you want to help us?
Did they ask you for any testimony, any of your eyewitness recollections?
DAMON: No, Wolf, they did not. No one reached out to us.
BLITZER: I'm surprised that they didn't. I would have thought that they would have wanted to pick your brain, as well.
In any case, Arwa, good work.
Thanks so much.
Arwa Damon reporting for us from Beirut.
So what, if anything, does this report mean for the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton?
Our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, is joining us with this part of the story -- Elise, the review board said no individual was in actual breach of duty.
But who did the panel view as being responsible or negligent, shall we say?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the panel makes a -- a little bit of a distinction between kind of dereliction of duty and breach of duty as a legal term and deficiencies in -- in management, which, clearly, the panel said that senior leadership in the bureaus of diplomatic security, who is in charge of security for overseas posts and also in the bureau of Near East Affairs, the policy shop for the Middle East, were really at fault for showing a lack of leadership and -- and as we've been saying, a lack of understanding of the threat.
We had three resignations today at the State Department, the head of diplomatic security, Eric Boswell; his deputy, Charlene Lamb, who also was -- testified before Congress, before the Oversight Committee and also was seen in a lot of these documents to have denied repeated requests for security; and, also, Raymond Maxwell, who's the deputy assistant secretary in the Near East bureau.
And, basically, one of the recommendations of this -- of the report, while they didn't find anybody legally breaching duties, they did say, as part of their recommendations, that management deficiencies should be addressed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly did.
What about Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State?
What about her role in all of this?
LABOTT: Well, the secretary has -- has largely avoided criticism of this. As you know, Wolf, the secretary will not be testifying tomorrow before Senate and House committees. She's ill and is suffering from a concussion and is resting under doctor's orders. Her deputy, Tom Nides, and Bill Burns, will be testifying.
But what the panel said is even though the secretary has publicly said that she takes responsibility, even in an interview that I did with her and was run on this show, Wolf, she says she takes full responsibility for everything that happens at the State Department, and those employees were under her watch, the panel said that this is really at a management level of some of these bureaus and they never brought it up to the chain of command so that anybody at a high level like the secretary could do something about it -- Wolf, let's take a listen to Ambassador Tom Pickering, and Admiral Mike Mullen, who led the panel in talking specifically about why they placed the blame where they did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS PICKERING, REVIEW BOARD VICE CHAIRMAN: We fixed it at the assistant secretary level, which is, in our view, the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making, in fact, takes place, where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, FORMER COMMANDER, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We just found -- and someone who's run large organizations -- and the secretary of State has been very clear about taking responsibility here. It was, from my perspective, not reasonable in terms of her having a specific level of knowledge, that was very specifically resident in her staff and, over time, certainly didn't bring that to her attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LABOTT: Wolf, and still, some members of Congress, particularly Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the head of the House International Affairs Committee, said she would like to hear from the secretary. And, indeed, the secretary said she hopes to testify before the committee when she's feeling better, after the break.
BLITZER: She's not feeling well right now. She had the flu. She was dehydrated. She fainted. She had a concussion.
What's the latest on her health?
How's she doing?
LABOTT: Well, doctors say that she needs to have some rest. Clearly, she was going to take some time off for the holidays anyway. So her staff said that she hopes shows -- that -- that she's definitely on the mend. And her staff hopes that she'll be coming back soon in the new year.
I mean, Wolf, this is a small blemish in an otherwise really kind of popular four years for the secretary. And I think that her staff really does want her to testify before the committee and put this behind her, because, clearly, as you've heard from the panel and other people, she's largely avoided criticism and is likely to continue to avoid criticism.
When she speaks on behalf of the department, Wolf, people really do listen to her and give her the benefit of the doubt.
BLITZER: Well, we hope -- certainly hope she recuperates and feels better. No doubt about that.
Elise, thank you.
Meanwhile, some surprising new details emerging about Adam Lanza's relationship with his father. Up next, what one source says about the role he played in the gunman's life.
And some suggest arming teachers could be the answer in the wake of the tragedy.
But could that pose other risks in the heat of the moment?
We're going to tell you what one security expert is now saying.
BLITZER: Yet another day of what will be many funerals to come in the grief-stricken town of Newtown, Connecticut. Among those laid to rest, the first grade teacher, Victoria Soto, whose casket was saluted by a police honor guard.
President Obama announced today that Vice President Joe Biden will lead a group charged with developing recommendations, without delay, to address the issue of gun violence across the United States.
All of this as authorities work to determine a motive for this horrifying massacre.
Our own Mary Snow is taking a closer look at the father of the gunman, Adam Lanza.
Mary is joining us right now with the latest -- what are you finding out?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the people police turned to for information in the hours after the shooting was Peter Lanza. We haven't heard much about Peter Lanza, besides his professional profile online. But we are now learning of a strained relationship with his son.
SNOW (voice-over): Peter Lanza's home is less than an hour away from where his son, Adam, opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But a person who knows him says he hadn't had any communication with his son in about two years, when Adam cut his father out of his life, about the time the elder Lanza remarried.
Until then, Peter Lanza, an executive with GE, seen in this LinkedIn photo, had weekly visits with Adam, according to the same source who told us Lanza hadn't lived in the Newtown house since 2001, eight years before his divorce with ex-wife Nancy was finalized. In the hours after the shooting, a reporter for "The Stamford Advocate" who was outside Peter Lanza's house, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Lanza was apparently unaware of his son's involvement in the shooting.
MAGGIE GORDON, REPORTER, STAMFORD ADVOCATE: I said, you know, we've received your that somebody at this address is connected to the shooting in Newtown and his face just went from -- you know, he'd been this very polite stranger who was making pleasantries with me, and he went from that to sort of shock and then just this horrified look and, you know, essentially declined comment, rolled up his window, and went inside his house.
SNOW: Since then, he released a statement expressing condolences for victims, families, and friends, adding, "We're in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We, too, are asking why." Peter Lanza's sister-in-law told reporters both Lanza and his ex-wife were committed to their kids' welfare.
MARSHA LANZA, LANZA FAMILY RELATIVE: They were the type of parents even when they were married as well as being separated, if the kids had a need, they would definitely fill it.
SNOW: Court documents show few hands of an acrimonious divorce and indicate a comfortable lifestyle. Irreconcilable differences were cited as the reason for the divorce finalized when Adam was 17. Alimony was set for this year at $289,000. Those documents also show Peter Lanza would pay for his son's college and graduate school, medical insurance, and provide a car for him.
SNOW (on-camera): Now, Peter Lanza was questioned by investigators as they searched for a motive. He said in a statement after the shooting that he had cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mary, thank you.
This devastating tragedy in Newtown has revived the very sensitive debate over whether teachers in schools should actually be armed. Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester. She's been working this story for us, a very sensitive story. Some very different points of view.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Wolf, there is actually a bill being introduced in South Carolina. There is another proposal being considered in Tennessee. Virginia's governor has brought it up, allowing school personnel to be armed. Advocates say this is similar to the way pilot and air marshals have weapons on board a plane, but even the talk of arming teachers is creating a tremendous backlash.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Earl Curtis takes aim with an assault riffle. He's the owner of the Blue Ridge Gun Store in Chantilly, Virginia. Curtis says since the Newtown shootings, gun owners have been getting a bad rap.
EARL CURTIS, BLUE RIDGE ARSENAL: When the gun ban happened, that really didn't occur (ph) a crime either. So, I mean, like I said, whether you cut it down to five, one, it still does the same damage, which is bad, OK. What we need to be doing is teaching gun safety and education. Also take care of mental health issues.
SYLVESTER: There are new calls in Washington to bring back the assault weapons ban and other gun control measures. That's having an impact here.
(on-camera) One of the things we're seeing is a run on some gun supplies. This rack here used to be filled with magazines like this, but because of concerns of new gun control laws, you can see, they're all gone.
(voice-over) Supporters of gun rights say the answer isn't making it harder to get ahold of a weapon but looking at beefing up school security. Virginia's governor telling WTOP radio arming teachers is one option that should at least be considered.
VOICE OF GOVERNOR BOB MCDONNELL, (R) VA: I know there's been a knee- jerk reaction against that. I think there should at least be a discussion of that. If people were armed, not just the police officer that other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly, there'd have been an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the school.
SYLVESTER: Tennessee state senator, Frank Niceley, wants more armed police officers in schools, including on the elementary school level. And if that's not an option, then he, too, says arm the teachers.
FRANK NICELEY, TENNESSEE STATE SENATE: The goal is to have some kind of security in all the schools and the ones that can afford a resource officer, that would be the first step and what have (ph) other options for other volunteers or trained staff.
SYLVESTER: But talk of putting more guns in schools, that has been roundly criticized. The president of the Brady Campaign for Gun Violence saying it's insane and will lead to more violent acts. And school security expert, Greg Crane, adding, there's a high risk innocent bystanders could be hurt.
GREG CRANE, RESPONSE OPTONS: Do I want 15 or 20 people throwing rounds in a very dynamic, very friendly occupied environment? That's a whole other situation that has to be addressed. I don't think it's necessarily the best solution.
SYLVESTER (on-camera): Now, I asked Earl Curtis, he is the owner of that gun store in Virginia, did he think it was a good idea to arm teachers and principals? And he said he did not. He said you really need someone who knows what they're doing with weapons that has the proper training, maybe a police officer, maybe expanding these resource officers, but to put even more guns in school, he says, Wolf, that that is asking for trouble.
BLITZER: Well, there's going to be a big debate on this issue, as you point out accurately. There's going to be a lot of discussion and we'll see what Joe Biden committee -- what they recommend, if anything.
SYLVESTER: Yes. I think that the consensus is that something is going to be done and then the question is, you know, as we go forward, we'll see some of the details. But the assault weapons, I think, certainly, there's a lot of talk about bringing that ban once again, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.
A child care workers at a military daycare center are accused of abuse, and now, President Obama is demanding answers. We're going to tell you why this scandal is spreading. Lots of news happening right now right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The United Nations is painting a dire picture of the humanitarian crisis unfolding right now in Syria. Lisa is back. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. So, what's going on here?
SYLVESTER: Wolf, a new U.N. statement says more than a quarter of Syria's population is now in need of food, shelter, medical care, or other aid. And a top U.N. official says the situation is, quote, dramatically deteriorating. The U.N. says more than half million Syrians have fled their country's civil war.
And CNN has just learned that Maryland Democrat, Barbara Mikulski, will become the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. That chair is vacant after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (INAUDIBLE) this week. Mikulski would be the first woman to chair that powerful committee.
And we have some new information on this video. Take a look here. This has been causing quite the sensation on the internet. It purports to show a golden eagle trying to snatch (ph) a child from a park in Montreal, but it turns out it is a hoax. According to a statement from a Canadian animation school, three students made the video as part of a school project, but that hasn't stopped it from getting more than a million hits on YouTube since being posted last night.
And the photo sharing app, Instagram, is backtracking one day after creating an uproar by suggesting it owns user's photos and may use them or sell them without permission or providing compensation. But a co-founder of the company now says that the controversial language is being removed from the updated terms of service. And a blog post he writes the Instagram, quote, "does not claim any ownership rights over your photos."
And talk about an uproar. I know a lot of people were buzzing about that saying, wait a minute, Instagram is going to own our photos.
BLITZER: Yes. If they want to sell them to advertising agencies --
SYLVESTER: -- to sell them for advertising agencies, so I am not surprised a bit that they are backtracking on this, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let's see the --
BLITZER: I'm skeptical. Let's go through all the language before we draw any final conclusions.
SYLVESTER: Good point, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's been five years since one father shared with me the wrenching loss of his daughter in the Virginia Tech University massacre. Now, the father is back with what could be some very helpful advice for the parents of the children killed in Newtown, Connecticut.
BLITZER: The parents of the victims in the Newtown massacre have a new reality, life without their child. Almost six years ago, I spoke to one father who had just lost his daughter in the Virginia Tech shooting.
JOE SAMAHA, PRES., VTV FAMILY OUTREACH FOUNDATION: And I knew she was in that building and found out she was that -- that class was on the second floor and I got very concerned. I kept it internally because I always try to have hope and hold out hope and so did my wife and children, but I was, all the time, thinking the worst was happening to her.
BLITZER: And you weren't getting any information from the campus, from authorities here, from campus officials or the police or hospitals or anything?
SAMAHA: No one really could put the names of the victims with their I.D.s as they were taken out of the room. So, if they couldn't speak for some reason, they didn't know who they were. We called the hospitals and that's how I did my homework. She was not on any list of injured or wounded. And so, the morgue was the next natural place to call.
BLITZER: Did you actually go there?
SAMAHA: No, we did not go there. They wouldn't allow us to go there and they weren't releasing any names until they could do a positive I.D.
BLITZER: So what time did you get the confirmation of this horrible, horrible news? SAMAHA: Probably around an hour later, around 7:15, 7:30.
BLITZER: Last night?
SAMAHA: It was actually a young fellow on campus, a friend who was at the -- at the building at the time and he new the ambulance drivers and he is the one that came in and broke the news to me.
BLITZER: We don't understand why this can happen, why bad things happen to good people.
SAMAHA: Absolutely. We just -- we just believe and we hope that -- you know, and I grieve for the other families, too. It's just -- it's senseless.
BLITZER: And Joseph Samaha is joining us here. He's the father of Reema.
Mr. Samaha, thanks very much. I'm sorry you're living through this once again. But first of all, how are you doing?
SAMAHA: Fine. It's retraumatization of all the families, all the victims and survivors of our tragedy as well, and I'm sure other tragedies across the country, you know, just two days prior to Newtown there was a mall massacre. We've forgotten about that. There was Northern Illinois University and the other schools. And we just can't forget them. And I know those families are retraumatized by this event as well.
BLITZER: Your son Omar, how is he doing?
SAMAHA: Omar is doing well. He's very involved in public safety issues as well. What's come out of this tragedy is something I think that's amazing and I want to tell the families of Newtown, there is hope.
BLITZER: There is hope, you say. So when you heard the news of these 20 little first graders gunned down in Newtown Friday morning, six educators, all women, what was your immediate reaction?
SAMAHA: Numbness. Just shock. Horror. I couldn't believe it. You swell up. Your eyes just tear up. And you say, not again. When will it ever stop? What can we do to make sure it not happen again or make it harder for it not to happen again.
BLITZER: Because you've lived -- you've lived through this horror. So give --
BLITZER: If any of these parents are watching right now, what advice do you have for them?
SAMAHA: Well, I will tell you, I will tell you, Wolf, that these families in Newtown, the Sandy Hook School families are on islands right now. The issues that we're talking about, the social issues we're talking about, the gun debate we're talking about, security in schools, that's a vortex swirling around them right now.
Their immediate attention is themselves. Between themselves, interfamily relationships. They are worried about, you know, what they're going to put -- what clothes they're going to put on their children to bury them, much less worry about what's going to go on with the gun issue.
BLITZER: What do -- what do they expect? What do you expect they will have to endure in the coming months?
SAMAHA: I expect, now that they are on these islands, there have to be bridges built to those islands. There's a lot of love and care going into that. They will reach out to each other. They will -- they will form hopefully a support group amongst themselves to deal with this tragedy. At some point in time, the -- you know, the issue of politics will come into this. But they are not ready for that right now. They will look amongst themselves and say, what can we do about this tragedy and what can we build as a living legacy for our children, for those diamonds in the sky?
BLITZER: And the immediate -- you know, over these past five, almost six years, just walk us through a little bit, the different transitions that you've gone through.
SAMAHA: Well, the transitions can be, again, some people take action and some people take a spiritual road, some people take a political road. And my family personally, we took both roads. My wife took the spiritual road and I took the political road, what am I going to do about this tragedy. The important thing that these families need to do is continue to hold hands even though they are on parallel and different paths because some day they are going to look at each other and say, what can we do?
Not everybody wants to do something about it. Not -- some people will just go home and lock the door and turn out the lights. That's the worst thing that could happen. We need to form a support group to help.
BLITZER: Reema was your youngest.
SAMAHA: Yes, she is.
BLITZER: Remind us a little about Reema.
SAMAHA: Reema was just -- I man I hear it over and over again, I think one of the dads, Robbie Walker, speaking about his daughter, that was me 5 and 1/2 years ago speaking about my daughter, wanted the world to know about her and how lovely she was and how great she was and how beautiful she was. And I cannot but reflect on the others that were killed as well and their beautiful lives, which you'll find, Wolf, is a vain that -- very similar vein that flows through the bodies of all of these children and all of these families. They're very good people and they're loving people and they're beautiful children.
BLITZER: Tell us about the foundation that you've started to help deal with campus security. Because your daughter, like others.
BLITZER: It was the worst school massacre in American history, of Virginia Tech University. I went out there right away. Tell us about this foundation and what you're doing.
SAMAHA: Yes, I will. It's tough to rank the tragedies, you know. The --
BLITZER: We're talking in terms of the numbers.
SAMAHA: Exactly. Exactly. Well, you know, a number of families sat around a table two months after our tragedy and our tears and our grief and we said, what can we do about this? Our first thoughts went to the survivors of the tragedy, what do we do to help them? What do we do then to help ourselves, the PTSD, our lives were changed forever and then the second thing we said, what will we do as a living legacy for those that were killed?
And as a group, over time, we decided that we would form this foundation as a support group and then we -- our program for 32 National Campus Safety Index evolved. We sat around saying, what are we going to do as a living legacy, and this index, which will basically grade schools and universities on various criteria. Among them, the mental health support that they get at universities, among them, sharing of information. Very important if you have a problem child in a school. And also threat assessment teams.
So there are 32 criteria and schools will be ranked by those criteria. We can talk about the hardware, which are the locks on the doors and the glasses and how we're going to build, you know, these buildings but we have to talk about the software. How do we take care of these children from elementary school all the way through university. There's a continuum that we need to talk about. That's the software.
BLITZER: Really important information. VTV Family Outreach Foundation. And people should get involved and this is -- we've put it up there. VTVFamilyFoundation.org. Excellent work that you're doing.
Mr. Samaha, what can I say? I wish this situation were different. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with our viewers, especially right now.
SAMAHA: I appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
BLITZER: Joseph Samaha's daughter Reema was killed at Virginia Tech University.
President Obama says the fact that Republicans are rejecting his latest fiscal cliff offer to him -- and I'm quoting him now -- is puzzling. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Getting some new information on the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and when she might appear before Congress on the whole Benghazi story.
Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is working her sources.
Dana, what are you learning?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm learning from the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that is Hillary Clinton has committed to testifying next month, probably mid- January. Of course, this is an issue because the big hearings are going to happen tomorrow but the secretary is not going to be here. She's sending two of her deputies instead because of her health issues.
She had a stomach flu and of course suffered from a concussion because she fell and hit her head. The chairwoman of the committee told me that the secretary is feeling better and that she will, in fact, testify. And this is something that members of Congress want in a big way. They want the "Big Kahuna," so to speak, the secretary of state to be the one to come here and talk about all the things we now know in the report that came out today about Benghazi, all the things we know that went really, really wrong.
BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens on that front.
Dana, the other big story you're covering, the fiscal cliff negotiations, the back and forth, the stalemate, shall we say. What else are you learning on that front?
BASH: Well, you know, it is less than two weeks until we go careening off the fiscal cliff. But what is happening is that the finger pointing and blaming in public is really all the talking that's going on across party lines.
BASH (voice-over): Using the bully pulpit as only a president can, Mr. Obama painted Republicans as unwilling to take yes for an answer.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take the deal. They will be able to claim that they have worked with me over the last two years to reduce the deficit more than any other deficit reduction package. I think we're in a position to say we've gotten a fair deal. The fact that they haven't taken it yet is puzzling.
BASH: The president called Republicans out on the politics behind some GOP resistance. A deal with him is hard to swallow.
OBAMA: They keep on finding ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes. And I don't know how much of that has to do with, you know, it is very hard for them to say yes to me. BASH: The deal he's proposing is a roughly $2 trillion package, half from tax increases and half from spending cuts. The House speaker raced to the microphones to rebut the president and his math.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president's officer of $1.3 trillion of revenues, of $850 billion in spending reductions fails to meet the test that the president promised the American people, a balanced approach.
BASH: But with every American's taxes on the verge of going up, the House is moving towards a Thursday vote on Republican's plan B, a bill to keep tax cuts in place for households making under $1 million. The speaker challenged the president to support it or --
BOEHNER: He can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.
BASH: Several GOP lawmakers tell CNN it's important for Republicans reluctant to give any ground on taxes to go on the record as opposing tax increases for most Americans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as we get this revenue thing on the table, then we can really negotiate.
BASH: Still, even raising taxes on millionaires is a tough sell for some Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This would be unprecedented. This would be the first time.
BASH: GOP leaders are scrambling for votes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If any of us are going to go on record for raising taxes in the Republican House of Representatives, what are we getting in return?
BASH: The speaker did get a boost from Grover Norquist, who has locked most House Republicans into an anti-tax pledge. Norquist announced he, quote, "will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of that pledge."
BASH: Still, several House Republican sources are telling me that the speaker still does not have the votes even to pass his plan B and they are really moving very hard right now trying to twist arms on the House floor as we speak to get those votes.
And, Wolf, I'm also told by Republican sources that one of the things that they're considering to lure those reluctant House Republicans is to add spending cuts to this because they say that they just don't want to vote for any kind of tax increase at all, even if it's for millionaires but maybe it will be easier to swallow if they also have a vote on spending cuts and they are meeting about that as we speak.
BLITZER: We'll see if John Boehner can get 218 votes in the House of Representatives. We'll know more tomorrow.
Dana, thank you.
He calls it the week from hell but says it's his job to take care of what needs to be done. Up next, you're going to meet the people preparing so many children's funerals.
BLITZER: Four Sandy Hook Elementary School victims were laid to rest today, an unimaginably painful experience and unimaginable responsibility for those preparing for these funerals.
CNN's Poppy Harlow reports.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first call came in at 7:00 Saturday morning.
DANIEL HONAN, OWNER, HONAN FUNERAL HOME: Once the magnitude came, I said, well, we've got to get things planned out so we can do what we have to do.
HARLOW: The pain in his eyes concealed by his glasses, his exhaustion apparent, Daniel Honan runs the only funeral home in Newtown.
HONAN: One girl, the funeral we had yesterday, she loved orca whales.
HARLOW: Eleven of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary are being remembered here. Long lines outside, now a painful sight all too common in this picturesque town.
HONAN: Tragedy has fallen here in Newtown -- it's landed here. And it's our job to take care of what has to be done. That's what we do.
HARLOW: The calls with the families, difficult beyond words.
HONAN: They wanted to make something that would, you know, last -- a lasting memory for them, that would make what they thought their child's life should be. A reminder of what their children were. Many of the children had favorite hobbies. One girl loved horses and animals and wanted to be a vet. One boy was the Giants' fan.
HARLOW: Started by his grandfather more than a hundred years ago, this funeral home is where Honan grew up. But he has never seen anything as tragic as this.
(On camera): I've read that you called this the week from hell.
HONAN: Well, yes, it is the week from hell, but we'll get through it.
PASQUALE FOLINO, PRESIDENT, CONNECTICUT FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION: Their innocence was taken away from them, and that makes it very, very difficult for us to deal with. HARLOW (voice-over): Pasquale Folino runs the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association and has gathered more than 100 volunteers to help with the Newtown funerals.
FOLINO: We want to try to ease their pain, just a little bit. It can never take it away, fully.
HARLOW (on camera): Mentally, how do you prepare to talk to these families?
FOLINO: You prepare yourself, knowing that you have a role to play, and that role is to assist them, in helping them say good-bye to their little girl. You walk in, I walk in, and I personally give each family a hug.
HARLOW (voice-over): Folino is doing what he's done since he was 16. But these feel too close to home.
FOLINO: It been very heart wrenching. My daughters are 8 and 10 and 17. And when I go home, I give them an extra hug.
HARLOW (on camera): How do you keep your composure doing this, each day, more children?
FOLINO: It's very, very difficult. In the evening, when you go home, you deal with it. You talk to your family, you sort of collect your thoughts and try to just -- cry. Cry. That's what we do.
HARLOW (voice-over): For Honan, the coping will come in the weeks ahead. For now, he tries to tune it out.
HONAN: When I go home at night, I don't -- when I turn the TV on, I turn it on to -- I've been watching Christmas movies. It's an escape. And, you know, I find great comfort in my wife. My wife is -- my wife is my rock.
HARLOW: His rock. And a rock is what just about everyone in this town needs right now, Wolf. I can tell you that Honan has gotten some 2,000 e-mails from funeral directors across the country, wanting to help, and the only help for these families right now is that at least the cost of the funerals for all of those 11 kids at Honan's Funeral Home has been donated. Volunteers, people donating caskets, everything they need will be covered.
Where we are joining you from tonight is at Western Connecticut State University. In less than an hour, they will hold a tribute here. They're expecting about 4,000 people from around the community. The local choir will sing "Amazing Grace." They're giving out these candles for everyone.
Just another moment for the people in this community to come together and to try to grieve together through all of this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: These moments are very, very important for all these people here in -- I should say, in the community there. Thank you, Poppy. Thanks for that report. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: New information about a scandal involving workers at a daycare center on a U.S. military base in Virginia. Childcare workers there are accused of, among other things, slapping children.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been working this story.
What's going on here, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on a week when the nation is focused on the safety of small children, the U.S. Army is getting a failing grade. Last night, President Obama had to take the very unusual step of telephoning the secretary of the army, John McHugh, to express his concerns about arrests of these childcare workers near this facility at the Pentagon, at this facility, as well as problems with background checks against these workers who worked at this daycare facility.
A furious Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last night ordered a review of all military childcare facilities.
These two workers, the initial two that had been arrested back in September, charged with things like dragging little kids across the floor, slapping them, pinching them, all of this now, a growing scandal and getting the president's attention -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, tell us why the president, the commander in chief, is now involved in this?
STARR: Yes. You bet. How unusual is that? Not just because of the headlines across the country this week, but here's what's going on behind the scenes. Thirty workers, 30 childcare workers were removed from their jobs last Friday. These people were found to have background checks that involved things like assault, sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor.
All of this was in their background, and yet it hadn't been brought to the attention when they got hired. All of these things would have disqualified them immediately from working at any childcare facility.
So, furious, again, Leon Panetta stepped in. These people were removed last Friday by the Army. But here's what's interesting. Panetta last night ordered a review, because yesterday was the first time anybody told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about this problem -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know what started this whole investigation?
STARR: Well, you know, it was those two workers. Back in September, two workers were arrested for what is called simple assault against children under the age of 5 at this military childcare facility. They actually have now appeared in court against the charges that are against them. Again, things like dragging little kids across the floor, pinching them, slapping them.
That's what starts this all. From September until now, they have been investigating and they have found a total of 30 childcare workers that should never have been hired to work at this facility.
And -- but the thing that nobody can really explain at this point, Wolf, they're finally removed from their jobs on Friday, Panetta is told last night, the president is told -- it's not clear, between September and last night, why nobody mentioned it to the higher-ups. And even the secretary of the Army didn't know until last night.
BLITZER: Disgusting. All right, Barbara, thank you.