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THE SITUATION ROOM

Winter Storm; Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff

Aired December 26, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On this day after Christmas, extreme weather is making travel slow, difficult, and dangerous for millions of Americans. Severe storms are moving toward the East Coast right now, packing snow and threatening tornadoes. The kind of blizzard conditions that hit the Midwest are moving into New England. The region could get more than a foot of snow tonight and tomorrow.

In the South, a storm that unleashed tornadoes is heading into the Carolinas and Northern Florida. At least three deaths are being blamed on the severe weather.

CNN's Holly Firfer is at the world's busiest airport in Atlanta.

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Joe.

Yes, well, if people are trying to get home this day after Christmas, it's a tough day to travel. As that storm heads through the Northeast, it's making it hard to travel by road and in the air.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FIRFER (voice-over): Snow, ice and high winds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's always scary when you're flying that you will be stuck in the airport.

FIRFER: As massive storm it that left many in the Midwest and parts of the South with a white Christmas is pounding the Northeast with blizzard-like conditions forcing hundreds of flights to be delayed or canceled.

The highways were not much better as officials warned people to stay off the roads, especially in the Midwest, where icy conditions made driving treacherous. On Christmas Day, as many as 30 tornadoes bounced across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The hardest hit, Mobile, Alabama, where a twister ripped through the city, downing trees, power lines and damaging more than 100 homes and businesses, as well as a church and a high school. Some were caught on the road when the tornado hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that point, we just kind of drove as fast as we possibly could to get out of the way.

FIRFER: Today, officials assessed the damage and a cleanup began across much of the South.

PATRICIA HUNTER, VICE PRINCIPAL, MURPHY HIGH SCHOOL: This is a dangerous situation with all the roofs off, and the windows blown out. This is just devastating.

FIRFER: The top priority now, getting power back to more than 215,000 residents across the Southeast left in the dark. With temperatures expected to dip below freezing in some areas, officials say the main concern is keeping people safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FIRFER: And about 1,400 flights have already been canceled and hundreds more delayed. And that number will keep climbing as the storm moves toward New England tonight and tomorrow.

And speaking of tomorrow, if you're traveling tomorrow, we have heard that already, at least 90 flights have been canceled, so you're going to want to call the airport, call the airlines ahead of time, so you don't end up waiting in the airport. The best advice at this point, if you can stay put where you are and enjoy more time with family and friends, do that. The roads are dangerous. And if you are flying, pack some patience to go with you.

JOHNS: Holly Firfer at Atlanta Airport, thanks for that, Holly.

President Obama is wrapping up his Christmas break in Hawaii.

Lisa Sylvester's here.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Joe.

You know, the president clearly has his work cut out for him. President Obama is coming back to Washington to try to reach a deal on avoiding the fiscal cliff. He now has less than a week until automatic tax hikes and sending cuts go into effect and the way out of this mess isn't clear.

Here's our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lisa, House Republican leaders who are home for Christmas held a conference call this afternoon to talk about when the House should come back in session. Two GOP sources tell me they did not make a decision. It's still up in the air. A reason for that is, if anything can get done in the next six days, the ball is in the Senate's court.

(voice-over): The Capitol is a ghost town. The halls are empty, neither chamber in session, an eerie calm since the fiscal cliff only Congress has the power to avert is less than one week away. From their homes for the holidays, Senate Democratic leaders are trying to figure out if the president's scaled-back bill to keep middle class tax cuts in place can pass Congress at the 11th hour.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is absolutely no reason, none, not to protect these Americans from a tax hike. At the very least, let's agree right now on what we already agree on. Let's get that done.

BASH: But to get that done, Democrats first would likely need nearly 10 Senate Republicans to cross party lines and vote to effectively increase taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans. Some conservatives be grudgingly now say they're willing to do that.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: If we get done to the end of this year and the only choice we have is save taxes going up on the middle class, then I would support that.

But I wish we would have a comprehensive bill that dealt with spending, dealt with entitlements and dealt with taxes altogether.

BASH: The Senate returns to work Thursday, but Democratic sources say their best realistic chance of getting GOP votes is when the pressure will really be on, at or close to December 31, the last day before everyone's taxes go up.

But CNN is told that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is privately warning colleagues if he's not sure the president's scaled- back bill will pass both houses of Congress, he won't even bring it up for a vote. The concern sources say is that a failed vote and going off the fiscal cliff would spook the markets even more.

Sources in both parties say the most likely scenario at this point is going of the fiscal cliff. Why? After January 1, when everyone's taxes go up, the new Congress sworn this on January 3 could vote to cut taxes, a much easier vote to cast for Republicans, as well as some Democrats.

(on camera): The president is now scheduled to leave his family in Hawaii and come back to Washington Thursday morning in the hopes of helping fellow Democrats in Congress try to find enough Republicans to pass his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy. But it's a plan most Republicans fervently campaigned against -- Lisa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Thanks, Dana, for that report.

JOHNS: There is new evidence that the recovery in the housing market is strengthening. Home prices rose in October, posting the biggest annual gain in more than two years.

Alison Kosik has more on that from the New York Stock Exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Joe.

The housing market continues to be one of the brightest bright spots for the U.S. economy. Today, we learned home prices in the 20 biggest cities in the U.S. rose 4.3 percent in October, compared to October of 2011. S&P Case-Shiller says it's the biggest increase in more than two years.

The new numbers reaffirmed the recovery in the housing market continues to gain steam. Recent reports have also shown home sales, homebuilding, and builder confidence are also moving higher. Ah, but here's a reality check. Prices are still down 29 percent from their peak, which was hit in 2006.

Still, cities that took the biggest hit during the recession are now seeing the biggest increases in home prices. Prices in Phoenix are up more than 20 percent from last year. In Detroit, prices are up 10 percent. Only two of the 20 cities measured showed a decline in October, those Chicago and New York, but New York also had a much smaller housing bust, so it's all relative. And at this point, it's all relatively good -- Joe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: You know, that's really interesting, because not all of the signs about the economy are pointing in the same direction. Retail sales didn't show so much strength.

SYLVESTER: Yes, well, one of the reasons because of that is the fiscal cliff, and National Retail Federation had warned unless Congress gets to some kind of a deal, they were concerned that they would be essentially collateral damage. And sure enough, that shows.

But it is a bright spot in the economy. A lot of people feel a little happier that the prices, their home values are going back up again after so long of seeing it go down and headed in one direction.

JOHNS: A lot of people are saying it's just not the right time for Congress to do something to affect an already fragile economy. We will see, right?

SYLVESTER: Right. That's right. And we will see also on the fiscal cliff. And the fiscal cliff standoff here in Washington is frustrating the CEO of Starbucks. He is asking some of his employees to help promote a deal.

And children in need of a home are caught in the middle of a dispute over human rights.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The CEO of Starbucks is pleading with officials here in Washington to avoid the fiscal cliff.

SYLVESTER: And he's doing it one coffee cup at a time. Starbucks employees in the D.C. area are being asked to write "Come together" on customers' cups tomorrow and Friday.

In a letter to employee, Starbucks chief Howard Schultz wrote -- quote -- "Rather than be bystanders, you and your customers have an opportunity, and I believe we all have a responsibility to send our elected officials a respectful, but potent message, urging them to come together to find common ground."

JOHNS: Let's bring in CNN's Poppy Harlow.

Poppy, you spoke with Howard Schultz recently about the fiscal cliff.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did.

He's been very vocal about when it comes to how much harm he thinks this could wreak on our economy, on the global economy. But the timing of this is very key. Congress comes back in session tomorrow, and starting tomorrow morning in the D.C. area and in Virginia, they're going to write "Come together" on your Starbucks cup, to try to send Washington that message, that you need to get a deal done before the end of the year.

Let's show people the ad as well that they're going to see in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," coming from Starbucks as well. But, yes, Howard Schultz has been very outspoken. We sat down for a lengthy interview earlier this month, and he explained to me why he thinks it's so imperative that Congress reaches a deal. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD SCHULTZ, CEO, STARBUCKS: The real difference today vs. perhaps any other time in history is that this single issue that has a seismic effect on the rest of the world, that we have never been as connected and the domino effect of a bad outcome here will have significant negative consequences domestically and around the world, not the least of which will be the level, the fracturing of confidence in the United States of America.

HARLOW: Seismic and significant. Very powerful words.

SCHULTZ: Yes.

HARLOW: How could this play out for American is if we don't have a deal? What is that going to feel like to them, Howard?

SCHULTZ: I think there'll be tremendous personal pressure on people who are going to see their daily lives affected in ways that are hard to fathom, hard to calculate, and hard to understand. And that's why I think this is so critical, coupled with the fact that this is going to have a significant avalanche affect on the rest of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: And he went on to tell me that he thinks that this debacle, not having a deal yet on the fiscal cliff, compared to the whole debt ceiling debate and debacle in Washington, is night and day, Joe, that this is that much worse.

JOHNS: So, Poppy, what is Howard Schultz up to here? It seems like he's been more and more vocal about politics. Is he planning on running for something?

HARLOW: That's a great question. It's one I ask him every time I interview him. And he insists every time, no, he's not interested at all in a political seat. He actually thinks he can be more effective in terms of change in the private sector. So you see him making moves like this.

But, you know, Starbucks not that long ago came out in support of gay marriage in their home state of Washington. And then it was about a year ago when Howard Schultz came out and called on fellow CEOs and average Americans not to give any money to political campaigns in either party until Washington gets its fiscal house in order. So it's interesting, and pretty rare to see a CEO of a big public company like this coming out so vocally when it comes to political issues.

JOHNS: That's for sure. It's a different kind of business model there.

HARLOW: Yes, true.

JOHNS: Thanks so much, Poppy Harlow.

HARLOW: Sure.

SYLVESTER: Yes, they always say that they're not planning on running, until they actually do.

JOHNS: Right. Yes. And then they're in the game.

(CROSSTALK)

SYLVESTER: Isn't the case, Joe?

JOHNS: Happened before.

SYLVESTER: And a new worry for hundreds of American families who want to adopt. We will tell you what's behind a controversial move by Russian lawmakers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Some Americans who are desperate to adopt a child are keeping a close watch on Russian politics right now. A measure that would prevent U.S. families from adopting Russian children is headed to President Vladimir Putin's desk.

Lisa, you have been looking into this.

SYLVESTER: Russia actually ranks third of all the countries for U.S. adoption, just behind China and Ethiopia. But the country is now moving closer towards banning adoptions by American families.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Lee Allen and his wife had planned on adopting only one baby from Russia, but they couldn't bear to leave behind a second baby who shared the same crib.

LEE ALLEN, FATHER: The boys had already made a home in my heart, and all I wanted to do was go across the ocean, go over to Russia, scoop them up, and bring them home. And I counted the days. I counted the hours until I could do that.

SYLVESTER: Today, the two boys, Jason (ph) and John Christian (ph), are 13 years old, and this is how they describe their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe that I'm here with a family. It's lovely being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love the family. I'm happy.

SYLVESTER: But their adoptions almost didn't happen. About the time Lee Allen was going to adopt them in 1999, a newly appointed President Vladimir Putin imposed a ban on adoptions. But that was lifted six months later. Now Russia, once again, is considering banning adoptions of Russian children by American families.

The ban was unanimously approved by the upper house of parliament and now only needs Putin's signature to become law. The measure is widely seen as retaliation for a U.S. law that imposed travel and financial sanctions on human rights abusers in Russia. The issue hasn't gone unnoticed by the State Department.

PATRICK VENTRELL, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into American homes over the past 20 years. Just last month, we implemented a bilateral adoptions agreement with Russia to improve safeguards for adopted children and their families.

SYLVESTER: That agreement comes after a 2010 incident that sparked global outrage, when a Tennessee woman put her adopted son back on a plane to Russia, claiming the boy who was 7 at the time had violent episodes.

But Russia still remains a popular choice for American couples looking to adopt. These are photos of children and their new American families. The Christian Services Adoption Agency says if the ban is implemented, hospitals in Russia will be overwhelmed with orphan children.

GALINA SIGAYEVA, CHRISTIAN SERVICES ADOPTION AGENCY (through translator): I think it's very sad. It's no secret that most children are adopted by people in the United States, children who will otherwise remain here. I can't even imagine who will take them. I think it will lead to a systemic crisis.

SYLVESTER: But, politics aside, it's hard to capture the emotions for the hundreds of U.S. families seeking adoptions and the children who have already met their prospective parents.

ALLEN: They start to dream. They dream of a family. They dream of a home. They dream of a mom and a dad and a brother and a sister. And then I can't even imagine -- I can't even imagine telling a child that they need to -- they need to stop that dream. You know, they need to wake up from that dream, because it may not happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And Russia has more than 650,000 children in orphanages. And for the American parents who are in the middle of this adoption process, it is unclear at this point what is going to happen to those cases if President Putin signs the measure.

And, as you can imagine, there are a lot of families in limbo, and there are a lot of the children who are awaiting adoption who have actually met their prospective parents and now they don't know what's going to happen.

JOHNS: That's just excruciating.

SYLVESTER: It is. And it all depends on what President Putin does. Does he sign this ban or not? A lot of people though are appealing to him, a lot of agencies are appealing to him, please don't do it.

JOHNS: Thanks, Lisa.

A new move to get guns off the streets after the Connecticut school shooting. We will get an update on a buyback in Los Angeles. How many people are actually willing to give up their guns?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Happening now, a gun buyback amid growing calls for action after the Connecticut school shooting. A top NRA official defends the group's refusal to compromise.

Plus, the most popular and unpopular members of the Obama Cabinet and the message for the president's second term.

And Matt Damon's legacy. The actor talks about his favorite cause and how it helps children around the world.

Wolf Blitzer's off. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The city of Los Angeles is trying to get guns off the streets today by buying them back, no questions asked.

SYLVESTER: It's a yearly event, but it's being held earlier than usual because of the Connecticut school massacre. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tells CNN it's a way to show frustrated citizens that something is being done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: They want to act. They're tired of waiting on the Congress and on our legislatures to do something. They feel like there is too much talk and not enough action. And this is an opportunity for people to act, to get rid of guns that they don't use, that they don't need, that too often are stolen, and in fact more often used in an accident than defending themselves against an intruder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Let's bring in CNN's Paul Vercammen in Los Angeles -- Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Joe and Lisa, this has been absolutely brisk here today.

I'm in the San Fernando Valley, which has a million residents, this suburb of Los Angeles. And there has been a steady stream today all day long of people giving up their guns behind me. We're not going to let you see too many people close up, because we will preserve their anonymity and of course the anonymity of undercover detectives, but let me tell you this.

They have pulled in quite a few assault rifles, assault weapons, and if you would like we will give you a little show and tell right now from a person that works in the gun unit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An AK-47-type gun. It may not be the real McCoy, but again it's a semiautomatic and that shoots a 7.62, a very large-caliber round.

A street sweeper is a shotgun. It's unlawful in the state of California because of that drum magazine. Anything with a drum magazine on a shotgun is unlawful in the state of California. And these here, TEC-9s and Uzis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: And now back here live.

About 70 assault weapons in all in two locations. They believe they have got about 1,600 guns that they have pulled in. And this was supposed to end at 4:00 local time. That's not going to happen. In fact, a line that extends far to the west over here is probably going to continue well past 4:00. And there's a bit of a risk, by the way, that they may run out of these grocery store gift cards, this has been so popular today. So things going very well here for the LAPD, Joe and Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Yes, 1,600 guns so far.

Paul, some folks, they could just try to sell some of these guns for more of a profit, but they don't. Why is that? VERCAMMEN: I think many of them are just absolutely petrified, when you talk to people here, that the guns are in the house, that they're not sure what may happen to them. We had grandmothers telling us they're worried about their grandkids getting ahold of guns.

We had a bodyguard saying he had two unregistered rifles. Whatever you can think of, people came to give up these guns. And you're right. They will melt these guns down. There's a sense that they could go ahead and play "Antiques Road Show" and try to sell off a lot of these guns, but the LAPD said they would hate to see what would happen if some of these guns wound up in a third party.

And, by the way, at one point, buried in one of these bins -- they just treated it like it was any old bit of refuse -- somebody dumped about a $10,000 1920s German Luger in the bin, along with the Berettas and the Magnums and all the other guns.

JOHNS: Wow.

I wonder if they knew how much that thing could actually be sold for? Probably not.

VERCAMMEN: Well, the P.D. was the ones that made the estimate. We have seen all kinds of unique guns here, World War II era guns, along with those assault rifles and other pistols. It's just a whole menagerie. And for a lot of the people that drove up, they just had no idea how to safely secure them.

And many of them privately worried that somebody, the wrong person, would get ahold of these guns at some point.

JOHNS: Got it. Thanks so much, Paul Vercammen in Los Angeles tonight.

Gun control advocates aren't letting up in their criticism of the National Rifle Association and its response to the Connecticut school shooting. I spoke earlier with the group's point man on the problem of guns in schools, Asa Hutchinson. I asked him about the NRA's call for armed guards in schools and whether there should be a national registry of gun owners.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ASA HUTCHINSON, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: My limited responsibility which is a vast responsibility, is looking at real solutions for safety.

And I believe that when you're looking at the challenge of schools, whether you're protecting a shopping mall or whether you have an armed person that, a police officer's off-duty that protect churches, even why would we not think it logical that we'd also protect the children of our nation in a school environment?

I think it can be done consistent with safety. It can be done consistent with their learning atmosphere. And that's my challenge, is bring experts together to accomplish that. JOHNS: You were part of the news conference with the National Rifle Association on Friday. I want to play you a little bit of what Wayne LaPierre had to say there. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters, people that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Of course, he's the executive -- the executive vice president of the NRA.

I have to ask you, when you listen to that sound bite, the question that rings in my head is whether he just articulated a good reason for gun control, as opposed to against gun control. What's your view?

ASA HUTCHINSON, DIRECTOR, NRA's NATIONAL SCHOOL SHIELD RESPONSE PROGRAM: Well, I think you have to put guns in the hands of the right people. For example, hunters obviously have a need for their own weapons. And there's recreational uses and so on. But when you're talking about for law enforcement purposes, and the monsters that's been described, or the deranged that are intent on killing people, we want to protect our airplanes, our passengers, and we've done that in a very good way with federal air marshals. We want to protect them, our society from them, in places that people are in danger. And we've come to solutions in every environment. The schools should not be exempt from that.

And so when you look at our school atmosphere, where one third of our schools have an armed presence, I think that you could look at expanding that. To me, the objections are primarily a cost issue. It's a training issue, which is critically important. That's why I want to bring together, whether it's the Secret Service or the federal air marshals who have experience in this kind of training, to make sure that the people in sensitive environments such as schools, who have a weapon for protective purposes, are properly trained. I think we can do that

JOHNS: Do you think that news conference really set the right tone, if you will, for a conversation post the shooting in Newtown?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think they were very respectful that the NRA and Wayne La Pierre waited, and a response was demanded from the NRA, and he articulated the position. He might not have articulated exactly like I would have, in every way. I said my own remarks. I emphasized the independence of my study group and the emphasis on school safety.

And quite frankly, I'm grateful for the NRA stepping forward and actually offering a positive solution in terms of school safety and focusing of the debate on that, which I think is the right debate that we have. They're going to debate in my former institution of Congress, the issue of further restrictions. I want to focus on the safety side of the children, and I think that's the right debate to have, that will provide long-term solutions.

JOHNS: Asa Hutchinson, always good to see you. Thanks for giving us a little bit of time in THE SITUATION ROOM.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Joe, good to be with you.

More tough questions for the NRA. The group's president, David Keene, will be a guest on "CNN NEWSROOM" tomorrow morning. That's 10 a.m. Eastern.

SYLVESTER: And President Obama has some big shoes to fill, as he tries to replace some exiting members of his cabinet. New poll numbers and more controversy ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: A civil rights icon is home from the hospital. Lisa has that and more of the day's top stories -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi, Joe.

Well, Nelson Mandela has been discharged from a South African hospital. The 94-year-old former president will continue treatment at his home. He was hospitalized with a lung infection on December 8. One week later, he had surgery to remove gall stones.

And former president George H.W. Bush remains in a Houston hospital ICU after spending Christmas there with his family. His spokesman tells CNN Mr. Bush is in guarded condition with an elevated fever, but says the 88-year-old is in good spirits. Mr. Bush has been in a hospital for over a month now. Doctors initially were treating him for bronchitis and a lingering cough.

And Toyota says it has agreed to a $1.1 billion settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving vehicles speeding up unintentionally. The Japanese automaker reportedly would install new safety equipment in affected cars. In a statement, Toyota says multiple tests confirm the safety of its electronic control systems, but it says it wanted to, quote, "turn the page on this issue." A federal judge must still approve the deal.

And "Les Miserables'" Christmas opening was far from miserable. The "Hollywood Reporter" says the adaptation of the Broadway musical grossed -- get this -- $17.5 million, on its one-day holiday debut. Not far behind, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" at 14 million, and "The Hobbit," already in release, slipped to No. 3 with just under 11 million -- Joe.

JOHNS: Plenty to see. You bet.

The holiday season is known as a time of giving. So it's a good time to focus on people who are giving back to their communities. That includes some A-list celebrities who are dedicated to charitable work throughout the year.

CNN's Alina Cho profiles actor Matt Damon in her special series, "Big Stars, Big Giving."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, would you believe nearly 1 billion people around the world struggle to find clean water? These are things we are used to, like faucets and toilets. Damon is on a quest to change that, and he says the biggest challenge is getting people in the western world to care.

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: It's very hard for us to understand. You make up in the morning, if you're thirsty, there's a faucet right there. There's one in the bathroom. There's one in the kitchen, and clean water comes out of all of them.

CHO: But for nearly a billion people around the world -- a billion -- there is no affordable access to clean water. More than double that number lack proper sanitation.

DAMON: Every 20 seconds, a kid under the age of 5 is dying, losing their life because they do not have access to clean water, and it just doesn't have to be that way.

CHO: So in 2009, Damon and world-renowned water expert Gary White founded Water.org.

DAMON (voice-over): We're approaching it differently than many other organizations.

CHO: Their mantra, wells are great, but charity can't help everyone. So White pioneered a concept called water credit.

GARY WHITE, WATER EXPERT: So we knew that women in India, for instance, were going and paying 125 percent interest on loans to loan sharks so they could build a toilet. So we said, let's take microfinance and layer it in here and give people access to affordable loans so they can buy that toilet, so they can get that water connection.

CHO: Depending on where you are, that could mean a faucet in your own home, or a toilet, with clean, running water.

Water credit is working. White says loans are being repaid at a rate of 98 percent in places like Haiti.

DAMON: That was my first grass runway.

CHO: What Damon and White are trying to eliminate is the need to walk for water, taking time away from work or school.

(on camera) The water's there?

DAMON: Yes. All that time that you're wasting, going and standing in the line, you now have to go to your job. It's the difference between hope and looking forward to a better day and an existence that just basically is about, you know, scavenging for water.

CHO (voice-over): But how do you get people in the western world, where water is plentiful, to care?

DAMON: You know, we've talked about different ways to do that, maybe involving humor.

BEN STILLER, COMEDIAN: Hey, there.

CHO: Take Ben Stiller. He gets attention for his foundation, Stiller Strong, by producing hilarious videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Damon, he claims water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did he claim water? Is he Aqua Man?

STILLER: No, no, no, no.

CHO: Consider this. Damon talks about water on YouTube, 4,000 hits. This video with Sarah Silverman...

SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN: Who's that knocking at my door?

DAMON: Who's that knocking at my door?

CHO: Viral. Damon says his strong suit is getting people to care.

DAMON: Because there's a lot of kind of low-hanging fruit, so to speak. There are -- there's so many people that we can help.

CHO (on camera): Do you see a solution in your lifetime?

DAMON: Yes, we do. In fact, that's -- that's why we're here.

CHO: Water.org has helped 1 million people so far, but as Damon says, there's still another 880 million people to go. Nonetheless, he says it's a start, and it's a good one. He believes that this whole idea of water credit, meaning, giving people affordable loans in places where getting clean water is a challenge, is really working. And he says he believes it has the potential to reach up to 100 million people by 2020 -- Joe.

JOHNS: For more on Matt Damon's efforts to provide clean water to people around the world and how you can help, go to CNN.com/impact.

SYLVESTER: A senator arrested for drinking and driving. Should he resign or be forgiven? Our panel tackles that question, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: While President Obama is working to put together his second term cabinet, two current members are getting wildly different ratings from the public. SYLVESTER: Now, let's take a look at our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets a whopping 66 percent job approval rating. But only 36 percent of those surveyed approve of the way Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is doing his job.

JOHNS: Let's talk now about what that means for the president going forward. We're joined by CNN contributor Roland Martin and Republican strategist Alice Stewart.

So the first thing, when you look at the few people who are moving, we do have a number of big names. You have Hillary Clinton on her way out. The treasury secretary, Geithner, possibly on his way out. The CIA director's job has to be filled.

But what's most interesting right now is what we see with Susan Rice, whose nomination was sort of shot down before it even got out of the blocks. And there's some question as to whether the same thing has happened with former Senator Hagel and his possible nomination as defense secretary.

Do you think this is a new thing, Roland, to shoot down a nomination, when it's just been sort of floated as a trial balloon?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. Actually, it's why trial balloons were actually created, to sort of gauge the public, if you will.

I still believe President Obama should have put Ambassador Rice's name forward, and he should have dared the United States Senate to vote her down.

And also, I think, if you look at the administration, they have not done, to be honest, an effective job of really getting the cabinet out in a large way. Because you think about the last four years, secretary of education, Arne Duncan, he had an opportunity to really step out there. Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

But you did not have, again, your labor secretary. You did not have your commerce secretary, your energy secretary. And so he relied on sort of the people just around him.

I think this administration and the president should do a better job of getting his cabinet out there, because, frankly, most Americans don't even know who the rest of the cabinet members are.

JOHNS: Finer point on it, Roland. Do you think the president is sending a message that he won't fight for his nominees?

MARTIN: Well, I think what he's doing is, he's picking and choosing his battles, but he needs to understand, the last four years, Republicans fought him on everything. He should send the signal, "I'm not going to play the games we played the last four years. I'm going to be very aggressive, and if you want to deny me my choice, then you should vote that person down." He should have put her forward. And look, if he wants former senator Chuck Hagel, put him forward, as well, and tell the Senate, "I dare you to do it."

SYLVESTER: Alice, that brings up an interesting point. Tom Friedman, he wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times" today. He's actually defending Chuck Hagel. And I want to read a part of it.

He says, quote, "Hagel is out of the mainstream. That is exactly why his voice would be valuable right now. President Obama will still make all the final calls, but let him do so after having heard all of the alternatives."

So we've seen Republicans, like Senator McCain and Graham lead the charge against Susan Rice, but shouldn't these candidates at least have a chance to be nominated first, Alice? And whatever happened to deference to the president to allow him to choose his own cabinet?

STEWART: Well, I think the process of nominating these people, it's a very lengthy process. I think it's good that the administration is putting people out there as trial balloons.

But it's important to note, I know you pointed out earlier, those numbers with Hillary Clinton with such high approval ratings, I understand your poll was taken before the scathing report that came out that showed systemic failures under her watch at the -- you know, in her term, leading the Benghazi situation. And also Tim Geithner's numbers are so bad because of the terrible fiscal situation we're in.

And I think Susan Rice, I think the president stood behind her as long as he possibly could and just couldn't stand behind her anymore.

I think what we're seeing, already, with the Hagel potential nomination, is I think a lot of the Republicans are withholding their judgment. They are -- they don't like the way he was critical of the Iraq situation. But many of them, what I'm hearing, is they're reserving judgment.

But I think it is good for the administration to throw names out there, to see what -- what kind of feedback they may be getting. But we all know that the nomination process is a tough one, no Matter who is put out there to face the questions.

Alice, Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho was arrested this week in Virginia for DUI, and he's found himself now back in the hometown newspaper in Idaho, being compared, at least favorably, to former senator Larry Craig. Listen to this, and let's look at the words in the paper -- oh, I can't read it. All right.

"Crapo's mistake was not on the same level as former Senator Larry Craig's mistake at a Minneapolis airport bathroom in 2007. It was worse. Crapo could have killed himself or somebody else, which is a lot more serious than toe-tapping in a restroom stall. But there is a difference in how they handed their mistakes. Craig blamed everybody but himself. Crapo knows the DUI arrest was nobody's fault by his own and took the responsibility for his actions." So in the scheme of things, Alice, just how bad is it for a United States member of Congress, a senator or a congressman, to get popped for DUI?

STEWART: Well, it's bad for anyone to get arrested for DUI, and to do it in the first place. I think it -- this calls attention to the seriousness of this, especially in this time of year, when many people are out at parties.

But I do respect him for taking responsibility for his action and not trying to get out of it or blame anyone else. But it's not a good thing. And people have -- and some people have called for him to step down. That's his decision and his decision alone to make.

But, I think if nothing -- nothing more comes of this, we learned that the seriousness of people drinking and driving, and we need to understand that, fortunately in this case, there weren't more serious consequences.

JOHNS: Do you think he should be forgiven?

MARTIN: Joe?

JOHNS: Yes. Yes, Roland.

MARTIN: Look, here's the deal. I've never drank. That's really not my thing. If somebody else wants to drink, that's on them. Driving under the influence is absolutely intolerable.

But let's be clear: The guy shouldn't resign because he was arrested for a DUI. He should go through the legal process. They should be as fair with him, as tough on him as possible. But I just don't buy this notion that a member of Congress or in the administration, somebody makes a mistake, and it's, oh, all of a sudden, forget your career. Forget the constituents. You should resign. No, the constituents, they're the ones who elect folks. Allow them to make that choice when it comes to the next election. So he should resign, but go through the legal process.

SYLVESTER: So Roland, where is the line, I mean, when somebody should step down? Is it infidelity? Is it when they break the law? Is it when they're convicted. Where is that line?

MARTIN: First of all, there is no such line. It's really based upon that particular individual. If you look at the case of former congressman Anthony Weiner, it was the constant lying over and over and over again that did him in, that forced him to resign.

You look at the same thing, former Senator Craig, the whole back and forth, well, all the different stories. When you step up and you took responsibility in this country, historically, you've seen people say, "Look, we're going to forgive you." If I use baseball, Roger Clemens never admitted steroids. He still is catching hell. Andy Pettitte, he said, "I did it," and guess what? Most folks have now forgotten. That's what happens when you step up. STEWART: I agree with Roland. I think the repeat offenders we have, a lot of times politicians continue to do the same thing over and over and ask for forgiveness but continue to do it again. That's where we have the problem.

Hopefully, we'll -- he'll learn a lesson from this and won't do it again and remind people in this time of the year we shouldn't be getting behind the wheel when we've had something to drink.

JOHNS: Alice Stewart, Roland Martin, thanks so much. Always good to see you all.

MARTIN: Thanks a bunch.

STEWART: Thank you.

JOHNS: You bet.

SYLVESTER: Appreciate it. This is always what they say, that it's not the crime. It's the cover up. It's the lying.

JOHNS: Absolutely. It's a Washington traditions.

At the top of the hour, John Avlon will look back at the worst political fumbles of the year. John's hosting "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" tonight.

We hear you're talking to a pair of congressmen about the fiscal cliff, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is true. We're going deep on the fiscal cliff. We're asking them why aren't they at work, and what specifics would they back in a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

And also, as you said -- we're looking forward to it -- our top five political fumbles of 2012. It will be a lot of fun wrapping up the crazy political year we've had that's just about done.

JOHNS: John Avlon, good to see you. You do a good job hosting that show.

AVLON: Thanks, man. I appreciate that.

JOHNS: You bet.

SYLVESTER: Well, it's tough losing a e pet, but one man went to bizarre lengths to keep his beloved cat alive in spirit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: There are two things we need to know before we show you a video that's going viral. Next month, Notre Dame plays Alabama in college football's national championship game. Knew that. And one particular Crimson Tide fan surprised his dad with a ticket to the big game. His reaction is one for the ages. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow!

DON BUCKHANNAN, SURPRISED WITH TICKET: Hot diggety dog. I needed this. Was more than (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gave you the receipt just in case.

BUCKHANNON: Oh, I like it.

DANIEL BUCKHANNON, SON: What size is it?

DON BUCKHANNON: Huh?

DANIEL BUCKHANNON: What size is it?

DON BUCKHANNON: Fit him, I guess.

DANIEL BUCKHANNON: We going to the game, Pop! We going to the game!

DON BUCKHANNON: Now, it's just me and you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grandma!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: The big game is January the 7th.

SYLVESTER: That's like best gift ever, right? You've got to love that.

And finally, a bizarre tribute to a beloved cat. OK, it's a little creepy, definitely unforgettable. Here's another look at one of the most popular Jeanne Moos reports of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lift off. For the cat-copter. A remote-controlled helicopter made out of a dead cat? No wonder jaws dropped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we should let the cat rest in peace! That's crazy.

MOOS: But the cat's owner, Dutch artist Bart Jansen, considers this a tribute.

BART JANSEN, DUTCH ARTIST: I really loved this cat and for me, this is a way to actually make him eternal.

MOOS: His name was Orville. He and his brother, Wilbur, were named after the Wright brothers. So when Orville got hit by a car last year, Jansen turned him into art to be exhibited in a Dutch museum.

JANSEN: Since he was already named after a famous aviator, well, it became clear that he just needed to fly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's probably, like, the scariest thing I've probably ever seen in my life.

MOOS: Jansen had Orville taxidermied and put on an ultra- lightweight casing. Half cat, half machine Jansen calls it. The Orville copter.

JANSEN: There's a little flap here.

MOOS: Where gyroscopes and a receiver are. There's a propeller attached to each paw.

What was striking during out Skype interview, when Jansen held the Orville copter up to the camera...

(on camera) Those eyes.

JANSEN: Those eyes are glass, by the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sends the wrong message to children, too. It almost looks like it's being -- an animal is being tortured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's his own damn business. The animal's dead.

MOOS (voice-over): His brother, Wilbur, doesn't seem to know what to make of this reincarnation of Orville.

Jansen says cats dream of chasing birds. Just look at Tom in the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons.

Jansen says Orville used to lie on the doormat watching pigeons. "Now he's finally flying with the birds. The greatest goal a cat could ever reach."

But to PETA, "It's a macabre way to honor a beloved family member."

(on camera) Orville is now a cat copter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm an artist, so it's fine by me.

MOOS: But many of the comments online are beyond catty.

(voice-over) "That man is not an artist. He is a sadist."

"Dear 'artist,' I hope if you get run over, they make you into a man-o-copter."

JANSEN: Yes, well, that would -- wouldn't that be cool?

MOOS (on camera): The artist is willing to part with his flying pet.

JANSEN: I do think someone would want this. It is for sale. MOOS (voice-over): A Dutch TV show was shooting the cat copter in a field...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lift off.

MOOS: ... when its pilot sent it swooping towards some cows. Moo versus meow. And meow won.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the cat probably would approve.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

(on camera) Meow.

(voice-over) ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: So sad. That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

SYLVESTER: Oh, my God. You liked the Orville copter.

JOHNS: I did. That was, like, funny.