Return to Transcripts main page


House to Vote on Bipartisan Budget; More Factory Deaths in China for Apple; Aid Suspended to Rebels; Super-Secret Drone

Aired December 12, 2013 - 12:30   ET



We're keeping a close eye on Capitol Hill. That is because a House vote on a bipartisan budget bill, coming up later today.


House Speaker John Boehner says it's not everything he wanted, but he'll take it. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has some reservations, too, but that's what bipartisanship is all, a little give and take. She says the House Democrats are going to come through for this.

MALVEAUX: The bill is designed to prevent the government-shutdown drama that we saw just a couple of months ago.

We want to go to Brianna Keilar at the White House. So Brianna, so, first of all, if they prevent the government shutdown, we see this compromise here, does it mean that they'll be able to get more things done, perhaps immigration reform, other things on the agenda that the president has wanted to push through but could not?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think it's unclear at this point, but I would say that certainly this is something going in the right direction, don't you think? I mean, even though some people would say this is a modest agreement, it doesn't tackle some of the big issues.

You have Democrats who are upset. They want an extension of the long- term unemployment benefits. That's something, as well, Suzanne, that the White House wants. Republicans want more deficit reduction. but at the same time, both sides unhappy. Certainly they're going to lose some votes, we would expect. But it's looking like it has a really good chance of passing. You're hearing this from leaders on both sides of the aisle and you're hearing from the White House that President Obama will sign this if this passes Congress.

So I think it's important to note for President Obama that this is a sign of progress, because when you have a liberal Democrat like Patty Murray and a conservative Republican like Paul Ryan, and they're able to sit down and actually hammer something out; that is significant when you consider just the very divided climate that we have had.

And the other thing, I think, that matters for President Obama here is that he has spent so much time and energy and oxygen here in Washington, D.C., dealing with these budget battles that are popping up all the time.

The fact that this one wasn't done under a strict -- right up against a deadline, when it comes to this budget battle, is a sign of progress, where President Obama will be able to spend some time concentrating on his agenda instead of trying to push towards some sort of resolution to one of these budget battles.

HOLMES: As we've been say, the words "bipartisan" and "Congress" have been mutually exclusive for so long, you've got to wonder whether the pummeling that, particularly, the GOP took in the wake of the last budget shutdown perhaps nudged them along to getting this deal done.

Does that, though, point to further cooperation? Is it going to get warm and fuzzy in Congress? And I think I know your answer.

KEILAR: Wouldn't than lovely? You know, I don't know if you can say that, certainly, but you could look at those and say, they're going in the right direction rather than the other direction of not talking and not striking a deal. I think the White House is resigned to the reality that they're still up against a divided Congress.

The Congress and Republicans have, you know, opposed many of President Obama's agenda items, and I don't think that this, to the White House, is some sort of sign that's going to be completely turned on its head.

So you have President Obama, you have the White House, Michael and Suzanne, focusing, I think, very much on ways that they can do some of the thing he wants to do and going around Congress. But if he does want to get big things done, like immigration, he would need Congress' help.

And certainly this is a sign that things may be heading in the right direction, rather than they continue to be as divided or more divided than they have been in the past.

HOLMES: Yeah. Yeah, the poll numbers after the last shutdown might have, as I say, give them a bit of a shove along.

Brianna, thanks so much, Brianna Keilar.

KEILAR: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And Brianna makes a very good point. The president has taken so much time and so much energy just trying to keep the government running.

HOLMES: Yeah, let alone get anything done.

MALVEAUX: The fact that we've had the shutdown and the threats of shutdown so many times --


MALVEAUX: -- it's time to get the work of business government, you know --

HOLMES: Most unproductive Congress ever, I think it's been, officially. Yeah.

MALVEAUX: The budget deal includes a provision that could actually make it a little bit more expensive --

HOLMES: Oh, great.

MALVEAUX: -- to fly.

HOLMES: Great.

MALVEAUX: Sorry about that.

The deal would actually double the security fees from $2.50 per leg of a flight to $5.60 each way.

HOLMES: They're trying to pay for all of this. The money would generate about $12.6 billion over the next decade. It does add up, and that money would go into the general government fund. The airlines, well, they're fighting that increase.

MALVEAUX: And coming up, we're going to tell you about some troubling news from China.

Several factory employees who made iPhones and other Apple products, they have died.

Now, the company is trying to figure out if they literally worked themselves to death.


MALVEAUX: Could factory workers in China literally have worked themselves to death? That is the question. We have learned that Apple sent medical teams to China to inspect a factory where iPhones and other company products are made.

HOLMES: Yeah. It's been a controversy for a while. "The New York Times" is reporting that several young workers have died over just the last few months.

Let's go to Zain Asher at the New York Stock Exchange. Zain, I guess one of most disturbing things is that one of these workers was 15.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE/BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Michael, one of them was 15. His name was Shi Zhaokum (ph). He died of pneumonia in October while working at one of Apple's suppliers, Pegatron. It's a factory that produces iPhones and tablets and that kind of thing.

As you mentioned, he was 15-years-old. The legal working age in China is 16. But, by the way, both ages are relatively young to be working in a factory, especially by American standards. Pegatron is saying that this teenager had a fake ID. That's how he gained employment at this factory. There are also reports, by the way, that he worked up to 70 hours a week, definitely excessive, especially by American standards. And this is not the first time Apple suppliers have had to deal with death, quite frankly. There were reports that several other workers died at Pegatron. And also reports of up to 18 suicides at Foxconn, which is another one of Apple's suppliers, so it does raise questions about labor conditions and, also, just how much oversight Apple actually has at these factories.

Suzanne and Michael?

MALVEAUX: Zain, do we know if this is connected in any way, the pneumonia, the fact that these people are dying. They're working very hard. What is Apple saying about all this?

ASHER: Apple sent a team of medical experts over to China to investigate this.

Apple is saying, quite clearly, that they do not believe that any of these deaths are linked to labor conditions in China. They say they have strict measures in place that workers are not allowed to work more than 60 hours a week. And they say they believe these suppliers do comply, most of the time.

Pegatron, on the other hand, that's the supplier, they're saying they're going to be putting tighter controls in place to verify workers' ages, and they're also issuing their deepest condolences to the families of those who died.

Suzanne and Michael?

HOLMES: Yeah. Zain, thanks very much.

Yeah, Foxconn, that plant there has been controversial for years now.

All right, Zain, thanks so much, Zain Asher.

MALVEAUX: Just ahead, the U.S. cuts off non-lethal aid to rebels trying to depose Syrian president al-Assad.

We're going to take you live to the State Department to find out why.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to AROUND THE WORLD. Here are the top stories we're covering.

Some tourists in Kenya have now come under attack. Sources say CNN -- tell CNN, rather, that an explosive device was thrown at a car carrying two tourists.

HOLMES: Yes. Some say this was a grenade. It happened in the port city of Mombasa, which, of course, used to be a real holiday destination. Agence France-Presse is reporting that the pair is British. That hasn't yet been confirmed, though. Nobody, fortunately, was hurt. The grenade didn't go off, and the bomb squad was called in. They safely detonated it. It's unclear if anyone has been detained as of yet. MALVEAUX: In the Central African Republic, the U.S. has started flying troops from neighboring Burundi into the capital airport. Now, the Burundian forces will join thousands of African union and French troops who are already there trying to stop the fighting between Muslim rebels and Christian militias.

HOLMES: Months of violence has forced more than 400,000, nearly 500,000 by some count, people from their homes. Many of them now living inside makeshift refugee camps at the airport, inside church grounds and the like. A very worrying situation.

MALVEAUX: And both the U.S. and Great Britain have now suspended some aid to Syrian rebels after a warehouse full of weapons was seized by a rival group of Islamic fighters. So the U.S. ambassador to Syria is expected to travel to the rebel-held areas in the north to meet with various opposition groups trying to topple the Syrian regime.

HOLMES: Yes, and our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott covering this for us at the State Department.

Now, we're not talking - we're talking about non-lethal aide, right, and what sort of things are we talking about and what do you know about what happened?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Michael. It's nothing really that's going to turn this conflict around. We're talking about food, medical kits, some communications equipment, trucks. These are things that the rebels have already said is really not enough to help them on the battlefield against Assad's forces.

But the reason that the U.S. had do it is really a wake-up call for U.S. officials, because these Islamic groups, the so-called Islamic Front, this band of Islamic groups that seized these weapons, now these groups - these Islamic groups are actually not only battling Assad's forces, but battling those moderate groups on the ground that the U.S. is trying to boost up. So it's really a blow to U.S. and international efforts to end the conflict and get Assad out because now you have a two-front war.

MALVEAUX: Elise, speak to this, because Assad has always said, from the very beginning, and many people saw this as an excuse that potentially is turning into reality now, that you had al Qaeda and terrorist elements who were running around trying to take over. It certainly seems like they've gained some ground.

LABOTT: Well, they've gained ground and they're not just battling Assad, they're battling, as I said, these moderate forces. So what does the U.S. do now, because now they're put in this devils choice of whether they start aiding these groups, start talking to these groups. And these are the kind of discussions that are going on in Washington right now, which kind of Islamic groups can they deal with?

The red line here is that they can't have any affiliation with al Qaeda, but there certainly is this scale of, in the U.S. eyes, of good Islamists versus bad Islamists. And these are the kind of groups, the more good Islamists, if you will, that Ambassador Ford has been reaching out to, and now the U.S. is forced to see whether they're going to have to include them in a transitional government to get Assad out or even perhaps give them aid.

HOLMES: Yes, it's a situation there's long been warnings about, but -- that the Islamist groups would gain traction, and they are. This is, though, briefly, it's a temporary thing. It's a wait and see what happens now.

LABOTT: It's a temporary thing, but, you know, also, not only in northern Syria are the U.S. and the U.K. suspending aid, but Turkey, a NATO ally, had to close one of its border crossings because these Islamic groups are controlling the border now.


LABOTT: So, it's a temporary thing, but I think it has a larger issue. And as you said, because -- this is really because the international community has not done more to aid these moderate rebels.

Michael and Suzanne.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes, it is a worry, as you say, that the real funnel of these Islamist fighters coming through Turkey and into Syria, it's a big problem for Turkey as well.

Elise, thanks so much. Elise Labott there.

MALVEAUX: And you've got to wonder whether or not these talks are dead or whether - you know, or if it's more mediate that they have to have these talks because they really have - they don't have a sense of who are the friends, who are the foes, what's happening on the ground.

HOLMES: And the problem with having the talks is, you can have the diasper (ph), if you like, representing the rebels, but they're not, because the rebels on the ground in Syria say they don't represent us, we don't back these talks, so they won't abide by any results. It's a real no-win situation at the moment.


Just a remind, tonight, 9:00 Eastern, CNN is re-airing the film, "An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story." It is about an innocent man's fight for freedom after being convicted of a murder he didn't commit. "An Unreal Dream" airs tonight on CNN.

HOLMES: And ahead on AROUND THE WORLD, you have seen the pictures, people wearing face masks to protect themselves from the smog in China. Well, now, it is so bad the government is actually ordering a change in the way pilots land their planes because they can't see the runway sometimes.


HOLMES: Now the Air Force is developing a new spy plane. Love spy stuff. It's designed to expand the military's intelligence gathering operations combining stealth technology and surveillance capabilities. MALVEAUX: So this new drone has been kept under wraps, but our Barbara Starr has actually uncovered some details about the plane. She's got a preview of what it's actually going to be able to do.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what the new super-secret Air Force drone is believed to look like. CNN has learned this unmanned spy plane is designed to fly for up to 24 hours behind enemy lines, in countries like North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Military sources tell CNN, it will give the U.S. a critical stealth advantage to spy on countries which have strong air defense systems that can shoot down more conventional aircraft.

AMY BUTLER, REPORTER, AVIATION WEEK: This aircraft will actually be able to penetrate that border and go in and do operations in and around an enemy's airspace without being targeted.

STARR: The new drone was first unmasked by Aviation Week. It's so secret, the drone is believed to be at this hangar at Area 51, the Air Force's highly secure flight test center in Nevada. Reporter Amy Butler says the shape means enemy radars can't easily see the drone. And unlike the U2 spy plane, this has no pilot and advanced censors. It will make those long flights at more than 11 miles above the earth unconstrained by human imitations or the weather.

BUTLER: This aircraft will likely be able to take pictures using radar. Radar pictures are great because they don't get muddied up by cloud or dust cover. It could probably also take pictures with, you know, just what we know as thermal camera, so it can see heat. And it probably has the kinds of boxes that do things like listen to cell phone calls, listen to activities basically going on, on an enemy's frequency, radar activities, that sort of thing.

STARR: Although it crashed, the stealth helicopter that brought Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound showed the crucial need to sneak past those air defenses. Officially, the Air Force won't comment on the drone effort, but several U.S. officials tell CNN its capabilities are now a top intelligence gathering priority, especially after a less sophisticated stealth drone went down in Iran in 2012.

STARR (on camera): If it all works, this new drone will be able to covertly gather information about what America's adversaries are really up to, and that is exactly why the Air Force isn't talking about it.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HOLMES: And we will all disappear to Area 51 for (INAUDIBLE).

MALVEAUX: Cool stuff, though.

HOLMES: Yes. Now, listen, you talk about Beijing and you talk about smog. Imagine it's so bad you have to wear a face mask every time you walk outdoors. It's a serious health issue. Lung cancer rates are up there. That's how it's been in China, in Beijing, all year pretty much, off and on.

MALVEAUX: And this is what happened. The pollution has causes hundreds of flights to be canceled or delayed recently. This is out of Beijing and Shanghai. And the pilots, they can't even see the runways. It has given Beijing International Airport the distinction of now having the worst flight delays compared to 35 other international airports.

HOLMES: Well, now the Chinese government is requiring all pilots to be able to perform what they call in the aviation industry blind landings. It means they'll have to learn to use an instrument landing system. That essentially allows technology to land the plane on hazy days. Ironically, they've had a couple of clear days just in the last week or so, but, boy, it can be bad.

MALVEAUX: Good for them.


MALVEAUX: Well, thank forward watching AROUND THE WORLD. Happy birthday to you tomorrow. I know you're off. Happy birthday.

HOLMES: Oh, thank you. It's my present.

MALVEAUX: Have a nice - I am the present.

HOLMES: Thank you.

NEWSROOM is next. Over to Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the House is closer to voting on the compromised budget deal. A vote is expected later this afternoon. We're live from Capitol Hill. We'll break down who's for the deal, who's against it.

Right now, a response from the man accused of being a fake sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial service. He says he's not a fake but also acknowledges he is sick.

And right now, NASA is looking for a way to fix a problem with the International Space Station. Six astronauts and cosmonauts, including two Americans, they are up there. They're wondering if they'll have to leave the station to help repair it.