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American Morning

Riots Break Out in Egypt; Three Americans Arrested in Egypt for Protesting; Newt Gingrich Surges in Recent Polls; GOP Presidential Candidates Prepare for Debate on National Security; $1.2 Billion Missing from MF Global; Three Americans Arrested in Cairo; Flash Flood Warnings; Poll: Gingrich Surges to Top; "Million Man" Sit In; Air Force Base Standoff Over; TSA Worker Charged with Sex Attack; Ex-FBI Director to Lead Penn State Probe; Calls for Chancellor Resignation; South Korea Ratifies Free Trade Pact With U.S.; Plane Filled With Pot Lands in Texas; CNN GOP National Security Debate Tonight; Gingrich Surges to the Top; Gingrich Enters Debate Tonight at Top of Pack; China Dog Snacks Cause Sickness, Death

Aired November 22, 2011 - 06:59   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news. Erupting in rage and million-man seat it in Cairo. A mass refight going on right now. And word this morning, Americans are among those under arrest.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Newt Gingrich surging all the way to the top. A brand new CNN poll and a new GOP frontrunner already deflecting shots about his sides to health care and a mortgage giant.

CHO: Past the bull's eye, Speaker Gingrich, front and center, as Republican candidates gathering the shadow of the White House for tonight's big CNN national security debate.

COSTELLO: And double this missing money. MG Global investors now asking where $1.2 billion went on this AMERICAN MORNING.


COSTELLO (on-camera): And good morning to you. It is Tuesday, November 22nd.

CHO (on-camera): Ali and Christine are off today. I'm Alina Cho along with Carol Costello on this AMERICAN MORNING. Thanks for being with us.

COSTELLO: We begin this hour with breaking news. Deadly fighting with protesters and the military raging this morning in Egypt. Now 24 people killed, more than 17 others have been injured. Also developing this morning, CNN has confirmed that three Americans are among those under arrest right now for taking part in the Egyptian protests. Egyptian state TV is showing what appears to be I.D. cards of three young American students studying abroad. An Indiana driver's license was clearly shown along with what appeared to be an American university in Cairo I.D. card. The names of the students could not be made out. The country's general prosecutor's office says they're accused of throwing Molotov cocktails and carrying no passports when picked up by authorities. So let's head live to Cairo to check out happening there. We saw a lot of tear gas lobbed by the military into the crowd. Is that still happening?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Haven't been down in about an hour. Just to run you pictures, Carol, of what we saw about two hours ago in one of the streets just on the other side of the square, which is probably about 800 yards from where I'm standing right now, where you had these young Egyptians, many of them with makeshift gas masks, standing up, holding their ground against Egyptian riot police in these side streets, determined not to give up any ground and furious at the authorities for what they say was the killing of at least 24 demonstrators, that's according to the ministry of health, within the last three days.

And we've just learned that at least one more demonstrator at least was killed in the second Egyptian city of Alexandria in a city to the north in similar clashes that took place overnight. A combustible mix here, and these demonstrators insisting they are not going to leave. Many calling for the ruling military council to step down. And all of this taking place six days before the country was supposed to go to the polls in the first round of parliamentary elections. Carol?

COSTELLO: Ivan, also, what can you tell us about these three American students being detained?

WATSON: We're still trying to get the latest, an update here. The U.S. embassy told us they're looking into this. Meanwhile, the Egyptian authorities, the general prosecutor's office, says that these three Americans were detained and are accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at the Egyptian authorities, and they were shown on Egyptian state TV last night. We saw what appeared to be identification cards from the American University of Cairo as well as at least one driver's license that looked like it was from the state of Indiana.

We called the American university of Cairo a couple of hours ago. They said they were involved in crisis talks, which suggesting maybe they are, in fact, the students are involved in this.

In addition to this the U.S. embassy here has told us one American student, a female, was detained by Egyptian police yesterday and later released. Egypt is a major destination for tourists as well as for students, so expect that there are a number of foreigners mixed in to the crowd of tens of thousands right now. Carol?

COSTELLO: I'm assuming, Ivan, that those pictures you were showing of the young men, the Americans we were talking about. Where would they is been taken if they had been placed under arrest?

WATSON: I presume to some kind of a police station or prosecutor's office to be looked into that. And this is going to play into one of the trends that we've seen over the course of the last year. There's a lot of scapegoating of foreigners that often goes on, particularly on the side of government-controlled media, and that raises paranoia among the Egyptian populists and sometimes has led to attacks on foreigners in these moments where you get crowds together and a lot of frenzy.

From my point of view, from my perspective, since last night, being in this crowd for the most part, the demonstrators are very supportive of us as foreigners, as journalists coming in. They're asking us to film, and some are even waving tear gas canisters that clearly are marked that the tear gas was made, in what I saw, in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

That is raising anger against the U.S., many people saying that the U.S. has supplied the police with the very same tear gas that is resulting in smoke inhalation and injuries among so many of the demonstrators so much. Carol?

COSTELLO: Ivan Watson reporting live from Cairo, Egypt. I know you'll keep us posted and we'll get back live to you when you can. Thank you so much, Ivan.

CHO: The other big story we're watching today, a new candidate at the top of the pack when the Republicans square off tonight live at the CNN national security debate. It will take place in Washington in the shadow of the White House. A brand new CNN/ORC poll shows that 24 percent of Republican voters now support former House speaker Newt Gingrich. He's pulled ahead of Mitt Romney for the first time. but this is with the poll's margin of error.

Gingrich, by the way, was at eight percent in a CNN poll just last month. What a difference a month makes.

Let's go to Joe Johns live outside the debate site in Washington. And Joe, good morning to you. While the focus is on foreign policy and national security, I'm guessing the super committee's super failure will come up tonight?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You can pretty much say that. I mean, did anybody really think that they were actually going to get some kind of a grand bargain? I don't know. It will be interesting to see from the candidates what they think about why this happened and what to do next. Frankly, Alina, we've already gotten at least a taste of that from some of the candidates on the campaign trail as they get ready to come here for the CNN debate tonight. Let's listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The failure of the super committee, which I had suggested several months ago was the dumbest single legislative idea that I had seen.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a president who didn't get involved in the process, who didn't pick up the phones, bring in the Republicans, bring in the Democrats, make a proposal of his own. MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem isn't that we aren't paying enough in taxes. The problem is that government is spending too much money. And Barack Obama has been AWOL. And with no disrespect to the president, it's kind of like, "Where's Waldo?"


JOHNS: So you can sort of see where it's going. One thing that is clear, one person not in the room of the super committee will probably take a lot of heat tonight. That would be President Barack Obama, even though think was supposed to be a Congressional super committee. We'll see where it goes tonight.

CHO: Joe Johns live in Washington for the debate preview. Joe, thank you.

COSTELLO: And joining us now, our partners in the debate, James Carafano, a defense and homeland security analyst at the Heritage Foundation, and Marc Thiessen, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, also a former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Welcome to both of you.


COSTELLO: So Marc, let's start with you. Tell me what you're hoping to hear tonight.

MARC THIESSEN, VISITING FELLOW, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: You know, the most interesting thing for me is, if you think about it, very few presidents enter office planning to have foreign policy dominate their legacy and their presidency. But if you look at the last four presidents, two Republicans and two Democrats, all faced crises no one anticipate before they took office. George H.W. Bush had the Persian Gulf War, Bill Clinton had the war in Kosovo, George W. Bush had the 9/11 attacks and the war on terror, and even Barack Obama has the war in Libya. None of these were discussed during they're campaign.

So really to me the most interesting question, what is the question we are not asking the candidates that they are worried about, the things they think about that keep them up at night about what may dominate the presidency?

COSTELLO: And James, that's an interesting point, because it seems the American public is concerned about the economy. They are sort of pushing national security issues off the table. Do you think that they'll tune into this debate and they'll be really interested to hear what these candidates think about national security?

CARAFANO: Well, I think the most important thing is that the candidates are going to spend 90 minutes talking about one issue, and it's an open-book test. It's just on foreign policy and just on national security.

As Marc said, the world changes. The world is going to be different in 18 months from now when somebody puts their hand on the Bible. And what you're really looking for tonight is character. What kind of commander in chief is this person going to be? What is their vision for the U.S. placed in the world? How will they keep us safe, free, and prosperous? And you can't get this in a sound bite. These are complicated issues. Americans haven't been tuning in. And really only in a 90-minute format when you have the opportunity, and I think candidates will be jazzed about this. They have 90 minutes to tell people how they're going to lead this country. I think it's a really unique, historic opportunity.

COSTELLO: Of course, Marc, all eyes will be on Herman Cain because he's made a share of gaffes in the past couple of weeks. Can he recover?

THIESSEN: He needs to do very well tonight. It's interesting, because he's plummeting in the polls, partly related to these allegations of sexual harassment, were not proven yet, but the other thing that's really hurt him are these gaffes. And almost all have been related to foreign policy. He said that he might negotiate with Al Qaeda to release the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He said that China may become a nuclear power when it's already been. Then that terrible moment on Libya saying the other day the Taliban might be involved in Libya.

So you're right when you say the jobs and the economy are dominating the debate. But people want to see that the next president will also be commander in chief and he's competent and capable of taking on those responsibilities.

COSTELLO: OK, James, let's talk about Newt Gingrich. He tops our latest poll. Compared to Mitt Romney, people think Newt Gingrich is more qualified to be commander in chief and better understands complex issues. And he's not exactly your average surging candidate, is he? Because we've seen surging candidates during this primary race. Is he just another surging candidate or is he the real deal?

CARAFANO: I think we'll see. He obviously has a lot of experience and knowledge on foreign policy. But probably the greatest Washington debate ever was 1960, Nixon versus Kennedy. It was all about foreign policy. It was all about global communism as the number one problem. Nixon was the leading anti-communist in the country, and yet Kennedy walked away from that debate with the American people believing that he would be tougher on global communism than Richard Nixon. So this can be done.

COSTELLO: Kennedy had that likability factor going, and voters, while they think Newt Gingrich is smart, when you look at his likability numbers, he's certainly not first. In fact, if you look at the polls, he comes in fourth. So will that matter much, Marc, when all is said and done?

THIESSEN: You know what people like about him is his blunt talk. I mean, that clip you had earlier of him saying the super committee is the single stupidest legislative idea ever, especially tonight the super committee is a super disaster for national security. We are going to now cut $1.3 trillion from the defense budget. We're going to get rid of, mothball 60 ships and two aircraft battle groups. We're going to have to get rid of a third of army maneuver brig grades. There are not going to be enough marines according to the commandant of the Marine Corps to carry out one major contingency operation.

So I think the candidates are going to have to take on, how do we undo this disaster of that is the super committee for our national security?

CARAFANO: You have to remember that the defense budget, which is less than one-fifth of the federal budget, under these automatic cuts is going to take 50 percent of the cuts.

THIESSEN: We're not going to be a super power if these cuts happen.

COSTELLO: And you talk about these major, these big issues the candidates have to deal with. Maybe likability won't matter so much in the election in 2012?

THIESSEN: I think likability is important. But Newt is a happy warrior. He takes these tough issues and has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, and I think people are attracted to that. So likability is important, but you also have to be strong on the issues and make a strong case for yourself.

COSTELLO: Well, it will be a fascinating conversation tonight. Thank you both for being here. James Carafano, Marc Theissen, we'll see you again tonight, and tomorrow, hopefully. Thank you so much.

THIESSEN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Coming up at 8:05 eastern, Republican presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann will join us. We'll ask what she thinks about the super committee and its failure.

And don't forget, tonight is the night CNN hosts the national security debate starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern. Wolf Blitzer will be the moderator. It's co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. That's live tonight at 8:00 eastern right here on CNN.

CHO: Still to come this morning, thousands of investors left holding the bag and looking for answers as investigators discover a lot more money missing at a bankrupt brokerage firm run by former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine.

And a vote turns ugly in South Korea's parliament. We'll tell you why one lawmaker even set off a tear gas bomb. That's ahead.

It's 13 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. President Obama saying he wouldn't stand for any attempt to roll back automatic budget cuts that were triggered by the Super Committee's failure. So-called Super Committee announced last night that after two and a half months of work they simply could not agree on where to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. The president saying cutting nothing is not an option.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple - no. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts, domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure.


CHO: The across-the-board cuts will affect almost every level of government with half the cuts coming to defense.

COSTELLO: A chaotic session in South Korea's Parliament, after a free trade agreement with the United States was approved. As you can see, a shouting match broke out with opposition lawmakers. One lawmaker even lobbed a tear gas bomb in the Parliamentary chambers in an effort to stop the vote. The U.S. ratified the pact last month. It takes effect as early as January.

CHO: And that looks ugly.

COSTELLO: That's the way to get a deal through.

CHO: More than $1.2 billion in customer funds may be missing from the bankrupt brokerage firm MF Global.

COSTELLO: That's nearly double the original estimate. And now federal prosecutors and the FBI are investigating the firm once headed up by former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester has more for you.


JIM MAYER, FORMER MF GLOBAL EMPLOYEE: It's scary and that's all I can say about it. It's just scary.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixty-three- year-old Jim Mayer wakes up at 2:00 in the morning and can't go back to sleep. About half of his life's savings, $200,000, was invested at MF Global. The brokerage firm that was headed by former New Jersey Senator and Governor Jon Corzine.

MAYER: A bunch of people's money was stolen. What's left has been frozen. Jon Corzine hasn't answered one question. We can't hardly get any information out of the trustee. We just found out at this late date that it - that it could be a much bigger loss. SYLVESTER: MF Global originally said about $600 million in customer funds was missing, but the trustee overseeing the MF Global liquidation now says that number is closer to $1.2 billion. Money that was supposed to be in sealed customer accounts.

MF Global invested heavily in the European debt market until its rapid collapse ended in bankruptcy. Now, federal regulators are investigating if the company used customer money to cover its risky bets.

Seven thousand of MF Global's former customers have formed a new group called the Commodity Customer Coalition. James Koutoulas of Typon Capital Management and attorney Trace Schmeltz are helping them recover as much money as possible. They say many of those impacted are farmers, small businesses and working people.

TRACE SCHMELTZ, ATTORNEY, BARNES & THORNBURG: We've heard from people who have their retirement funds completely frozen. People who depend on the revenue from their commodity trading to fund their daily lives, to shop for groceries, et cetera, and this is really having a severe impact on all of those people.

SYLVESTER: The trustee's office planned to distribute to customers 60 percent of what they had in their accounts. But the balance of the money, will it be returned? That's uncertain at this point. The FBI has launched an inquiry. Koutoulas says somebody needs to be held responsible.

JAMES KOUTOULAS, TYPON CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: If it's proven that illegal activity was done here, damn right someone should go to jail. And if Corzine had knowledge about this and, you know, he intentionally and willfully injured his customers in a legal fashion, he needs to go to jail.

SYLVESTER: We contacted Corzine's attorney to get a response, but we were told no comment. Either MG Global nor its lawyer returned out calls.

(on camera): Jim Mayer had $ 200,000 with MF Global. So far, he's gotten back only $11,000. To make that as worse, he was a private trader. So that it wasn't just his savings, it was also his job. That's what he used to earn income trading on the commodities market.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


COSTELLO: Still to come this morning, how the failure of the so- called Debt Super Committee could mean less money for you in your paycheck?

CHO: A lot of people traveling to grandmother's house. So Jacqui Jeras is here with a quick check of today's forecast. Hey, Jacqui.


It's been a rough go across parts of the mid-south after a record rain flooded highways. Take a look at this video from Interstate 30 out of Little Rock, Arkansas, where rivers went out of their banks and shut down that interstate for a short time. Back open, but use caution across this area. That storm system continues to move off to the east and it could bring severe thunderstorms this afternoon to New Orleans, up towards Birmingham, even into Cincinnati.

We also have a storm in the Pacific Northwest that's bringing very windy conditions, up to two feet of snow in the Cascades and flood issues expected there at least through Wednesday.

That's the latest on the forecast. AMERICAN MORNING is back right after a break.


CHO: Welcome back. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

U.S. markets closed sharply lower yesterday and stock futures following European markets are higher. The volatility is very high right now because of concerns about Europe's debt problems and also the U.S. Super Committee's failure to cut a deal.

Stocks sank on that news, but at the same time investors breathed a big sigh of relief when both S&P and Moody's ratings agencies reaffirmed America's credit rating. The third agency called Fitch on the other hand announcing this morning it could knock down the outlook for the U.S. rating but it wouldn't have a decision until the end of the month.

Up next for Congress and your money, whether to extend the payroll tax holiday or let it expire at the end of the year. The tax holiday is worth about $934 to the average worker. Critics argue if the program is not extended it could hurt the fragile growth rate of the U.S. economy.

Some good news on the jobs front, Big Three automaker General Motors is restarting its plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. That will bring back about 700 jobs. The company says it plans to bring the assembly plant back online to backstop extra production needs.

Black Friday is big, but cyber Monday is playing catch-up and fast. More than half of all workers plan to do some of their holiday shopping while on the clock next Monday. And comSCORE says online sales are expected to increase to a new record of $1.2 billion this year.

The biggest complaint of air travelers, overstuffed overhead bin. So Congress is now tackling the problem. Two senators have introduced a bill to stop people from cramming their carry-ons. They proposed that every passenger be allowed to check one bag for free. Love that idea.

AMERICAN MORNING will be back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Egypt on the edge. The military's bloody crackdown on protesters continuing for a fourth day. And now three Americans have been arrested for their alleged role in the uprising on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO (on camera): Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. For Tuesday, your top stories now.

CNN has now confirmed that three Americans are among those under arrest right now for taking part in the protests in Egypt.

Egyptian state television is showing what appear to be the I.D. cards of three young American students studying abroad. The names of the students could not be made out. The country's general prosecutor's office saying they're accused of throwing Molotov cocktails and carrying no passports when picked up by authorities.

COSTELLO: Flash flood warnings and reports of people trapped in Arkansas, the south in line for another soaking this morning. Part of a major highway between Memphis and Dallas reopened this morning after an intense down pour washed it away yesterday. Interstate 30 in Little Rock, Arkansas, was closed. The stretch of roadway almost every trucker in the country uses.

CHO: Newt Gingrich topping a brand new CNN/ORC poll, the former House speaker with 24 percent of the vote. He's pulled ahead of Mitt Romney for the first time, but that's within the poll's margin of error. Gingrich was at just 8 percent in a CNN poll just last month.

COSTELLO: And Gingrich's first test at the top is hours away. CNN hosts a Republican national security debate starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Wolf Blitzer will moderate. It's co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. That's live tonight at 8 Eastern right here on CNN.

CHO: Back to our top story right now. In Cairo, protesters are clashing violently with military police. Our Ivan Watson is following the latest developments from Tahrir Square. So Ivan, good morning to you. What's happening right now?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, you know, it's a political drama that is unfolding once again here in the Egyptian capital where you have thousands of, if not tens of thousands of people, in the center of the square.

Many of them angry young Egyptians, furious that 24 people have been killed at least here according to the Ministry of Health, due to the clashes with riot police and soldiers here.

Take a listen to what one young adult had to say this morning, who traveled all the way down from the northern city of Alexandria with two of his friends, 22 years old, saying he wanted to participate in this.

I'm hearing from our control room, Carol, that we don't have that sound, but he basically says, they started it. He accuses the Egyptian authorities -- take a listen to what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't start the mess. They started. When they kill 35 person and they put them -- they started it. Not us.


WATSON: So there you go. You're hearing it from the voice of some of the people who are standing their ground, despite being hit by continuing rounds of tear gas. Back to you.

COSTELLO: And also, Ivan, what else can you tell us about these Americans being arrested?

WATSON: Well, we're hearing from the Egyptian authorities that they detained three Americans. They showed them on television. Showed their I.D. cards, which seemed to suggest that they were students at the American University of Cairo.

We haven't been able to confirm that. One of them appeared to have a driver's license from the State of Indiana. The U.S. Embassy says it's looking into these reports.

The general prosecutor's office here accused these three men of throwing Molotov cocktails, and we do know that that is one of the weapons that the demonstrators have used a lot in the ongoing clashes.

The U.S. Embassy also telling us at least one female American student was detained yesterday and later released. Back to you.

COSTELLO: Ivan Watson reporting live from Cairo, Egypt this morning. Thanks.

CHO: Also new this morning, an armed standoff at an Air Force Base in Colorado has ended peacefully. Air Forces officials saying an airman with a gun surrendered to authorities more than 12 hours after barricading himself in a building at the base. No shots were fired. Nobody hurt. Officials say the airman was facing a discharge over legal action in a civilian court.

COSTELLO: A TSA worker in Virginia is now under arrest charged with sexual assault. Police say 52-year-old Harold Rodman was wearing his uniform during the attack. He showed a badge to the victim. Local reports say the TSA immediately removed the suspect from his security post and is helping in the investigation.

CHO: Penn State is announcing that former FBI Director Louis Freeh will lead an independent investigation into child sex abuse allegations. The university, you recall, was slammed by critics who feared that the investigation would be handled by its own people. Freeh is saying that his investigation will go back as far as 1975. That's a much longer time period than the Jerry Sandusky grand jury covered, and by going back that far, Freeh's investigation would cover the entire time the Second Mile charity founded by Sandusky has been in existence.

COSTELLO: Thousands gathered for a massive rally at the University of California Davis campus. Students in the board of Davis Faculty Association are calling for the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi.

The rally was sparked by this. Video of police officers pepper spraying non-violent student demonstrators in their faces at point-blank range. Two officers and a police chief are now on administrative leave. Katehi has apologized for the incident.

CHO: Here's a story that really got our attention, an extreme session in South Korea's parliament. Take a look here. A free trade agreement with the United States was approved after weeks of negotiations.

Then shouting matches broke out between opposition lawmakers. Then it got even worse. One lawmaker even set of a tear gas bomb in the chambers hoping to stop the vote, but it didn't work. The trade deal takes effect as early as January.

COSTELLO: Brought a tear gas canister into parliament in South Korea.

A mysterious situation in Texas, a plane filled with bundles and bundles of marijuana made an unscheduled landing at the Houston Executive Airport last night. The touchdown was hard. It caused some damage to the front of the plane.

But here's where it gets weird. When people at the airport went to investigate, there were no pilots onboard. Police are now trying to figure out when the crew bailed and exactly where they went.

CHO: Talking about the juxtaposition of marijuana being found on the plane and no pilots, it just makes me laugh whenever I hear that story.

Anyway, all right, we're counting down to the big CNN national security debate tonight. Our own Wolf Blitzer is moderating. He's going to be here to give us a behind-the-scenes sneak peek. That's next. It's 37 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Rain, rain, go away. You're looking live there at Washington, D.C. and, of course, the White House. Light drizzle now with 50 degrees. Later on, it will go up to a high of 56 and more rain.

COSTELLO: Kind of apropos that it's a gloomy day in Washington.

CHO: It is.

COSTELLO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. The Republican presidential candidates face-off for the 11th time tonight just a few blocks from the White House.

The focus tonight will be national security, a chance to convince voters that they will be the best commander in chief. Moderator Wolf Blitzer has a preview of the showdown.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Thanks very much. We're here at historic Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. We're only, what, half a block away from the White House, a couple of blocks away from the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial.

This is a real beautiful building, very historic. Every president, by the way, since Calvin Coolidge has been to this building and tonight, there's going to be a significant Republican national security debate.

The eight Republican candidates will all be up here together with me on the stage, taking questions on national security, foreign policy, the economy. We have our partners, the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation.

Experts from both of those think tanks, they'll be asking questions as well. I'll be directing the questions, making sure that the viewers out there especially the voters, Republican caucus voters, the Republican primary voters, will be a little bit more knowledgeable about where these candidates stand on the most important issues after the debate than they are right now going into the debate.

We want to know where the candidates agree and where they disagree, whether they agree with President Obama on critical issue, whether they disagree, where they agree among themselves and disagree.

So we'll have a good strong debate. It's going to be important. I hope you'll all be watching tonight, the CNN national security debate at Constitution Hall here in the nation's capital, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

CHO: All right, Wolf. We love you. We'll be watching.

And for the first time tonight, Newt Gingrich will be walking on to the stage at the top of the Republican pack. Joining us now to talk about this, CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, editorial director at the "National Journal." Ron, good morning. Thanks for joining us.


CHO: You just wrote a piece for the "National Journal" looking at this new CNN/ORC poll showing Newt Gingrich with 24 percent of the vote, Romney at 20 percent.

This is the first time he's been on top even though this is within the margin of error. But you know, you point out that Gingrich is now the sixth Republican to lead our polls this year making it the most volatile race since 1964. Having said all of this, how significant is this?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the wheel has been spinning. There's no indication that it will stop. A quick plug, in "National Journal" we've been following the CNN poll through the year because it really shows the Republican race has unfolded in neglect as two almost distinction races.

On the one hand, you have the roughly half of the party that identifies with the Tea Party that's more conservative, more religious and more ideological. And they have been steadily resistant to Mitt Romney. He's only at 19 percent among them in this new poll.

He's been between 12 percent and 19 percent all year. They haven't been able to settle on one alternative to him. Michele Bachmann had a moment. Rick Perry was around 40 percent among those voters in late summer.

Herman Cain was around 40 percent. Now in your last two polls, Newt Gingrich is ahead with that Tea Party side of the party. On the other side of the party, which are the voters who don't identify with the Tea Party tend to be more pragmatic, more economically focused.

Mitt Romney has been ahead now in the last several polls, but you see in it what's most dramatic I think in this poll is not Newt Gingrich going ahead overall, it's Romney's decline among that non-Tea Party side of the party.

He's gone from 35 percent in your polling with him in mid- October all the way down to 19 percent now, a steady decline over the last month. That's I think more worrisome for him than Gingrich's overall number.

CHO: Which presents a bit of a conundrum if you will and I want to talk more a little bit more about this because let's talk about -- talk more about why Newt Gingrich is doing so well against Mitt Romney.

More people think he's more qualified to be commander in chief, according to our polling and people think he better understands complex issues. But the same polls show that Romney is more electable. Doesn't that create a bit of a problem for Republicans, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: I think it really does crystallize that problem that we've had all year in that if you look at polling, Romney clearly polls the best against President Obama in a general election, but in this primary process, there is clearly resistance to him.

So there is that kind of contradiction for Republicans, and by the way, Newt Gingrich's strong showing on the other two measures is really an indication of how much the process of running for president has changed.

I mean, he really has emerged almost entirely through his performances in the debates. If you look at him by the traditional measures, presidential candidates usually had to pass in building an organization in the early states or raising money having a vibrant campaign trail presence, he really -- he really checks none of those boxes. It's been strong performances in the debate where he's used the media as a foil to allow him to emerge. It's a reminder of how much these debates, like tonight, are dominating this Republican race.

CHO: It appears voters are responding to what some are calling his "straight talk," right? As we go into tonight's a big debate on national security and foreign policy, what are some of the things you're watching for?

BROWNSTEIN: I think the biggest thing is competence, not contrast. This is less about a debate among the candidates, than kind of each of them in their own lane trying to cross the threshold as commander-in-chief, convincing Republican primary voters that are a plausible commander-in-chief and they are plausible to carry the case against President Obama in November. That's one of the reasons, as we said, Newt Gingrich has done so well. He's been in national politics since the 1970s and he has a voluble but serious command of many issues.

The second thing I'll look for is continuing to draw out the differences on Afghanistan, which is one area we are seeing the candidates move in different directions, particularly Jon Huntsman talking about bringing troops home. I'd like to see Wolf Blitzer tonight, who is always enthusiastic in your spot, button down distinctions on waterboarding that my league, Major Garrett, brought up in the last debate in South Carolina, where you had several Republican candidates saying they believed waterboarding was not torture and others, like Huntsman, agreeing. We need to know where Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry stand on that.

Another thing worth looking at tonight is the emergence on this hard line on China from Mitt Romney, which is a reflection of the changing Republican coalition. They have a lot more older, blue- collar voters voting Republican and there is more protectionist sentiment in the Republican Party than there used to be. And you see Romney's language on China is the first reflection on that.

And finally, I'll be looking to see how deep -- how sharp a line in the sand do they draw on Iran and the acquisition of nuclear weapons. And what commitments they make in this debate that may shape how they actually proceed on that very important question, if they win the White House.

BROWNSTEIN: You mentioned waterboarding. That was one of the surprises in the debate last time around. Some of the responses we heard. 68 percent of people we've polled are against waterboarding, consider it torture. Of course, as you know, one of the big headlines this morning is obviously the super committee's super failing.

BROWNSTEIN: Talk about torture.

(LAUGHTER) CHO: Yes, exactly. Talk about torture. How do you think that will play out tonight? And if you were advising the candidates, how would you -- what would you tell them on how to deal with that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the Republican candidates have already kind of basically positioned themselves against the super committee. They've all argued, and I think very memorably in that earlier debate, they would not take a deal that included any additional tax revenue, even if it was balanced by $10 in spending for each dollar of taxes. Even though federal revenues as a share of the overall economy at their lowest level this year since 1950.

We did a poll, we have a poll, our Congressional Connection Poll, out this morning, that shows 61 percent of Americans oppose sequestration, the automatic cuts now scheduled to go into effect with the super committee failing. That is really part of a larger parcel, though, which is that almost all of the big spending cuts ideas face a lot of resistance in our poll and other polls. There's more support, actually -- the only ideas that have majority support in our poll were raising taxes on the top earners over $250,000, which the Republicans are dead set against doing.

That's something of a warning to Republicans. Even if they win unified control of government in 2012, which is certainly possible, the House, the White House and the Senate, it will be more difficult to sustain public support for the kind of agenda they're running on, which is reducing solely by spending cuts than they may now think it is.

CHO: Ron Brownstein, senior political analyst, we thank you so much for joining us.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CHO: Ron, great to see you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: And just 15 minutes away, Republican presidential candidate, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, will join us.

And don't forget, tonight is the night. CNN hosts the Republican National Security Debate starting at 8:00 p.m. Wolf Blitzer will moderate. It's co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. That's tonight at 8:00 eastern right here on CNN.


We will not let you forget.


CHO: In case you forgot.

(LAUGHTER) Your morning headlines are next.

Plus, a health warning for pet owners. Dog treats from China may be causing illnesses and even death in dogs.

COSTELLO: And forget six degrees of separation. We're actually closer than that, thanks to Facebook. So how much separates you and me?

It's 49 minutes past the hour.


COSTELLO: 10 minutes until the top of the hour. Here are your morning headlines.

U.S. stock futures are trading mixed at the moment after markets closed lower across the board yesterday. Volatility is very high right now because of concerns of Europe's debt problems and the U.S. super committee's failure to cut a deal.

A million man sit-in is under way this morning in Cairo's Tahrir Square. 24 people have been killed in four days of violent clashes between demonstrators and the military. Over night, Egypt's entire interim government resigned just days ahead of parliamentary elections.

And three Americans reportedly been arrested in Egypt, accused of throw Molotov cocktails during yesterday's demonstrations.

Newt Gingrich topping a brand-new CNN/ORC poll. The former House speaker with 24 percent of the vote. He has pulled ahead of Mitt Romney for the first time but within the poll's margin of error.

Newt Gingrich wearing the bull's-eyes tonight as a result of that. CNN hosts the Republican National Security Debate, starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern. The focus, national security. But don't be surprised if candidates face a barrage of questions about the super committee's failure to cut $1.2 trillion from the budget.

The south in for another soaking. Flash flood warnings issued in Arkansas. Torrential rain forced several highways to close yesterday including I-30 in Little Rock, which has now reopened.

It's been six months as the tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people and destroying thousands of homes and businesses. A memorial service will be held this afternoon. 161 trees will be planted in memory of each victim.

The American League's most valuable player this year is Detroit Tiger's pitcher, Justin Verlander. The big righty captured 13 of 28 first-place votes.

And that's the news you need right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: Good morning, New York. Cloudy and 46 degrees. Showers and 49 degrees later. Wow, rainy day.


COSTELLO: Kind of gloomy, but it's warm, at least.

CHO: Yes.

Your "A.M. House Call" now. Your dog's favorite treats could be making them sick. The FDA warns that chicken jerky imported from China may be the reason behind a bunch of mysterious illnesses among dogs this year. At least 70 dogs have been sickened after reportedly chowing down on those snacks. In the worst cases, some have even died. There's been some concern about these treats in the past, though the FDA hasn't pinpointed a specific brand.

COSTELLO: Are you stressed? Just take a second, focus and breathe.


A new study finds that people who meditate are usually happier.


MRI images show that those who can focus their thoughts are able to switch off areas of the brain that are linked with day dreaming, anxiety, even ADHD. So want to give it a try? Researchers say focus on something as simple as your breathe. That's called "mindfulness meditation."

CHO: I'm guessing yoga counts then.


CHO: All right, what separates me and you? Well, just about a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. A new study finds that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world is 4.74.


CHO: In the U.S., it's only 4.37. Now, that scraps the old saying, six degrees of separation. Tell that to Kevin Bacon. The study was done by Facebook and the University of Milan. They looked at 721 million Facebook users, which is more than one-tenth of the world's population.

COSTELLO: That's kind of nice to know.

CHO: Yes.

COSTELLO: So we're all closely connected.

CHO: We are. COSTELLO: Which is a cool thing.

An unusual sight from space. Check this out. It's a Google image of tires. Hundreds of thousands of tires stacked on top of each other in South Carolina. The dump site stretches for several thousand feet into the nearby woods. Police are trying to track down who left it all behind. And then comes the tough part, just cleaning all that up.

CHO: Your top stories are next, including congresswoman and presidential hopeful, Michele Bachmann, sitting down with us live in our studios.

Fifty-seven minutes after the hour.