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American Morning

Newt Gingrich Surges in Polls; Fact Checking Organization Examines Gingrich's Claims about Food Stamps; Some Conservative Uncomfortable with a Gingrich Presidential Nomination; Gingrich Opens Double Digit Lead; Obama: "Make Or Break" Time For Middle Class; New Accuser: Sandusky Gave Me Alcohol; Drone Down; Blagojevich Sentencing Day; American Killed In Afghanistan Blast; Mine Operators To Pay Victim's Families; Cash For Stage Collapse Victims; Baldwin Booted From AA Flight; Failure Could Cost You $1,000; Senators Offer Compromise on Payroll Tax Holiday; 200,000 Auto Industry Jobs Coming to Midwest; Kids' Cereal Loaded with Sugar

Aired December 07, 2011 - 06:59   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Up and away. Inside four weeks until Iowa and brand new poll shows Newt Gingrich is running away with it. Now, his past is being used as ammo by conservative critics.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. military secrets for sale, where Iran may be shopping a stealth drone that came down in their territory.

COSTELLO: Money hungry. Newt Gingrich claims millionaires are sapping the system and getting food stamps. We put these claims to the truth-o-meter.

ROMANS: And how "Words With Friends" turned Alec Baldwin into an angry bird. The actor kicked off a flight because he wouldn't end a video game on this AMERICAN MORNING.


COSTELLO (on-camera): And good morning to you. It is Wednesday, December 7th. Ali has the day off. I'm Carol Costello along with Christine Romans on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROMANS (on-camera): All right. Good morning, everyone. We begin with Newt Gingrich going gangbusters. The former House speaker now threatening to run away with the Republican nomination. With less than four weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, we may just be witnessing a Gingrich juggernaut.

Take a look at the latest Gallup Poll among Republican voters. Thirty-seven percent now say Gingrich is their top choice. He leads Mitt Romney by 15 points.

CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser is live in Washington. Paul, it was not long ago that we were talking about Newt Gingrich and his wife on a Mediterranean cruise and members of his staff saying he wasn't focused enough. That wasn't so long ago. Now he's way on top in the polls. PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Exactly. That was back in May and June. His campaign was basically left for dead. Now he is the front-runner, no doubt about it. You just showed the national poll. Let's go to the states. Remember this is a battle for the states and their delegate. Iowa, the first state to vote just four weeks away, CBS/"New York Times" has Gingrich at 31 percent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at 17 percent, Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas at 16 percent, Rick Perry, the Texas governor, at 11 percent.

Another poll in the last 24 hours, let's take a look at that, ABC News/"Washington Post," pretty much the exact same story there, Gingrich up by double digits.

Let's move on to South Carolina. This is the first southern state to vote, the third overall. There is Gingrich again way ahead of everybody else. Romney 16 points behind. We have our own CNN-ORC poll coming out this afternoon. One caveat here, though. In just about all these polls among likely people to attend these primaries or caucuses, a lot of them are saying, you know what, I may change my mind. So a lot of things could happen between now and the beginning of voting in January, Christine.

ROMANS: What is the reaction to the poll numbers in the Romney camp?

STEINHAUSER: I think the Romney camp is starting to feel the heat. Mitt Romney says we're going to see a lot more of him on camera and on the campaign trail. Take a listen to what he told reporters yesterday while he was campaigning in Arizona.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll be on the air a good deal more than in the past, doing the very best to communicate to the American people why I'm running for president, hopefully get their support.

And I know the beginning is going to be what, January 3rd? But this will probably take longer than a week or two to sort out. My expectation, this is a campaign that's going on for a while, and I expect to win it.


STEINHAUSER: Now, Gingrich is soaring in the polls, but Romney has one advantage. He has the campaign structure already in place in Iowa, New Hampshire, and all these other early voting states, and that is crucial to get your voters to the polls and the caucuses. Newt Gingrich right now playing catch-up on that one. Stay tuned, four weeks to go until the first votes, Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. Paul Steinhauser, thanks, Paul.

Despite double-digit leads, Gingrich still has plenty of critics in his own party, including talk show host Glenn Beck. Beck called out Gingrich on his past statements supporting an individual mandate requiring people to have health care coverage. That's at the center of the fight over President Obama's health care law. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've got to get health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the individual mandate. Is it not?

GINGRICH: It's a variation on it.

GLENN BECK, RADIO SHOW HOST: You seem to be very interested in the government findings the solution?

GINGRICH: Well, let's go back to what I just said. What I was asked was, if a program is unpopular, should the Republicans impose it anyway? If you go back and listen to exactly what I was asked on that show and what I said I'll stand by, which is in a free society, you don't elect officials to impose a new policy you disagree with. We just went through this fight over Obamacare.


ROMANS: Beck also brought up something that Gingrich has called one of his dumbest mistake, the climate change ad he made for Al Gore where he was sitting side-by-side with his rival, Nancy Pelosi.


BECK: Still believe in the, you know, the inconvenient truth as outlined by global climate change advocates?

GINGRICH: Well, I never believed in Al Gore's fantasies and, in fact, if you look at the record, the day that Al Gore testified at the Energy and Commerce Committee in favor of cap and trade, I was the next witness and I testified against cap and trade. And in the Senate, I worked through solutions to help beat the cap and trade bill.

Cap and trade was an effort by the left to use the environment as an excuse to get total control over the American economy.


COSTELLO: Stay with CNN all day today for all your 2012 politic. Congressman Ron Paul will be in the "CNN newsroom" at 3:00 p.m. eastern. Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry will join Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Congresswoman Michele Bachmann will be John King's at 7:00 p.m. eastern, and then real estate mogul and debate moderator Donald Trump will join Piers Morgan at 9:00 eastern.

ROMANS: All right, President Obama taking his push to extend the payroll tax cut, taking that push on the road. He was in Kansas stressing how vital this is to your paycheck and also emphasizing the widening inequality between the rich and middle class in America.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a make or break moment for the middle class and for all of those who are fighting to get into the middle class, because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.


ROMANS: The White House says even placed a countdown clock to pressure Congress. Republicans and Democrats can't agree on how to pay for the tax break. A Democratic plan on the table right now calls for a 1.9 percent surtax on millionaires to come up with the money. Republicans say millionaires own businesses that create jobs and they shouldn't be taxed more.

COSTELLO: New developments to tell you about this morning in the Penn State sex abuse scandal. A 19-year-old man now has come forward with new allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted him when he was 12-years-old. Earlier "Patriot News" reporter and CNN contributor Sara Ganim talked about what's different about this particular accusation.


SARA GANIM, REPORTER, "PATRIOT NEWS": There's a lot of new things in this allegation. First of all, we've never heard before that Sandusky gave one of his victims alcohol. In this situation, this man alleges it was in an office in this building and he was giving whiskey why Jerry Sandusky talked to him about his life and how he ended up with the Second Mile. And then he was assaulted.


COSTELLO: Sandusky's charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight other young boys. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.

ROMANS: All right, it's six minutes after the hour. Here's what's new this morning.

Syrian president Bashar al Assad is again denying he is responsible for the bloody crackdown against protesters in the country. Speaking with ABC's Barbara Walters, Assad says he does not own the country or the security forces and that, quote, "There's a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials." According to the United Nations, Syria's nine-month crackdown on protesters has killed 4,000 people, including some children.

COSTELLO: And a nation that doesn't use the euro could put a wrench in Europe's plan to fix its debt crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron is demanding safeguards for England or his nation will veto a treaty designed to save the troubled currency.

ROMANS: Today marks 70 years since the Japanese bombing on Pearl Harbor, the attack that led the U.S. into World War II. And 120 survivors are expected to arrive in Hawaii for the annual commemoration. There will are rifle salutes, wreath presentations to honor and remember the nearly 2,400 people who died in that surprise attack. This is the last time the survivors association will gather together, because members, carol, are aging. Their health is declining, and they don't have enough membership to withstands the committees and the chapters around the country.

COSTELLO: Many of them are in their 90s now.

ROMANS: Yes. It's so sad.

COSTELLO: But we're proud of them.

Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich likes to call Barack Obama the most successful food stamp president in history because 47 million Americans now depend on food stamps to get by.

ROMANS: Lately Gingrich has been is adding a new twist to that tirade, insisting millionaires are padding pockets by milking the food stamp systems. So we decided to put the claims to the test. Here's Lisa Sylvester.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Talk about a tempest in the teapot. Listen to what Newt Gingrich said on the campaign trail.

GINGRICH: You don't get food stamp. You get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. And, you know, they give food stamps out to millionaires.

SYLVESTER: But is it all true? The U.S. department of agriculture administers the food stamp program, officially called a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Purchases with a food stamp electronic card are strictly limited to food according to Lou Jacobson with "PolitiFact."

LOUIS JACOBSON, STAFF WRITER, "POLITIFACT": It food card stamp actually will not let you buy anything. It looks like a credit card. It's called an EBT card. It's something that if you take it to the cash register, it will tell you what it can purchase and what it can't purchase.

SYLVESTER: That means you can't use it for a plane ticket to Hawaii or anywhere else. Politifact rates that Gingrich statement "pants on fire."

What about the claim that there are millionaires living off food stamps? To qualify for food stamps your net income as an individual must be no more than $11,000. For a family of four the income cutoff is about $22,000. But that's income. What about assets? What if you have $1 million in bank and had no income? Only 13 states use assets as a task for food stamp eligibility. That means it's technically possible for someone with assets are more than $1 million and with a very low income to qualify for food stamps.

LEROY FICK, MILLIONAIRE: I feel pretty good about that.

SYLVESTER: One example of that, Leroy . He won $2 million on the Michigan lottery show "Make Me Rich," but he was still using his state-issued debit card for food stamps. WNEM report Bill Walsh caught up with Fick, who made no apologies.

BILL WALSH, WNEM REPORTER: This guy won $2 million, driving around in an Audi convertible, and he's collecting our tax money on food stamps. What would you say to those people? Do you think it's ethical?

FICK: From my point of view, I think so.

SYLVESTER: The USDA acknowledges although possible it's highly unlikely to find someone in Fick's place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to imagine somebody having $1 million in assets without having income, at least at the poverty level if not higher. And as I say, that's why this was so anomalous.

SYLVESTER: The law been changed in Michigan and Fick is no longer receiving food stamp benefits.

Now Fick's lawyer says he thought he continued to be eligible for assistants because he had been on food stamps before he won the lottery, and the USDA says that case is the only one that they are aware of where a millionaire was using food stamps. USDA worked with the state to quickly correct the situation.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: During the stimulus, possible, not likely. I looked into this, too. So did, when the Republicans as part of their payroll tax holiday, we could make money if we get millionaires off of food stamps and unemployment benefits. There are millionaires out there in 2009 who did get on unemployment benefits for a short time after they lost a job. It's possible but not likely that millionaires are getting food stamps.

COSTELLO: It is possible, but it does defy -- how do you prove it? I mean, you'd have to do, like, a major league investigation in those states that don't have the law --

ROMANS: One of the issues is we have so expanded the food stamp program. It's part ever stimulus. Anybody collecting unemployment benefits could automatically then qualify or at least pre-qualify for food stamps. So you just opened up the pool to be much bigger. So people working six months ago may have had a decent job six months ago now suddenly qualify for unemployment benefits and food stamps. So that's -- that's where they were conservatives saying too many people are getting food stamps.

COSTELLO: It's interesting. I enjoyed that story.

Still to come this morning, more on Newt Gingrich's stunning rise to the top of the GOP race. Can he hold on to his double-digit lead? Our panel of experts weigh in.

ROMANS: We'll tell you why Alec Baldwin's addiction to a cellphone game may have gotten him booted off a plane. It's 12 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Welcome back. It's 15 minutes past the hour. No one could have predicted this, but Newt Gingrich is surging so rapidly in the polls he's leaving the competition in the dust. The former House speaker now has a double digit lead on Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican field, but can he keep it up? Let's ask CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He joins us live from Washington, and Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of He's with us in the CNN center in Atlanta. Welcome to you both.

BROWNSTEIN: Good morning.


COSTELLO: Erick, I want to start with you, because I read your blog this morning, and this is what you posted today about Gingrich's moral and political positions. I'm going to read it here. You say, "How did I know you won't cheat on me politically and how do I reconcile what my desire for a president my kids can respect with your life?" And then you go on to say, "I may have to seriously reconsider saying I never, ever, ever would vote for Jon Huntsman. He's more consistently conservative than Newt or Romney, more pro-life than either, and a far more competent executive than either." I was a little surprised at your comments. Explain more for us.

ERICKSON: Yes. You know, I'm really in the not-Romney camp. And I think Newt Gingrich's rise says more about Mitt Romney's failure to close the deal with conservatives when he's had four years to do it than anything else. Given the choice between Romney and Newt I would supporting Newt Gingrich.

But I'm just not sure. I was sitting down last night thinking about it, and I just don't know that I want to really support to Newt Gingrich with three wives, adultery in between and all of these shifting positions on conservative issues. I mean, I like the guy personally but I'm not sure that he's my guy.

COSTELLO: The Jon Huntsman part I would say surprised me more. Would you seriously consider voting for Jon Huntsman?

ERICKSON: You know, over Mitt Romney, yes. I think Jon Huntsman has a more good conservative track record as governor of Utah. Granted, Mitt Romney was in Massachusetts, but given the position between the two, I'm starting to think I may have to reconsider what I originally said about Jon Huntsman, which was to write him off.

COSTELLO: So, Ron, are you surprised by Erick's writings this morning?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, no. I think Erick really crystallizes the dilemma of the conservative base of the Republican Party, which is now by far the dominant faction in the party but throughout this year has not had a horse it can stably ride in this race. The one constant is in all of these polls all year is that whether you look at evangelical Christians or people who identify with the Tea Party. They don't want Mitt Romney. They haven't been able to settle on one candidate. They've cycled from Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain. They've now settled Newt Gingrich, and he is polling very well with those voters.

As Erick says, there's a lot in his history that might cause him to think twice about that, but I wonder if it would matter if Gingrich emerged in August. If he emerged in July or August, issues of cap and trade, support for health care might have loomed larger because there are other alternatives out there. Now it's closing time, and for voters who don't want Mitt Romney there may not be another alternative.

Jon Huntsman would have to see exponential growth among conservatives before he got up to margin of error with them. So I think, you know, certainly Gingrich is capable of wounding himself and shooting himself in the foot as precisely the moment when he seems strongest, but right now I think this is a demand side phenomenon as Erick said. Conservatives need an alternative to Mitt Romney, those who don't want Romney, and right now Gingrich is the strongest horse that they have in that field.

COSTELLO: So, Erick, conservatives also want someone who can beat President Obama in 2012. Can Newt Gingrich do that?

ERICKSON: Yes I think Newt Gingrich can do that. I would pay money to see a Newt Gingrich-Barack Obama debate. The issue, is, though, the president doesn't just debate. He does other things as well, much more so than debate.

I think any of the Republicans right now probably have a shot against Barack Obama. I'm not sure about Mitt Romney given his positions all over the board, but Newt Gingrich, yes. I think either the Republicans can beat him or the Republicans can't beat him, and if they can beat him, pretty much any of them can.

COSTELLO: The thing is, Newt Gingrich just opened up an office in Iowa a couple days ago. He doesn't have a strong organization there. So you have to wonder, are these polls really telling us what we think we know, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: That's a really good question. I think no question, Carol, the way you run for president, we talk about it before, is changing. The idea that you burrow into Iowa and New Hampshire with organization and that's the invisibility primary is the way you succeed it's changed. It now is something like a national audition where voters everywhere are being affected by the same media and driven by the same currents.

Polls came out yesterday in Iowa, South Carolina, the Gallup poll nationally, they incredibly similar, not only in the topline but in the way the subgroups and the different factions the party is breaking out.

Having said that we are moving into a different stage of the campaign, and you will see how much this national tide overwhelms the traditional mechanisms of running for president, ads in the early stage, organization in the early stage. Newt Gingrich has six paid staffers in Iowa. At this point in 2007, Barack Obama had around 200. So you're obviously seeing a very different model how you run for president being performed this year. But the question is, whether that can -- whether Mitt Romney's advantages on that front, not so much Iowa, but elsewhere, his money, can begin to erode some of this clear momentum in the polls for Gingrich.

COSTELLO: We'll see. Ron Brownstein, Erick Erickson, thanks for joining us this morning.

ERICKSON: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 21 minutes past the hour.



ROMANS: "Minding your Business" this morning. The Dow is on track for a third day higher. U.S. futures are up because at the moment, the moment, investors are optimistic a long-term solution to Europe's debt crisis will be announced this week.

Renewed talk of a dual bailout to help Europe boosting markets. According to "The Financial Times," this financial bazooka involves using two separate rescue funds at the same time to essentially double the money available to fight the crisis. Markets like that.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's three-day European trip takes him to Paris this morning meeting with more European counterparts. Speaking this morning, Geithner is confident that EU leaders will be successful in negotiations to tackle the debt crisis. Those negotiations begin Friday in Brussels.

Bank of America has agreed to pay $315 million to a group of investors who claim its Merrill Lynch unit misled them about the quality of those mortgage-backed securities. That settlement must still be approved by a judge. That could be difficult because Bank of America is not admitting any wrongdoing.

According to the Labor Department, one in 17 Americans collected a jobless check over the past four years. That means the government paid out $434 billion in benefits during that time. Right now many of the long-term unemployed could lose their benefits if Congress fails to pass yore extension by the end of the year. Green Bay Packer fans reportedly swooped up some $400,000 worth of the team's stock even though it's technically worthless. But that's team spirit. They started selling shares yesterday for $250 each. The money will help finance renovations to the team's field. If you're wondering what the $250 gets besides maybe a little stock certificate, two words -- bragging rights.

AMERICAN MORNING will be right back after the break.


COSTELLO: Welcome back. It's 30 minutes past the hour. Time for this morning's top stories.

Newt Gingrich looking like he's about to run away with the Republican race. He's opened up a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in three new national polls.

Gingrich sits down with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." That's tonight at 5:00 Eastern on CNN.

ROMANS: President Obama saying it's a make or break time for the middle class. The president traveled to the Republican heartland of Kansas yesterday to talk about the fragile U.S. economy and how to fix it. He called on Congress to extend the pay roll tax Tuesday, saving Americans $1,000 intake-home pay this year.

COSTELLO: And a new accuser coming forward saying former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted him when he was 12 and gave him alcohol. Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.

ROMANS: All right, whether it was shot down or a malfunction brought it down, a top secret U.S. spy drone that crashed last week in Iran may now be an open book.

Because analysts say if there was anything left of the unmanned aircraft, the technology is likely in the hands of the Russians or the Chinese by now.

Chris Lawrence is live at Pentagon this morning. Chris, by most accounts this is a serious intelligence loss for the U.S.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. You know, a U.S. official now telling us this was a CIA mission and they that had satellite images showing the drone may have sustained significant damage.

The White House overruled any possible use of boots on the ground to go into Iran and retrieve it, so the feeling now from U.S. officials is, Iranians have what's left of it. They're trying to figure out what to do next.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): When the U.S.' newest stealth drone crashed on the wrong side of the Afghanistan/Iran border, it may have sparked a shopping spree for America's potential adversaries.

PETER SINGER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I'm guessing there was several people tried to buy airline tickets to Tehran from Moscow and Beijing in the last couple days.

LAWRENCE: Analyst, Peter Singer says if the RQ-170 is relatively intact the Iranians will likely give the drone to China who can unlock its secrets and sell the completed technology back to Iran.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, RETIRED AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: The Chinese probably have one of the best technology gathering espionage services in the world, if not the best.

LAWRENCE: Retired Air Force Intelligence Officer Colonel Cedric Leighton says the missing drone is faster, smarter and stealthier than commonly used drones like the "Predator." On radar, the "Sentinel" comes across as being something other than it actually is.

LEIGHTON: They show up very briefly if at all. They show up perhaps in something that could be disguised, let's say as a flock of birds or something like that or another type of aircraft.

LAWRENCE: The "Sentinel" flew surveillance over Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Military officials say if the drone's technology is compromised, other nations will likely device better defenses against it.

LEIGHTON: And if they emulate us, we will find it much more difficult to go after them and to go after their aero defenses as well as the assets they're trying to protect. In the case of Iran, it would perhaps be their nuclear weapons system.


LAWRENCE: Now, if all of this sounds farfetched with nothing but fragments of the drone left on the ground, remember this, one of America's first stealth planes was shot down over Serbia in 1999.

Balkan military officials say Chinese agents bought up pieces of that plane from the local farmers, and when China unveiled its stealth plane, earlier this year, a lot of experts say it borrowed from American technology -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Chris Lawrence. Thank you, Chris.

COSTELLO: In just a few hours, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will learn his sentence for public corruption. If federal prosecutors get their way, Blagojevich will be going away for a very long time.

CNN Ted Rowlands live in Chicago for us this morning. Any indication how this judge will rule? TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a little bit in yesterday's session the judge ruled against Blagojevich on some enhancement questions. Not a good sign for Blagojevich. Prosecution wants him put away for 15 to 20 years.

His lawyers are asking the judge for leniency saying, two, three, four years would be more in line with what he deserves. They argued yesterday that the crimes he committed simply didn't constitute a 15 to 20-year sentence.

They also brought up the fact that Blagojevich has a family including two young daughters that he would miss if he was sent to jail. At one point Aaron Goldstein, Blagojevich's lawyer, said he doesn't deserve mercy because he has a family. His family deserves mercy.

They also read a portion of a letter that Blagojevich's teenage daughter wrote to the judge saying in part, I need my father. I need him here. Prosecutors today are likely going to argue it's sad he has a family, but the law does not allow the judge to factor in a family in sentencing unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

Today's schedule, the final day of this two-day sentencing hearing will start with prosecutors. Then we'll hear from Blagojevich. He will address the judge and that will be the last portion of the hearing until the judge hands down his sentence -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I'm curious. Will Blagojevich's daughters be in court with him today?

ROWLANDS: We don't know if they'll be in court today. They were not in court yesterday. They have been in court before the first day of the trial. They made an appearance.

But he has a lot of family members in court, and interesting enough, there are jurors in court for this sentencing from both of the trials. Probably 10 to 15 jurors are in court watching this sentencing.

One juror said that they just wanted to see the process through, and by the way, as a side note, the courtroom is entirely packed. They're using a ceremonial large courtroom here. Members of public are here as well. It is a packed house. People want to see what happens to the former governor of Illinois.

COSTELLO: Ted Rowlands live in Chicago for us, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, new this morning. An American citizen is among the victims killed in a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan, 56 people were killed yesterday at a crowded Shiite Muslim shrine in Kabul. A second bomb in northern Afghanistan killed four others. Afghan President Hamid Karzai cut short a European trip.

COSTELLO: The operators of a West Virginia mine where 29 people were killed last April have been slapped with a $209 million fine. Government regulators say the company dodged federal safety rules and hid violations.

The April 2010 explosion was the worst U.S. mine disaster in 40 years. The company will pay the families of each victim $1.5 million.

ROMANS: Victims of that Sugarland stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair being offered a total of $5 million by the state's attorney general.

That amount is the most Indiana can pay according to the state law. If the victims and their families accept the offer, families of the seven people killed will get at least $300,000. The 61 survivors would get 65 percent of their medical expenses paid.

COSTELLO: Alec Baldwin kicked off an American Airlines flight at LAX. The actor says he was reamed out for playing words with friends while they sat at the gate not moving.

Baldwin actually sent out a bunch of angry tweets about the incident including one with a hash tag that there's always United. Baldwin even took some jabs at flight attendants, not very nice jabs.

But some passengers have a slightly different version of what happened. Like former boxing champ, Oscar De La Hoya.


OSCAR DE LA HOYA, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BOXER: I actually felt Alec Baldwin was turning off his devices and he just got a little angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was on his phone. He didn't want to get off the phone. Then snuck into the bathroom and became a little irate they had to remove him from the flight.


COSTELLO: So the airline says they're looking into the incident. Those rowdy people in first class.

ROMANS: I know and everyone is tweeting about it.

All right, still to come this morning, a new effort to get around the partisan bickering and save you a cool grand. Two senators now are offering a new payroll tax cut compromise. They'll join us live.

COSTELLO: And would you give your kid a Twinkie or cookie for breakfast. Would you? Guess what -- I'm going to get this out eventually. Stick with me. I promise.

Guess what some of the cereal your kids are eating it has more sugar than Twinkies. We'll find out about the findings, next.

ROMANS: All right, does being president make you age faster? Take a look at these before and after pictures. What do you think? New research looks into it. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It's 39 minutes past the hour.


ROMANS: All right, welcome back. Failure could cost you $1,000, and the countdown is officially on. President Obama turning up the pressure on Congress to extend the popular payroll tax holiday. Now two senators are offering a compromise to extend the savings for millions of Americans.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Welcome to the program. I want to quickly look at your plan. What it would do. Just lay that out for you.

I mean, it would keep the lowered payroll tax rate of 4.2 percent and reduce employers payroll tax rate for the first $10 million of their payroll. This would all be paid for by repealing tax breaks for oil companies and by a 10-year 2 percent surtax on millionaires, which would not hit small business owners who report their business income on their personal tax returns.

You're making this exception to the millionaire surtax and you're hoping that's going to make it more palatable to conservatives. Senator McCaskill, is that enough to get the bipartisan votes you need?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I hope so. We are trying to find that compromise. It's hard to find around here, because too many people are worried about the politics and not about the policy.

We want to make sure people don't have a tax increase next year but want to carve out those small businesses. Frankly, you didn't mention the other great parts of the bill that funds infrastructure, roads and bridgework around our country. This is a jobs bill. It truly is.

ROMANS: And that's what everyone wants to see, a jobs bill. But you know, Senator Collins, I will tell you that Democrats and Republicans have different ideas on what creates jobs. You were with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when he said this about your plan.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I am not in favor of raising taxes on working people. I do favor extending the payroll tax holiday for another year, in conjunction with job creating proposals.


ROMANS: So can you convince him to support this bill?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, actually, what the minority leader said is very consistent with our bill. It does not raise taxes on middle-income families, and it does have to create jobs.

We need a way to break through the partisan divide in Washington. It simply gets us nowhere and is discouraging to employers and the American public at large when we keep having these partisan votes. So what we're trying to do is bridge that divide.

ROMANS: You know what? I think everyone agrees on that and I hear that from both sides of the aisle, but actually bridging it, and I'm so pleased the two of you are trying to cross over, shake hands and do it.

Senator McCaskill, eyes are also on House Republicans working on their own plan, which could be paid for by cutting research grants for the Environmental Protection Agency. And the plan, that plan, they also push for the development of the Keystone Pipeline. So they have other ideas about how to create jobs and what creates jobs that might not be consistent with what Democrats think. Could you and other Democrats support a bill with those provisions?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think what we all need to start focusing on is trying to find a compromise that can pass. That's what Susan and I have done. There are things in this bill I'm not crazy about. Some things she's not crazy about. But it's a real middle ground.

Frankly, some of the stuff the House is talking about is political red meat. It's stuff that will divide us further. And they know it's not going to pass the Senate. Why don't we try to focus on a bill that has things that could get support as opposed to trying to divide us for political purposes?

ROMANS: Senator Collins, the president is -- was in Kansas yesterday trying to push for an extension of the payroll tax holiday.

I want to listen to a clip of what he said that really got that crowd going.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's estimated that a child born today will only have a one in three chance of making it to the middle class. The idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work, that's inexcusable. It is wrong.


OBAMA: It flies in the face of everything that we stand for.


ROMANS: Senator Collins, as a Republican, how does the president's populist theme play with the Republicans, who say there are fewer opportunities because of this president's policies, not in spite of them? And they say some of the things like cutting EPA's research grants and building that pipeline, those are the ways to help the middle class?

COLLINS: Well, the president's rhetoric is not helping to bring people together. And after all, he's not just a bystander. He is the president of the United States. I'd like to se him show more leadership. But what we're trying to do is to transcend all of the partisan rhetoric regardless of which side it comes from, whether it's the Senate, the House or the president. We're trying to get things done for the American people. And we have very little time to accomplish this.


COLLINS: If we don't extend the payroll tax cut by the end of the year, working families are going to face tax increases January 1st. And employers will not have the incentives they need to preserve and create jobs. And that's what our bill's all about.

ROMANS: You guys know more than anybody that the real trouble here is that temporary tax moves are never really temporary. Right, Senator McCaskill? When you -- just like the Bush tax cuts. It's very hard to take them back when people -- that's what's so tricky about the tax code.

MCCASKILL: Well, we know that taxes are the lowest point that they have been in, in 50 years, for those at the very, very top of the economic ladder. And, frankly, I've not met someone that has more than $1 million in income, passive income that doesn't say, you know, we're willing to pay a little more. That's why this bill is a breakthrough. We are carving out small businesses --

ROMANS: Right.

MCCASKILL: -- in that 2 percent surtax. It is just 10 years long. And frankly, I think it remains to be seen whether all of those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy stay in place at the end of the year.

ROMANS: Quickly, to both of you, at the end of the day, do you think there will be a payroll tax holiday extension? You're confident they'll be able to do that?

MCCASKILL: Well, we'll be confident if they get on our bill.


We're confident that we have the right recipe for success here. And if people would quit worrying about winning elections and worry more about trying to get along and get something done, we can get this done in two or three days.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Senator Susan Collins and Senator Claire McCaskill. Nice to see you both this morning. Thank you.

MCCASKILL: By the way, it's Susan's birthday. So happy birthday to Susan.

ROMANS: Happy birthday.


Oh, wow. You're up early on your birthday. Hope you at least get a nice lunch and a cupcake.


COLLINS: Thank you.

ROMANS: Happy birthday, Senator.

COLLINS: Thank you.

COSTELLO: I know, we would sing, but that would be a bad birthday present.

ROMANS: That would not be a birthday present. That would be a birthday curse.


COSTELLO: Happy birthday, Senator.

Still to come this morning, is your kids' breakfast making them fat? A new study says your kids would be better off eating cookies in the morning.

ROMANS: Oh, my.

And today's "Romans' Numeral," 200,000. Here's a hint. Somebody's about to go on a hiring binge. Who could it be?

49 minutes after the hour.


COSTELLO: Here's what you need to know to start your day at 51 minutes past the hour.

Newt Gingrich picking up steam. The former House speaker opening up double-digit leads on Mitt Romney in several national polls with less than four weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses.

Syria's president, Bashar al Assad, telling ABC's Barbara Walters he is not responsible for his country's nine-month crackdown on protesters. Assad saying he does not own his country or his forces. The U.N. estimates 4,000 people have died since Syria's uprising.

Add powdered baby formula to the list of Japanese products said to be contaminated by radiation, fall out from the earthquake and tsunami back in March that damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Plant. The manufacturer of that milk powder claims the contamination levels do not pose a threat to infants.

Today, we mark 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor. 120 survivors are expected to arrive in Hawaii for the annual commemoration. There will be rifle salutes and brief presentations to honor and remember the nearly 2,400 people who died that day. The event led the United States into World War II.

You're now caught up on the day's headlines. AMERICAN MORNING, back after a short break.


ROMANS: Good morning. This morning's "Romans' Numeral," a number in the news today. The number is 200,000 jobs. What industry is creating 200,000 jobs? Guess what. The once thought to be dead U.S. auto industry. 200,000 jobs coming to the Midwest by 2015, according to a research industry firm. That increase is made possible by the new labor agreements which allow the automakers to hire new workers, they say, for less. Entered on that tiered system now.

COSTELLO: They're going to go out hiring.

ROMANS: So, interesting. 200,000 auto industry jobs.


COSTELLO: Michigan --


COSTELLO: -- Ohio, Indiana.


COSTELLO: So, that's terrific news.


COSTELLO: OK, is breakfast making your child fat?


COSTELLO: -- breakfast. Yes, a new study says that kids' cereals are loaded with sugar. Some even have more sugar than chocolate chip cookies or Twinkies.

ROMANS: That's what makes them taste so good, Elizabeth Cohen.


She's in Atlanta to explain this is why kids like to eat them.


What did researchers find, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. There's a reason why my kids beg me to buy these things.


What researchers found is they looked at 84 breakfast cereals and they found that three-quarters exceeded proposed federal guidelines for sugar in cereal. This is a report by the Environmental Working Group. So, I'll take you through four of the biggest, what they would call, offenders. So, for example, you have here Golden Crisps and that has 18 grams of sugar. And that is as much as a Twinkie.

ROMANS: What? Wow.

COHEN: So, you're giving your kid as much sugar as a Twinkie. Isn't that -- yes, who knew? Right. Exactly. Honey Smacks, 20 -- which were called Sugar Smacks when I was a kid.


Honey Smacks, 20 grams of sugar.

COSTELLO: They took the word sugar out of the title for a reason.

ROMANS: Did they take it out of the cereal though?



COHEN: That's right because honey sounds healthier, I guess. So that's 20 grams of sugar. And that's as much sugar as eight Hershey Kisses, OK?


COHEN: So you are giving your kid the sugar of eight Hershey Kisses. Let's move on to Captain Crunch, Oops, All Berries. That really is the name. That's 15 grams of sugar. And that's as much sugar as -- as about as much sugar as in this doughnut.


COHEN: So you're giving your kid -- you think you're giving him the cereal, and you're giving him as much sugar as a doughnut. And lastly, we have Froot Loops with Marshmallows, 14 grams. That is as much sugar as in four chocolate chip cookies.

ROMANS: Oh, my goodness. What are those cereal makers saying about this? Because they --

COHEN: The cereal makers are saying, look, we reduced the amount of sugar in our products because people were complaining, basically. And they say our cereal, when you eat it with skim milk, has a lot of essential nutrients and vitamins.


And I'd like to point something out here, OK? Take a look at the amount of cereal in this bowl. And I'm going to try to take out some of these chocolate -- some of these Kisses here.

(LAUGHTER) Who eats that much cereal?


COHEN: That is not a lot of cereal. That is a cup. So, you're getting as much sugar as you would get in eight Hershey's Kisses, but who eats that much? Most people are probably eating a lot more. I know my kids are.

COSTELLO: Yes, but with skim milk, Elizabeth, that's like eating a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke.

COHEN: Yes, you could think about it that way, I guess, except that it's a cheeseburger that has been infused with a lot of vitamins and nutrients.

ROMANS: But these cereals that you're showing us, we know, if you're looking for healthy options for your kids, you don't go for any of those that are on that list, right? What are the healthier options for your kids for breakfast?

COHEN: There are healthier options and the trick is, you have to put them in your house and take the other ones away, because kids would always opt for Fruit Loops over something like, for example -- look over here -- Cheerios. So, you have to have just the Cheerios or just the Rice Crispies. Much, much less sugar. Between one and four grams of sugar.

If you look at that whole wheat waffle that we brought in, that has a lot less sugar. You could also do yogurt and fruit, which does have sugar, but not as much as we have here.

So those are a couple -- there are things you can do, but I will say, as a mom, I get it. Kids want to eat these things, so it's hard to say, no, you're going to have the Cheerios, instead.

ROMANS: I got the whole wheat waffles. And then I was noticing that the syrup that my children loves on it didn't even actually contain maple syrup. It was all high fructose corn syrup and stuff.

COHEN: Uh-huh.

ROMANS: So I had to really search out for the real syrup. And be careful about how much I put on there because that undermines the whole wheat waffle.



COHEN: That's true. You think you're doing good.


COSTELLO: I'm just wondering what happens to children's love of Cheerios. You always see babies eating Cheerios. At some point, that goes away though.

COHEN: You know why? Because the 2-year-old who is eating Cheerios, that's all they know. That's all you're giving them. Once they try Fruit Loops with Marshmallows, they're not going back to Cheerios, unless you make them. And that, I think, is the key, just don't have it in the house.

ROMANS: All right, Elizabeth Cohen. Thanks, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Thanks.

COSTELLO: Still to come this morning, Newt Gingrich widening his lead in the race for the GOP nomination. But with less than four weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, can he hold on?

We'll be back.