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American Morning

Congress Gridlocked Over Extending Payroll Tax Cut Bill; Controversial Newsletters Written in Ron Paul's Name Cause Stir; Investigation Continues into Death of Florida A&M Drum Major; Actor Kenneth Branagh Interviewed; Deadly Bombing Wave In Baghdad; Wal-Mart Pulls Baby Formula After Death; Eight Soldiers Charged In Private's Death; GOP Walks Out On Tax Fight; "We've Got To Get This Resolved"; Interview with Senators Dick Durbin and John McCain; Dreaming of a White House Christmas

Aired December 22, 2011 - 06:59   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The war after the war. A bloody morning in Baghdad. Explosion after explosion. New fears that it could call come apart now that U.S. troops are gone.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. claims self- defense in a deadly airstrike in Afghanistan. Twenty-four Pakistani troops were killed. The defense department also admitting mistakes were made.

ROMANS: Wal-Mart pulling a brand of baby formula after a baby's sudden death caused by a rare bacteria. The latest on that investigation.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: These things are pretty incendiary, you know --

REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because of people like you.

VELSHI: And Ron Paul getting defensive again about racist "Newsletters" written in his name in the past. Questions coming up again as he rises in the polls on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ROMANS: Good morning, everybody. It's Thursday, December 2nd. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. Good morning, Ali.

VELSHI: Good morning.

A lot of news this morning. New fears it could all unravel in Iraq this morning. A wave of coordinated deadly blasts rocking Baghdad overnight. Police say four car bombs and nine roadside bombs went off within two hours of each other, killing at least 63 people and wounding over 200. The death toll has been rising overnight. This coming just a few days after the last U.S. troops left Iraq. It is the worst violence to hit the country since a political crisis erupted between Iraq Sunni and Shiite factions. Arwa Damon live for us in Baghdad this morning. Arwa, give us some perspective. What does this mean? Is there something particular about this happening after the U.S. troops have left?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: well, you know, Ali, the Americans were actually warning there would be some sort of violence that would increase as they were leaving, and especially after they were leaving so the insurgency would remind everyone they are present and active. But the violence we saw taking place this morning coupled with the country's political crisis most certainly ended up creating a worst-case scenario, a nightmare for the Iraqi population.

These explosion actually took place in the morning, 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., right during rush hour. There were 16 explosions in total according to the most recent police report, nine of those were car bombs hitting marketplaces in the intersections. One of the explosions happening outside of school as the children were arriving.

Many people, Ali, had been warning the U.S. that perhaps this withdrawal was premature, that the country need their help. Many politicians warning the government would in fact unravel despite the rosy image that the U.S. administration continued to paint. But few people thought it would unravel this fast or have this devastating of an impact.

VELSHI: Arwa, thank you very much.

ROMANS: Also new developments this morning in the deadly attack along the Afghan border that has further strained U.S. relations with Pakistan. According to an investigation by the Defense Department, U.S. troops acted in self-defense when they attacked and killed 24 Pakistani troops, though the U.S. does now admit mistakes were made. Our Barbara Starr follows this for us live from the Pentagon. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. The U.S. claim of self-defense really is the least of it, because 24 Pakistani troops died as a result of the U.S. bombing of that border post back on November 25th. The investigation is done. We expect a briefing here later this morning, but we know some of the results of that investigation. Self-defense because they thought they were being fired on by insurgents, but the U.S. taking very strong responsibility for what happened.

They are saying that there was inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officials operating on this border region, that U.S. officials relied on inadequate and inaccurate mapping data when they asked the Pakistanis were there Pakistani troops where they wanted to bomb. It all resulted in a terrible misunderstanding about where the Pakistani troops were when the U.S. unleashed those bombs and that airstrike.

Nonetheless, the U.S. has massive responsibility for this because they are the ones that enacted the bombing. The question now, of course, is what happens next? The Pakistani-U.S. relationship remains very troubled over the entire incident.

ROMANS: It does. So what happens now? Does the president, does he apologize, personally apologize? Or does it end here?

STARR: I think what you just asked is the key question. In Pakistan there, has been quite a bit of discussion that President Obama should personally apologize to the Pakistani people for all of this. But that has political overtones, of course, here in the United States, where Republicans are saying the president apologizes for America, where many people criticized the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.

One thing that will happen next, U.S. military will look to see whether any U.S. military officials should be held accountable for this incident that went so terribly wrong. Christine?

ROMANS: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

VELSHI: Wal-Mart pulls a batch of baby formula after a baby's sudden death in Missouri. They retail giant recalled Enfamil newborn from stores nationwide as a precaution. But only those batches with the lot number ZP-1-K-7-G. This happened after a 10-day-old dies from a rare bacterial infection. Officials are also testing environmental factors, such as the state of the water that was used to make the formula.

The formula's maker Meade-Johnson nutrition says the batch tested negative for the bacteria before it was shipped. They released this statement -- "We are highly confident of the safety and quality of our products and the rigorous testing we put them through."

ROMANS: They say they want to talk, but talk is getting cheap and time running out. With just nine days and counting before the payroll tax cut expires there's no resolution in sight this morning. Take a look at what this could cost you. This is based on a $53,000 per year salary. It comes to an $83 per month salary. Add that up over a year, it's about $1,000. The president crashed the briefing room yesterday, Tuesday, and blasted Republicans for their handling of the issue.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the House Republicans referred to what they are doing as "high stakes poker." He's right about the stakes, but this is not poker. This is not a game. This shouldn't be politics as usual.


ROMANS: Then he spent an afternoon on the phone with congressional leaders on both sides in both Houses yesterday, but looking at how Republicans and Democrats were acting, you wonder whether they got the message from the president to stop playing games, like hide and seek. The GOP walked out on the debate on the House floor and Democratic whip Steny Hoyer tried to introduce the two-month extension and got angry. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STENY HOYER, (D-MD) MINORITY WHIP: As you walk of the floor, Mr. Speaker, you are walking out, you're walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle class taxpayers, the unemployed, and very frankly as well from those who will be seeking medical assistance from their doctors, 48 million senior citizens.


ROMANS: To show their willingness to reach a deal, House Speaker John Boehner held a news conference from the negotiating table, basically saying the Senate will have to come to him.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: We're here. We're ready to work. We're looking for our counterparts to sit down with us so that we can do what the president, bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate all want, and that's to extend the payroll tax cut for one year.


ROMANS: Kate Bolduan is live in Washington with the latest. Still sounds like an awful lot of politics to me, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An awful lot of politics and yesterday a lot of political theater playing out before us as well. There doesn't seem to be much work going on, to be quite honest, Christine.

We'll see Speaker Boehner again today, as you saw in the clip you just played. He's going to hold another media event with the eight House Republicans that he's appointed to this conference committee that he would like to see the House and Senate go to hash out their differences.

But the bottom line is neither side is backing down. And pressure is mounting, especially on House Republicans. You have the president calling again on the House to pass a two-month extension that the Senate approved last weekend, but in a phone call with the president yesterday, Speaker Boehner didn't appear to budge at all, instead asking the president to ask the top Democrat in the Senate Harry Reid to appoint negotiators to the conference committee.

So that is unlikely to happen before the January 2nd deadline for two reasons, both the politics and procedure to get that going. Senator Reid says he will not be reopening talks for a one- year deal to extend the payroll tax cut until the House passes the two-month extension.

ROMANS: We were talking to a CPA yesterday who was pulling his hair out this is not the kind of stuff you can do for two months or a year. They need some clarity of how companies and taxes are going to be next year, and they don't have any clarity, quite frustrating for a lot of people, rank and file people trying to run business. Kate Bolduan, thanks.

At the bottom hour, Senators Dick Durbin and John McCain will join us. Durbin says Speaker Boehner has lost control of the House. McCain wants House Republicans to get in line too. He says the battle is hurting his party and is unfair to the American people.

VELSHI: Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich going head to head in the polls and the podium. Both GOP frontrunners spoke to crowds in New Hampshire yesterday addressing a recent campaign ad from the Romney camp. The ad attacks Speaker Gingrich for his work at Freddie Mac. Gingrich calls it dishonest, but Romney suggests Gingrich is just melting under pressure. There were a lot of kitchen and heat analogies going on yesterday. Both men say they can take the heat.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Speaker Gingrich has had a few less than generous things to say about me over the campaign. I'm a big boy. That's the nature of the campaign. And with regards to the heat associated with ads, you know, if you can't stand the relatively modest heat in the kitchen right now, wait until Obama's hell's kitchen shows up.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I'll tell you what. He wants to test the heat, I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa next week, one-on-one, 90 minutes, no moderator. He wants to tie up the kitchen, I'll be glad to debate him anywhere. And we'll bring "The Washington Post" who will show that his ad is filled with lies and he can defend it.


VELSHI: So whatever you think of these candidates. And while we're dealing with this whole Ron Paul not straightening up what happened 20 years ago in his writings, the one thing about Newt Gingrich, he loves to debate. Rick Perry says he doesn't do well. Newt Gingrich's response to anyone is come meet me, we'll debate one- on-one. That's what he puts out there.

ROMANS: With his surge in the polls, some things getting potentially ugly, as you mention, bubbling up from Ron Paul's past. And he is being hammered about questions by newsletters written under his name years ago. Here's an example of one of them, an article criticizing President Reagan for approving the creation of the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The newsletter written under Ron Paul's name complaining, quote, "We can thank him" -- Ronald Reagan -- "for our annual hate whitey day."

VELSHI: And having gone through them, this isn't the most incendiary of them. There are some things he says about people with AIDS, written under his name, not able to eat in restaurants with other people, blacks, calling them animals. It's pretty incendiary stuff.

ROMANS: These are newsletters went out, subscription, people paid for these. He became very bothered after our Gloria Borger brought it up to him. She asked him if he made money from the newsletters, and he bailed out. Take a look.


RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was published for 10 years. If that was one percent of the newsletter I made money off talking about gold stocks, I think are you really confused on that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's just a question -- it's legitimate. It's legitimate. These things are pretty incendiary.

PAUL: Because of people like up.

BORGER: No, no, no, no. Come on, some of the stuff was very incendiary, and saying that in 1993 the Israelis were responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center, that kind of stuff.

PAUL: Good-bye.


ROMANS: He says he disavows it. What more do you want? I didn't write it. I won't tell you who wrote it. It was 20 years ago, I have done a lot of things since then. And I disavow the content of that.

VELSHI: He said six or eight people were involved, and if we knew who the six or eight people were, we'd find them, interview them, ask them. Did you write this? Did you discuss this with Ron Paul? It is our job to try and dig this out. I asked him very clearly, will you give us the names of the people who worked for and you wrote it? He said no.

ROMANS: He says this keeps coming up, why do you keep asking about this? There are a lot of interviews where this never came up. This is 20 years ago we have discussed so many aspects about beliefs, his books, his legislation. Now as the higher he gets in the polls, people are taking a broader look at history. He says he disavows it, but it keeps popping back up.

VELSHI: Still to come, a woman brutally beaten and dragged in the streets, but she is still speaking out. An Egyptian activist recovers from a horrifying military crackdown. We'll have her story after the break.

ROMANS: And the House deadlocked over extending that payroll tax holiday. Senators John McCain and Dick Durbin are here, big names from both parties. One message, get it done.

VELSHI: And remember this video, a delivery guy chucking a fragile box over a fence? We'll tell you what FedEx is saying. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It is 13 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Welcome back. She was beaten and kicked, dragged through the streets, but they will not silence her. An Egyptian activist brutalized by military forces is speaking out as she recovers now in a hospital. Her story, in just a moment.

But first, I want to warn you that this report that were about to show you contains scenes some viewers might find upsetting. But these scenes a reality of what's happening right now. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoon has the story.


MOHAMMED JAMJOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even after the attack, and two fractures to her skull, Azza Hilal Suleiman, was unbound, still speaking out.


JAMJOON: "They were hitting a veiled woman," she says. "They removed her veil and exposed the underwear she was wearing."

This is the scene she was describing. A veiled Egyptian female protester, being beaten by riot police, dragged, partially stripped of her clothing, even stomped on.

CNN received this video from a human rights activist.


JAMJOON: "They kept hitting her," she says, so I ran and tried to cover her body and pull her out. They started beating us.

Seen here in a red jacket, Azza tries to help the wounded woman. Security forces rush toward her, push her to the ground and then a merciless barrage. She sustained multiple blows to the head.

These pictures show just some of her injuries. When we tracked Azza down, she wanted to speak to us. But when we arrived to the hospital for the interview, her condition had deteriorated.

(on camera): We're trying to get in to see Azza. She is in that room. We actually hear screams emanating from inside that room. We've not been able to so far. The doctors that we've spoken would say that she needs to be taken to the ICU.

(voice-over): A short time later, we're given access to her by family members, but Azza is in agony and can't speak with us. "I can't take it," she says. "I can't. I'm going to die. Have mercy on me."


ROMANS: Mohammed, the images of -- of those pictures, of all of those riot police with their shields and their sticks and two women laying on the ground, I mean, it's -- iy's devastating. A devastating portrayal of the military rule of the country. And how -- how is that woman doing now?

JAMJOON: Well, Christine, I'm happy to report we're hearing from Azza's family today that she's actually improved. That she's talking a bit and eating. So we're trying to see if we can catch up with her a bit later in the day. It's good news at least that she's doing better temporarily.

But it's cases like Azza's that have really outraged so many women here and in fact just a couple of days ago, there was a -- there was a woman's march here, thousands of women came out to express solidarity with the women who have been beaten by riot police these past few days and to express their anger at the ruling military council of this country for the abuse that's being perpetrated against female protesters lately.

For their part, the Supreme Council, the Armed Forces, the ruling military council, they issued a statement of regret for violations against Egyptian women. But that really doesn't seem to be holding any water with the female activists we're speaking with here. They say it's a systematic pattern of abuse that has to come to an end as soon as possible.

ROMANS: All right. Mohammed Jamjoon, thank you for that report and please keep us posted on her condition. Thank you.

VELSHI: All right. It's 20 minutes after the hour. Reynolds Wolf is in our Extreme Weather Center taking a look at weather -- travel weather right now. Is there anything extreme going on?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There's going to be something very extreme possibly this afternoon in parts of the southeast, especially Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and a little bit of Florida.

Let me show you what's what. We've got this area that you happen to see in the Deep South. We have a possibility of isolated tornadoes, damaging winds, even some large hale. We might even want to throw in a potential for some flash flooding in some spots, too. I would expect you will have some delays in Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, even in New Orleans before the day is out. Even in your smaller regional airports and spots like Pensacola and Mobile, you might have some backups. It's all going to be a certainty.

Now, what we have at this point, though, just some strong storms mostly moving through Shreveport. Back over towards Houston, all of this driving to the east. This is of course the area where we have that slight risk of a tornado. The tornado watch that will be in effect until 1:00 local time so certainly worth watching.

What we're also going to see today is going to be the chance of snow building once again into the Central and Southern Rockies. Strong winds, possible whiteout conditions along parts of I-40, I-25. Only one to two inches of snowfall in Albuquerque and points southward a bit higher. We'll have the higher elevations.

The snow amounts will be a bit more, anywhere from 6 to 12. The national perspective, nice and cool across the Northern Plains. Chance of scattered showers for the (INAUDIBLE) Valley and into the Cascades. Breezy in Southern California. These severe storms get a big bull's-eye in the southeast and a mix of sun and clouds for parts in the Northeast with New York, as we wrap it up with a high of 55.

That's your forecast. Ali, your turn, man.

VELSHI: Thank you, my friend. I'm going to be traveling around looking for some snow in the next few days.

WOLF: I understand.

VELSHI: I'm going to go to Toronto. I've heard that there's a chance that there'll be some snow on Christmas Eve. Who knows? You know, it kind of -- it kind of gives a little gift to (INAUDIBLE), like even when it's not expected.

ROMANS: Can Santa go to Canada first or the U.S. first?

VELSHI: Under the new visa regulations, I don't know.

ROMANS: All right. Still to come this morning -- I will have to look into that, huh? A big countdown to a tag fight (ph). Two senators from two parties saying, hey, get the House in order. Senators John McCain and Dick Durbin here.

VELSHI: FedEx speaking out after this disturbing video. FedEx delivery guy tossing a computer monitor over a fence in a box. Does this guy still have a job? We'll find out on the other side.

It's 23 minutes after the hour.


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

U.S. stock futures are higher after a quiet day yesterday. The Dow and S&P 500 just barely ending the day in positive territory. Investors were concerned Europe's banks were in more trouble than originally thought.

In about an hour from now, we're going to get a fresh read on the jobs situation. The initial jobless claims report is expected to show that 380,000 new unemployment claims were filed for the first time last week. It's a good sign for the jobs market any time that number is below 400,000. So we'll see if that's so today.

Now, the Justice Department announcing a huge record settlement here, announcing that Bank of America will pay $335 million to settle claims that Countrywide Financial, now owned by Bank of America, Countrywide, the lending unit, steered minorities at a higher interest rate, sub-prime loans, even though they qualified for plain vanilla low interest rate loans. Countrywide put them into loans that turned out to be pretty dangerous and pretty expensive for those people. Attorney General Eric Holder says this discrimination took place between 2004 and 2008. Investigators are trying to track down the missing $1.2 billion in customer fund missing after the collapse of MF Global. They say some of that money could be in the U.K. They've identified about $700 million that was transferred to England in the days before the firm's collapse. But investigators warn that getting the money back could be a long and drawn-out process.

In the meantime, there are still farmers who have brokerage accounts with MF Global who are waiting to get their money back.

Johnson & Johnson is pulling 1,200 bottles of Motrin from store shelves. The company which has been plagued by recalls over the past couple of years has said these products are safe. You don't have to return them, but the pain reliever just might not work as fast as you might expect.

It's go time for workers at UPS today. It's the biggest shopping -- shipping day of the year. UPS says it will deliver nearly 26 million packages today, that's about 300 a second. That's about a million more than it delivered last year, too. UPS attributes that increase to more folks shopping online.

Don't forget for the very latest news about your money, check out the all-new

AMERICAN MORNING will be back right back after this break.


ROMANS: Police have been investigating his death for more than a month, but still no arrests have been made. What's taking so long? CNN's George Howell is live in Atlanta this morning. They're still undergoing and doing an investigation. No question there are an awful lot of people to question to get their accounts.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Ali, good morning. Fair to say, this is a complicated case with a lot of moving parts to it. We know for a fact that there were at least 30 people on the bus when Robert Champion was killed. So we turned to someone who understands intricate, complex cases like this to get an understanding of the questions police are asking to find out who did this.


HOWELL: On a tour bus parked outside an Orlando hotel November 19th, Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion died after a vicious beating. Investigators say it was a homicide that resulted from hazing.

MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You look at a bus like this, the narrow aisles, the seats so close together, the ceiling. It's just such tight confines in here. And to have to walk from the front to the back of the bus with people just beating the hell out of you, what must he have gone through?

HOWELL: We turned to HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks to take us through the mind of investigators trying to piece together what happened to the 26-year-old victim before someone placed this 911 call.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know if he's breathing or not, but we need to get an ambulance ASAP.

HOWELL: How do you determine the level of culpability, who did what?

BROOKS: That's a great question. And as a law enforcement officers, I want to know, who were the ones delivering the blows, the serious blows? Was there one person who delivered the most blows that caused his death? We don't know. Were there other people that might not have been involved at all?

HOWELL: Band members who spoke to CNN say it may have been the result of a hazing ritual called crossing bus C, where the victim walks backwards from the front of the bus to the back while being beaten repeatedly by fellow band members.

BROOKS: Investigators have their work cut out for them because they have to interview everyone, but this bus is a crime scene. What happened? Where did it happen on this bus when he was being beaten with fists, maybe with musical instruments? Those are things law enforcement has to find out exactly what happened.

HOWELL: Robert Champion died of significant rapid blood loss due to blunt force trauma, according to the autopsy report, the victim of a severe beating. And with so many possible witnesses on the bus --

BROOKS: I find it hard to believe that that much was going on inside the bus, if they were beating him so viciously inside that bus, then somebody on the outside didn't hear something, didn't see something.

HOWELL: Brooks says it's a complicated investigation to determine exactly what happened in the moments leading up to Robert Champion's death.

BROOKS: Did somebody try to stop this? Did somebody say, he's had enough, knock it off? Did that happen? Only the people on the bus know.


HOWELL: And that will be the new headline in this case when police make an arrests. Again, the Orlando Sheriff's office and the Florida department of law enforcement jointly investigating this case and now more than one month since Robert champion was killed. Ali, Christine.

ROMANS: George, thank you so much.

Just in, the Labor Department says that 364,000 jobless claims were filed for the very first time last week.

VELSHI: We had numbers in the 400,000 for a long time.

ROMANS: This is the lowest number since April of 2008. So anything below that 400,000 level shows you layoffs are slowing and that you have more health in the labor market.

VELSHI: That's indicative of what we've seen in the last few months. We've seen what seems to be a slightly growing. And all the things out there that you need to be concerned about, jobless numbers are the biggest deal. You know, jobs are the most important. We do have some other news, as well.

ROMANS: The economy grew slightly slower in the third quarter than we thought. This is the third revision from the government -- 1.8 percent. People thought it was about two percent. We know there was some kind of summer, early fall slowdown.

VELSHI: Europe was starting to affect us at that point. Not entirely unexpected, but it is lower than we expected. Keep that in mind places like India are growing in the range of seven percent and China growing above nine percent. So we're growing at 1.8 percent. And Europe, by the way, is probably not growing at all economically, maybe zero and maybe in recession.

ROMANS: Most people think the U.S. economy is doing better. The third economy is a rearview mirror, and a lot of people think that the fourth quarter, as you can see from this jobless claims report, is doing a little bit better.

VELSHI: Coming up next, his resume only gets more and more impressive after Kenneth Branagh is getting rave reviews and award nominations for his role in the movie "My Week with Marilyn." And the star has arrived here. He's is about to sit down with us. Do not miss this conversation. It's 35 minutes after the hour. Welcome.


VELSHI: Most days by now I'm yelling at you to get up in New York. Don't worry about it. It's two days before Christmas. If you're watching us in TV, just stay in bed. It's 53 degrees. It's nice and going to get to 55 today, sunny. Nice day to walk around. Call the boss and tell him you're done for the week.

ROMANS: Go get a movie "My Week with Marilyn." The new movie showcasing the late screen siren back in the 1950s, but there's more to Marilyn Monroe than we know. It's a history of insecurity and tension on the set.

VELSHI: The movie shows a clash of acting approaches between Monroe and the famous actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut! You wait. Marilyn, please, tell me how I can help you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know who else -- I don't know who she is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have had all of your gift, we all are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why not simply rely on your natural talents.


VELSHI: A bit of sarcasm perhaps in there. We're joined now by Kenneth Branagh.

ROMANS: A man with natural talents who played Sir Laurence Olivier and has also been nominated for Golden Globe for best supporting actor. We loved the film actually. And it must have been so interesting to play someone who is a real person trying to interact with another real person in your industry making a real film.

KENNETH BRANAGH, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: It was because I direct film that I've acted in and he's directing this film that he's acting in with Marilyn Monroe -- come to England to meet with a bunch of actors. Michelle Williams is Marilyn Monroe and comes to England and works with a bunch of British actors.

We filmed where the original movie that they tried to make was filled on the same sound stage. Michelle had the same dressing room as Marilyn. We did scenes in the same corridor. It did feel at the time that you were going back in time. It was very, very immersive. It feels like you take it back to a pocket of life in the 1956 in the movie. And in England that was quite magical.

VELSHI: Tell us about the story, because I think sympathy for Marilyn Monroe is quite generational. To some people now she's like Lindsey Lohan. People say why can't you just get your stuff together? But this movie seems to give her some layers and nuances and complexity.

ROMANS: She comes off more sympathetic in this film.

BRANAGH: I think so, and I think it's because Michelle Williams, who plays her quite wonderfully in addition to presenting the screen siren, you know, you mentioned the physical transformation for Michelle who is quite petite in her way and becomes this hour glass structure --

ROMANS: How do they do that?

BRANAGH: They went behind a closed door and came out many hours later and she looked very voluptuous. But because she is such a terrific actress, she lets you see in moments when she is vulnerable and present to the world this image that is Marilyn Monroe and sense of isolation. She was the first proto-super-celebrity where people liked the work that she did, but they were just a fascinated by her private life, which was pretty troubling.

ROMANS: It's one of my favorite scenes where you say, teaching Marilyn Monroe how to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger. You say it with such -- do you think that was true about Marilyn Monroe?

BRANAGH: That is a real line.

ROMANS: He said that?

BRANAGH: He absolutely said it.

ROMANS: Was he right?

BRANAGH: I don't know that he was right, but his exasperation was at the pitch, the producer's remark like that. There was a sense that when two worlds collide, these two people. University recognized that the greatest actor in the world and she the greatest movie star in the world in this light comedy should have produced something terrific. The film itself is not bad at all, but onset, a nightmare.

VELSHI: So, here's the thing. I don't know whether you or Michelle Williams had a tougher part because you're an accomplished director frustrated with an actor who is not doing her job. Michelle Williams an accomplished actor who is playing an actor who is really struggling.

BRANAGH: It's funny. It's well put. She had had to find that way of having difficulty for the character without feeling difficult inside the role herself.

VELSHI: That's an acting accomplishment.

BRANAGH: Yes, exactly. This film demanded of the people who were playing real people that they be technically very precise in the way they mimic or impersonate those people but then play them as real people. You had to abandon all that and then play the scene as naturally as we would.

VELSHI: That's just a fun thing to watch, aside from the plot.

BRANAGH: It's very absorbing. You look at all the movies. And Michelle was encyclopedic. She could do the voice and shimmying walk. They said you had to tie your knees together in order to have that feeling that she was on wheels. Olivier had a very particular walk, and I have to have my eyebrows plucked and a prosthetic chin piece.

VELSHI: I think your chin is fine.

BRANAGH: My chin is OK, but his is rather more sculpted.

ROMANS: These are such famous people that you could run the risk of being Kenneth Branagh and playing Laurence Olivier and Michelle Williams playing a Marilyn Monroe. When I watched it, you were both those characters to me very, very quickly. That is a real risk.

BRANAGH: Thank you. It is a risk, and it's thrilling to hear you say that. People responded to being taken down to this journey back in time. Whether it's Michelle or Ken and they're the kind of, the sense, I hope, that Simon Curtis, this wonderful director gives with great ensemble cast is basically that you -- you're there and there's authenticity. Because in theory, we've all been in those situations, and I hope we bring some reality to the back stage.

ROMANS: You're up for awards. When you're making the film, do you get a tingle saying, oh, wow, we could get some accolades for this one?

BRANAGH: To be truthful, you never feel that, but you do have moments, as I did on day one, when Michelle walked on as Marilyn for the first time. Well, Judi Dench was standing next to me and grabbed me by the arm and said, oh, my gosh. I think she thinks this is going to be good. I'll take her word any time.

VELSHI: A hearty congratulations. It's well worth seeing. Kenneth Branagh is in "My Week with Marilyn." He's also a golden globe nominee for best supporting actor.

ROMANS: More morning headlines ahead. Also ahead, comedian Will Ferrell. What a morning. It's 45 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Welcome back. It is 31 minutes after the hour. Time for this morning's top stories.

A wave of coordinated and deadly bombings in Baghdad just days after the last U.S. troops left. Police say four car bombs and nine roadside bombs went off within two hours of each other. Killing at least 63 people and wounding close to 200 others.

Wal-Mart is pulling a batch of baby formula off its shelves after a 10-day-old Missouri boy from died from a rare bacterial infection.

The manufacturer of Enfamil says its record show the formula tested negative for the bacteria before it was shipped. Health investigators are looking for the source of the infection.

They're also checking environmental factors like the water that was used to prepare the formula for the little boy who died.

Eight U.S. soldiers are facing charges in connection with the apparent suicide of Private Danny Chen. There are claims of hazing and bullying.

Chen was found dead in a guard tower in Afghanistan in October. It is believed that he shot himself. Officials say the investigation is ongoing and more charges could be filed -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Ali. Nine days now until a tax hike for working Americans and House Republicans walking out of an effort by Democrats to force a vote extending the payroll tax for two months. They want to take care of it for a whole year. So there's no resolution in sight this morning, even after President Obama spent an afternoon on the phone with congressional leaders on both sides, in both houses.

Joining us now is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. Is this -- this is not a game. We watch this and the American public, is this a game of chicken? What's happening?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: This is very real, 160 million Americans -- as of January 1st if the House fails to approve this bipartisan measure passed in the Senate.

And some three million Americans will be cut off from unemployment. In my home state of Illinois, 50,000 people will be cut off January 1st. Folks who have been out of work looking for jobs for a long time.

ROMANS: So yesterday, an accountant, a certified public accountant was talking to Ali and I, who said even a two-month extension -- we can't have this kind of uncertainty.

We can't know what we're doing with the payroll tax holiday in the near term. Giving, I guess, John Boehner, credit that you can't just keep, quote/unquote "kicking the can down the road." But is this about policy or is it about politics here?

DURBIN: It's both. On the policy side, what I'd say is what we decided in the Senate. I know you have John McCain following me. John McCain and I both -- 89 Democrats and Republicans agreed to extend this for 60 days while we negotiate a long-term approach to it.

It was a responsible, bipartisan overwhelming vote, 89-10 and so for those who were taking 2 percent out of the payroll tax, it would merely extend it to the end of February while we negotiate this. But what John Boehner suggested is stop at this point, nine days away from this deadline.

ROMANS: What is the next thing here? The other option is a conference committee maybe. That's not going happen overnight so that could be an option here. I'm going to get your thoughts on that in a second.

But Speaker Boehner had a photo op yesterday. You can see and we're going to show it here. He has a photo op yesterday. There are Republicans, he's appointed as negotiators to the conference committee, a conference committee that doesn't exist yet.

He said that they were there. They're ready to work and then that empty side of the table is presumably where the Democrats would sit. Can you envision any scenario, which the Democrats show up at that table there?

DURBIN: What he does not understand or does not admit is in the senate, unfortunately, it takes days for us to set up a conference committee and meet. We can't do this before January 1st even if it was our intention to do it.

But the point I want to get to is, John Boehner can spare America and three million unemployed Americans and 160 million working Americans the uncertainty of a January 1st deadline by just extending this bipartisan measure passed in the Senate until the end of February.

ROMANS: But you say he has lost control of his party.

DURBIN: I can't understand why someone has not stood up in the House Republican conference and said, look at what happened under our watch in this last year.

We threatened to shut down government twice. We threatened to close down the economy over the debt ceiling and now we're denying to over half of the people living in America a payroll tax cut in the midst of recession.

There ought to be one voice in that caucus that stands up and says, listen, we owe an obligation to this country that goes beyond the next election.

ROMANS: In your view then what's happening -- what is the assumption of Senate Democrats? It's the internal politics of House Republicans that you say that he lost control of.

DURBIN: Well, I look at it and think all the times that I've been on these conference calls that he referred to where he called in this whole conference. There are always be some out liars and dissidents who, you know, let's go and let's fight them until the bitter end.

And then a voice of reason will prevail. A leader will stand up and say calm down. Look at this at the long haul. When "The Wall Street Journal" editorialized yesterday against John Boehner and the House Republican strategy that should have been a wakeup call for those in the caucus.

That they're going down the track that even the most conservative publications and leaders in America rejected.

ROMANS: So what breaks it? What breaks the standoff?

DURBIN: I think that John Boehner should acknowledge the fact he cannot leave three million people without an extension of unemployment benefits and 160 million people, middle income Americans facing a tax increase because of Republican action.

He should extend it these 60 days. He can do it just by calling for a vote and passing the bipartisan measure from the Senate.

ROMANS: Can I ask you a question. You've been at this game for 20 years in the House and in the Senate. You know, we always say the word a new low for bipartisanship award, a new low for Congress getting something done. We know that the -- approval ratings are low. Have you ever seen a time when it's been like this? DURBIN: I can tell you the worst time I can recall was when Speaker Gingrich brought the government to a shutdown in a confrontation with President Clinton. He ended up being removed to speaker not long after.

I think what we've seen this last year with the House Republican leadership, is the failure for someone to step up and try to course, which really focuses on distinguishing the two parties, but not at the expense of this nation and our fragile economy.

ROMANS: John Boehner has House members who are there because they made promises to their constituents and they say they are keeping those promises and that they are the change in Washington.

DURBIN: And the approval rating of Congress is what, 11 percent? That kind of approach is not sitting well with the American people. We have bipartisan response in the Senate overwhelming bipartisan response. John Boehner and the House Republicans rejected it.

ROMANS: Senator Dick Durbin, nice to see you. Thank you so much --Ali.

VELSHI: Senator Durbin, like Senator McCain, with long traditions of bipartisanship. Senator John McCain wants his fellow Republicans in the House to get their act together. He said the standoff is damaging his party and is unfair to the American people.

Senator John McCain joins us now live from Phoenix. Senator, always good to see you. Before we start on this discussion, however I know have you a lot to say about it.

I know that earlier this week, you were one of the dissenting voices about the -- marking the American departure from Iraq. You feel we should have left troops there, some active troops there. Not just civilians and advisers.

Now after seeing what's happened overnight, what are your thoughts?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My thoughts are that unfortunately, what I anticipated is taking place. Condoleezza Rice said after we had reached an agreement with Iraqis, said, we always envisioned leaving a residual force there for a variety of reasons, including providing some additional stability.

The president is going around, spouting how we have left a stable and democratic Iraq, and, look, that's part of his campaign, he promised we would withdraw from Iraq. He now has slick propaganda out saying promise is kept.

The tragedy of it all is 4,474 young Americans gave their lives and General Keane, the architect of the surge said we won the war and now we're losing the peace.

VELSHI: All right, Senator, let's move to the conversation that we were just having, Christine was just having with Senator Durbin here about this idea of there being no payroll tax extension versus a two-month extension versus a one-year extension.

It does not appear that the one year extension is on the table for the moment. It's probably not likely we're going to get that by the end of the year. What is your take on what House Republicans, Republicans in general, should be doing about this?

MCCAIN: First of all, can I mention since Senator Durbin talked about the House's behavior, could I mention that the United States Senate, for two years, has not passed a budget. That's a law requiring that.

Just last Saturday morning, nine agencies of government, $900 billion, a 1,200-page document, we had 15 minutes of debate. No amendments. I've identified $3.5 billion worth of pork in the defense bill and we passed it after 15 minutes of debate.

That's how the Senate is functioning these days, so Senator Durbin and Senator Reid in the leadership.

VELSHI: Let's talk about this. This is very frustrating to a lot of Americans, to a lot of observers, to everybody who's out there to say there is a singular job.

Congress can be expensive if it wants, but it has some basic minimums that it has to achieve. In the last year, we have seen failure on those fronts several times, with the budget, with the debt ceiling, with the bipartisan "Super Committee." What's wrong?

MCCAIN: There's a dysfunctionality and a degree of partisanship, which on both sides which, unfortunately, transcends the national interest. And part of it I think is presidential leadership.

You mentioned opening the show, that the president called various people yesterday. The four previous presidents I served under, including President Clinton, would be calling them over to the White House and sitting down with them and looking them in the eye and saying, look, we need to fix this.

Second of all, there is a good point that the Republicans in the House are making. Why is it only two months? Is it going to be Groundhog Day all over again in two more months, and two more months?

Why not take the Senate bill as passed which passed as Dick Durbin pointed out with 89 votes, pass the exact same thing in the House only make it a year, instead of just two months. We could do that and maybe we could get onto other things that are pressing issues that face the country.

Look, the Republicans are losing this fight. We need to get back on track. There is no doubt about that, but I think it requires some presidential leadership, as well as a little bit of bipartisanship.

VELSHI: Senator --

MCCAIN: -- people are being caught in the cross fire. VELSHI: It's frustrating because there are so many big, big issues that have to be dealt with. That you think the ones that have general bipartisan support where we generally think, and there are some people who don't think there should be a payroll tax extension at all.

But generally speaking most people in both parties do and we can't get that done. Is it really fair to put as much heat as are you putting the president on this one? I mean, a lot of eyes are pointing to House republican leadership right now as being intransigent.

MCCAIN: I think that that is legitimate to an extent, but I also think that in times like these and in past four presidents that I have served under, they have exerted a lot more leadership than going shopping.

And by the way, I also feel that in the upcoming election, which is less than a year from now, no incumbent is safe nor should they be.

VELSHI: Senator, let me ask you this, a slightly broader economic question. We are all discussing this because most people think that this should pass and it now becomes a process issue, which gets very frustrating again for our viewers and for Americans because they don't understand why we have to learn about the sausage being made all the time at Congress.

That said, do you think the extension of this payroll tax is a make or break in our tenuous economy right now? Is it a big deal?

MCCAIN: I think it's become a bigger deal than it actually is. I think it's -- it's something we need to do, but I don't think it's a -- I don't think it has huge impact, but it certainly has some impact.

You know, $1,000 a year is a big amount of money to most Americans and I think it's very important. I've worry about the drain on the Social Security Trust Fund. I worry about the fact that we are continuing to increase the debt and the deficit. But now it's become very symbolic and I think it has to be done.

VELSHI: Like almost everything else that has become to do with finances and money. I think there was some discussion, that while the money will come out of Social Security Trust Fund.

The money will be transferred into there so it will come out of the general fund. But for most people, it's the same math. The bottom line, it's money. Senator, always a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you for being with us.

MCCAIN: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

VELSHI: Senator John McCain was a 2008 Republican presidential nominee, long-time senator and leader of his party. And, again, you can hear both from Dick Durbin and John McCain, frustration in how partisan things are. ROMANS: The Senate passed this thing. What, 89?

VELSHI: Yes, 89 votes.

ROMANS: So the Senate passed this thing and so they are seeing the House is the issue here. I mean, I wonder from his perspective too, Dick Durbin says he hasn't seen it as bad since back in the '90s when there was a showdown between then speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

VELSHI: Senator McCain does point out, he says he still puts -- while most people are putting a lot of the blame on House Republicans, Senator McCain does point out that he thinks more can happen from President Obama and the White House. He did mention that maybe the president shouldn't have been shopping. Dan Lothian was saying --

ROMANS: But Dirk Durbin said the president couldn't give a statement ahead of time because they knew the Republicans would turn around and use it against him. So, I mean, it depends on who you ask.

VELSHI: Therein lies the problem in Washington.


Still to come this morning: Christmas at the White House, first lady-style. We're going to tell you the decorating secrets of some of our country's most famous first ladies.

VELSHI: And remember this video? A delivery guy chucking a fragile box over a fence. We're going to tell you what FedEx is saying about it.

Forty-five minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: FedEx is reacting to a video that captured one of the world's worst deliveries. We first showed you this yesterday.

You can see a FedEx worker tossing a package containing a computer monitor over a fence. The computer monitor did end up broken. The guy who received said it was home at the time. The guy could have rung the bell.

So, we were wondering. Does this guy have a job?

FedEx says, quote, "They are working within their disciplinary policy." And right now, the delivery man is not working with customers. Doesn't look from now like he was working with customers much in the first place.

ROMANS: He was working with the computer monitor. And working hard with it.


ROMANS: All right. He calls himself a cyber illusionist, combining old world magic with technology.

VELSHI: It sounds like fun. This week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to futuristic showman Marco Tempest on CNN's "THE NEXT LIST."


MARCO TEMPEST, CYBER-ILLUSIONIST: My name is Marco Tempest. I'm a cyber-illusionist, which means I combine magic and science to create illusions. It's deception, it's science, technology, gadgets. Calling myself a magician evokes a certain -- a certain image. Like if we hear magician, we immediately know what that is. It's a guy who does a magic trick.

A cyber illusionist, it requires a little bit of explanation. It's a conversation starter and that's really what my work is all about.


VELSHI: And you can catch "THE NEXT LIST" each Sunday, 2:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

I like that. I like that "NEXT LIST" stuff. "THE NEXT LIST" of people you're going to hear about. These are not people who are already famous. They are just doing crazy, interesting things.

I'm not quite sure what a cyber-illusionist is going to achieve for us, but the concept that somebody thinks like that means that they could solve problems that you and I are thinking about, because --

ROMANS: Velshi is hooked.

VELSHI: I also realize that you and I are both wearing gray stripes today.

ROMANS: I know. We look like Richie Rich and his much, much younger sister.

Still to come: decorating the White House. We're going to tell you the Christmas style secrets of first ladies throughout history.

It's almost 50 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: I love the Christmas plays in (INAUDIBLE).

All right, Christmas at the White House -- a lavish affair and a lot of pressure for the first lady. Throughout history, they've been responsible for decorating the most famous house in the country, expected to bring their own style, their own personal touch.

So, what does it take to decorate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Our next guest knows. She wrote "Christmas with The First Ladies: A Look Back at the White House Styles, Secrets and Traditions." And she decorated the White House for First Lady Laura Bush back in 2008.

Coleen Christian Burke joins me now.

Nice to see you.


ROMANS: Merry Christmas to you, too.

Now, tell me about the process. How long it takes and what you have to go through to get the White House ready to be shown for Christmas?

BURKE: Right. It's almost like a military operation. The first lady will start planning as early as February or March to come up with a theme.

ROMANS: Oh my gosh! A whole year before.

BURKE: A whole year before. She's not done with one Christmas and she has to zoom into the next.

So, they start planning the theme early and then she starts thinking about her vision and what she wants to have happen. And then over the summer they start baking all the baked goods and desserts that they're going to have in December.

But the actual volunteers show up for about three days, before Thanksgiving, or the end of November.

ROMANS: And that's the military precision part of it?

BURKE: Exactly. That's when they start pre-building everything, getting everything together that they later install over two days in the White House.

ROMANS: I want to look at the grand foyer designed by Laura Bush. This one from 2004. It's beautiful. It's white lights. It's just really lovely.

But the public couldn't enjoy it because they weren't allowed into the White House for some four years, I think, after 9/11.

This is a home, but it's also the home of the leader for the free world. You're designing for the nation. You're also designing for the family. It's an interesting balance.

BURKE: Yes, public and private. And there are those very public moments, parties and celebrations, and private, tender Christmas moments that are all captured by presidential photographers and that's all in the book.

But the first lady really is designing for the 100,000 or so people that come to tour the White House.

ROMANS: So, the holiday decorating tradition began with really Jackie Kennedy.


ROMANS: And since then, every first lady has had her own theme. I think Rosalynn Carter was the time of austerity in this country, and gas lines and shortages and they used recycled things and egg shells.

And talk to me a little bit about how the different first ladies put their own mark on this.

BURKE: Right. The decorations will often reflect the economic times. For instance, Mrs. Ford wanted a visit to the White House to feel like a visit to grandma's house, something very simple and homey.

And then you have Nancy Reagan was glitzy and glamorous, with lot of gold and garland.

So, they all put their own individual stamp on and signature style.

ROMANS: And Nancy Reagan, you bring her up. There's a wonderful picture in the book of her on Mr. T.'s lap.

BURKE: My favorite in the whole book, my favorite.

And talk about a pop culture snapshot at Christmastime. So much fun. She always had a celebrity Santa and I think Mr. T clearly stole the show.

ROMANS: Let's talk about this year's. You must watch this now with such enthusiasm to see what they're doing. So, the White House this year, what do you think?

BURKE: Yes. I love Mrs. Obama's style and what I think is really wonderful about the type of themes that she chooses always goes back to the real meaning of the holiday. And this year, it's shine, give and share.

And she also remembers our military, which couldn't be more fitting. She encourages everyone to write letters to the military and just really honor the sacrifice that's being made.

ROMANS: All right. Well, the book is called "Christmas with the First Ladies." It's so nice to see you.

BURKE: Thank you.

ROMANS: Actually did one of these that White House.

Coleen Christian Burke, thank you so much for joining us. And merry Christmas to you, too.

BURKE: Merry Christmas.

ROMANS: This morning's top news headlines coming up next. It's 56 minutes after the hour.