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American Morning

Congress Likely to Pass Payroll Tax Cut Extension; Weather Causing Delays in Holiday Travel; Beaten Egyptian Activist Speaks Out; House Caves: Payroll Tax Vote Today; U.S. Offers $10 Million For Al Qaeda Capture; Suicide Bombers Strike Syria; North Korea To Admit Delegations From South; Quakes Rattle New Zealand; Holiday Travel Trouble; House To Vote On Payroll Tax Cut; The Naughty And Nice List; 2011 Naughty and Nice List; Selling Christmas Trees Brings Jobs, Hard Work; Celebrating "Seinfeld's" Festivus

Aired December 23, 2011 - 06:59   ET



REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: Doing the right thing for the right reasons is always the right thing to do.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's a Christmas miracle. Congress strikes as deal. The House set to keep the payroll tax cut in place past the New Year, but the Tea Party? May be planning a last stand.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Wanted. The U.S. now offering $10 million for this man, al Qaeda's chief money man.

CHO: And striking again. Earthquake shake the same New Zealand City that was devastated less than one year ago.

FEYERICK: And they will never dream of a white Christmas ever again, at least, not this family. They were caught in a snow drift for two days. Another nasty winter storm putting holiday plans in jeopardy. All you need to know on this AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: Good morning. It's Friday, December 23, two more shopping days before Christmas. Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho along with Deb Feyerick. So glad you're with us this morning.

FEYERICK: Up first, an early Christmas present for 160 million working Americans. The House expected to vote today on extending the payroll tax cut that divided Washington for weeks. So what is in it for you? What does it mean? The legislation will keep the payroll tax rate at 4.2 percent. Otherwise it would have expired on December 31, shooting up to 6.2 percent. This also expires at the end of two months. It comes out to about $83 per month for the average family. That's about $1,000 over the course of a year. But, again, this is only a two-month extension.

CHO: House Republicans caved yesterday after a lot of arm twisting by President Obama, who said it was the disgust of the American people that broke the logjam. Speaker John Boehner saying his side still want add one-year extension. He also admitted that opposes the Senate's two-month plan maybe was not politically smart.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: We have fought the fight, the good fight, but, you know, I talked to enough members over the last 24 hours who believe that, hey, listen, we don't like this two-month extension. We don't like this reporting problem be in the Senate bill, and if you can get this fixed, why not -- why not do the right thing for the American people, even though it's not exactly what we want?


FEYERICK: And there's still some things standing in the way today, and this is congress, of course. Kate Bolduan is live in Washington. And, Kate, the tea party not having a very good time with this. They do not want this passed at all?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are many members, conservative members of the house specifically, that don't you still -- still have issues with the payroll tax. They don't think it's good economic policy and don't think especially this two-month extension provides the certainty that businesses and Americans need.

That said, the deal, as we've learned it, is likely to still become law. But there's, of course, a catch. The deal does need to be approved by both the house and the Senate, both chambers are convening today for short sessions this morning and will take up votes right away on this. And the leaders are planning to bring the extensions up for a vote using a procedural move allowing them to pass the bill without having to call all the members back to town.

The catch, it requires unanimous agreement. If one person shows up on the House floor and says I about the it could stall the whole thing, but it seems like the reality is, that would delay the inevitable as Speaker Boehner said last night. If someone would object he would eventually likely next week call the house back for a full vote. You can be sure this time around, this compromise will garner large Democratic support.

FEYERICK: And, Kate, quickly. What is the mood in on Capitol Hill? Because, geez, it seems like a lot of energy for something that really is just going to last for two years. And nobody wants to give back $40 a paycheck, but still a lot of energy on something that seems so circular?

BOLDUAN: Well, it kind of -- to be honest, par for the course of how contentious pretty much every issue has been on Capitol Hill. I think as many were saying, this fight became almost more symbolic than it was actually policy wise, as they have other big battles that they will be fighting, though no one wants to be on the side of facing blame for letting a tax cut for 160 million Americans expire, especially while the economy is still struggling. But I'll tell thaw you it's the pressure that broke the log jam. The mood is resignation that they need to get done. They know they're approval rating, meaning Congress, is at an all-time low and this latest battle does not help that, and they know that.

FEYERICK: All right, Kate Bolduan, thanks so much for the sad word you have to use, "resignation." We'll check in a little later.

CHO: President Obama immediately congratulated congressional leaders on the deal. Our Dan Lothian is live at the White House with that part of the story. Dan, good morning.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, you know, this came after intense pressure from the White House. You know, yesterday the White House inviting ordinary Americans to come here to the complex, to talk about what that $40 per paycheck would mean to them if, in fact, they lost it. So there was pressure from the American people, and as Kate pointed out, pressure from with the Republican party on those house Republicans to make sure that a deal was done.

After this deal did happen, President Obama, again, as you pointed out, did congratulate members of Congress for, quote, "ending the partisan stalemate." He went on to say that, "This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy and create new jobs. This is real money that will make a real difference in people's lives."

President Obama also saying that over the last several weeks he and his administration had been working very hard to ensure that 160 million Americans would not see their taxes go up, and, of course, all of this happening just at the right time as the president himself pointed out for the holidays.

CHO: That's right. And in a statement, he took a little victory lap on twitter as well, Dan?

LOTHIAN: That's right. Interesting, because they had been, the administration had been using twitter to reach out to Americans, asks them to tell their stories about what they would do with that $40. And so it would seem fitting for the president to return to twitter as he did last night in a tweet, where he said "Thanks to all who shared $40 stories. Today's victory is yours. Keep making your voice heard. It makes all the difference." Now the big question is, what does this all mean for President Obama? His schedule is very fluid today and we're still waiting to find out if and when he will join his family in Hawaii for the Christmas holidays.

CHO: But he was, however, able to squeeze that in in under 140 characters.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

CHO: Dan, Merry Christmas, live at the White House, thank you very much. Coming up at the bottom of the hour we're going to be talking to Stephen Moore. He's the "Wall Street Journal" editorial writer who wrote that op-ed that said Republicans turned the payroll tax into a gift for President Obama.

FEYERICK: The U.S. is offering $10 million for the capture of an alleged Al Qaeda operative. Yasser al Suri is accused of running money and new recruits from Iran to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Officials say he's a chief fundraiser for the group and a danger to the United States. His capture could shut down the financial resource for Al Qaeda.

CHO: Pakistan is disputing the results of the Pentagon's investigation into last month's air strike that killed 24 of their forces. The Defense Department's report found that U.S. acted in self-defense after being fired upon. But Pakistani intelligence official tell CNN that the U.S. fired first and it was Pakistanis returning that prompted the airstrike.

And strong earthquakes strike New Zealand, scary moments for people. It happened near Christchurch, the country's second largest city. Two 5.8 quakes hit the area today followed by several aftershock. Rock falls caused problems for drivers. At least two people hurt. The airport closed down. This town is still on edge after the devastating earthquake rattled the area back in February.

CHO: Countless holiday travel plans are in jeopardy this morning after heavy snowfall in the Rockies and soaking rains and powerful winds in the south. First to Colorado where overnight a system dumped more than a foot of snow in and around Denver. To the south in New Mexico a family of three is safe this morning after spending nearly two days trapped in their SUV. They were buried in a snow drift. Rescuers actually had to dig through four feet of ice and snow to get to them. And in Georgia, at least seven people injured, thousands without power after a strong storm moved through overnight. There was also a ground stop at Hartsfield-Jackson airport.


FEYERICK: Let's go live now to our Holly Firfer at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport where service was disrupted last night because of the winds and rain last night. Holly, the big thing is once you get the delays, everything backs up. Planes don't go in or out. People are stuck. It's going to take until at least midday to clean up, no?

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Deb. But it is going to be a nice day here today. Just so Alina knows, when she comes in, mild and sunny, expected in the 50s. So that's a good thing for those who are trying to get out today who were stuck last night. Hundreds of passengers got stuck overnight. Deb, as you mentioned, 5,200 flights affected. There was a ground stop nearly three hour, which means that planes didn't go in or out. People missed connections. We talked to two passengers whose woke up in the Atlanta airport this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm supposed to be celebrating Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, my wife a driving over from Tulsa to pick me up because the first two flights out this morning are both full, they said.


FIRFER: And, you know, airport officials are hoping they can get things back on schedule today. They can get everybody who's been stuck here out at a reasonable time. Flights are full today, and we've noticed in the past hour traffic is picking up here's at the Atlanta airport. The security wait lines are pretty much moving forward, about 10, 20 minutes in some places. But they're telling everybody, you know, come a little early. Come about 90 minutes before your flight just in case. And as I mentioned, they're going to be very full flights coming out of Atlanta today.

FEYERICK: That's right. When it comes to traveling over the holidays, in for a penny, in for a pound. Holly Firfer, thanks so much. People have long waits ahead of them today. Appreciate it.

The TSA trying to make it easier. They're launching a toll-free hot line for travelers with special medical needs. It's called "TSA Cares" and it's supposed to help fliers before they get to the airport. Any questions about screening procedures will be answered and the TSA can coordinate checkpoints. The agency suggests calling 72 hours in advance. That number, 855-787-2227, and it's open from 9:00 to 9:00 eastern, Monday through Friday.

CHO: Still to come this morning, an Egyptian woman wants justice for her country after she was brutally beaten by military forces. She tells CNN her story from her hospital bed.

FEYERICK: And it's the final resting place where thousands of our nation's military heroes, but army officials now finding widespread problems at Arlington National Cemetery. We'll explain coming up.

CHO: Hard to believe Christmas is almost here. 2011 coming to an end. So we're going to tell you who in the world in politics made Santa's naughty or nice list this year.

Stick around. It's 13 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 16 minutes after the hour.

An Egyptian woman beaten down by a gang of military forces is now speaking out about the injustice that she says still reigns in her country. Cameras captured the horrific attack. Guards pounced on Azza Hilal Suleiman, the woman in the red there, as she tried to help another wounded woman.

From a hospital bed, Azza told her story to CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom. He's joins us now live from Cairo with this CNN exclusive. What did she say, Mohammed?

MOHAMMED JAMJOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Deb and Alina, when we went to the hospital the first day when we found Azza, she was in far too much agony to speak to us. Many wondered -- many that was close to her wondered if she would actually survive.

When we went back yesterday, though, she was doing better, thankfully. But even though she was struggling with a lot of pain, she wanted to talk to us and one of the things she really wanted to get across was how worried she is about the uncertain future that her country faces.


JAMJOON (voice-over): Today, Azza Hilal Suleiman is feeling better. And despite the severe beating she sustained just days ago, she's eager to talk.


JAMJOON: "There's no justice," she says. "I don't know how long we'll go without justice. We didn't ask for anything more than to be free in our own country. We've been oppressed by the military, by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and by the police."

Azza has reason to be angry. During a crackdown in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the 48-year-old activist was rushed by riot police. Seen here in a red jacket, Azza was trying to help a wounded woman when she was pushed to the ground, then began the merciless barrage. She sustained multiple blows to the head. Suffered two fractures to the skull.

"I don't know how much longer they'll continue to kill us," she says. "How much longer will they continue to kill us?"

Azza isn't sure how long it will take for her to recover, but her condition today is visibly better than a day earlier. Then she couldn't even talk to us, wailing in agony and crying for help.

Today, Azza wonders what will happen to her homeland, and even though her late father was a general in Egypt's army, she can't fathom the tactics security forces are currently using against protesters.

"My family isn't like the men in the military now," she says. "My family was very decent and pure. What's happening in the military now is dirty. Humans without conscience or mercy or humanity. What right do they have to do this to people?"

Despite the pain she endures and the uncertainty she feels, Azza remains defiant. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow," she says, "but I know that we will not remain silent. We wouldn't abandon our rights. We wouldn't leave this country in the devastated condition it's in."


JAMJOON: When asked about Azza's case, one military official here said while he wasn't aware of specifics of this case, that if Azza did indeed come from a military background she would be entitled to be transferred to a military hospital -- Deb and Alina?

FEYERICK: And you know, Mohammed, I'm just curious about this. Are people there now starting to talk about the fact that perhaps the Arab Spring was more like a military coup -- a silent military coup? Because to see all of those police attacking this one woman, it's extremely symbolic.

JAMJOON: It is. And more and more videos like this have emerged from the past week, specifically videos of women who have been brutalized at the hands of riot police here and have made many people question why protesters here at the beginning of this revolution were happy with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Originally, they saw the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces here as enabling the protesters to push Hosni Mubarak out of office. Now, they feel the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has taken over the country, the country has taken a big step back, and a civilian government still hasn't been taken into place.

So many of them feel really betrayed by the military here and they feel that the military needs to step aside and step aside right now.

FEYERICK: Mohammed Jamjoom in Cairo. Thank you so much. Really appreciate that great work.

Well, it is 20 minutes after the hour. Other stories new this morning.

The army fearing problems with thousands of graves at Arlington National Cemetery. For a year now, officials have been working to account for every grave at the more than 150-year-old cemetery. That may be impossible, because nearly 65,000 of those graves are now believed to have errors. Congress ordered a report last year after the discovery of misidentified remains.

CHO: The first nuclear plant to be built in the United States in three decades is one step closer to breaking ground. Federal regulators have approved the design for the new reactor. That design will now also be used for plants in Georgia and South Carolina.

FEYERICK: And still to come this morning, Congress strikes a deal on the payroll tax. What's in the deal? What does it mean for you? We're going to take a closer look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: Welcome back. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

U.S. stock futures are trading higher right now to the Dow's third straight day of gains. The markets were lifted by a better than expected reading on the labor market.

Italy has approved a $40 billion plan to eliminate its budget deficit by 2013. The package which has grown increasingly unpopular will increase taxes, reinstate a property tax on homes and raise the retirement age. The Italian government hopes the plan will stimulate the economy and stabilize the euro.

Back here in the U.S., mortgage rates hitting a new record low. According to Freddie Mac, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate loan, the most popular choice for homebuyers, is down to 3.91 percent. That's the lowest of the survey's 40-year history.

A black eye for Best Buy. The retailer is canceling some holiday online orders just days before Christmas. Why? Because the company says it has run out of merchandise because of the overwhelming demand on

If you're still shopping for some holiday gifts, there are some aggressive last minute deals out there if you look. Analysts tell the "New York Times," more retailers are offering entire store discounts in these final two days before Christmas.

The cost of Christmas hitting a new record. According to PNC Wealth Management, if you were to purchase all the gifts from the "12 days of Christmas" song, it would cost you $101,000. That's a record. And it's a 3.5 percent jump from last year. While the price for turtledoves and French hens is up, folks on minimum wage likes maids a milking and lords a leaping went another year without a raise. Any excuse to play the song.

AMERICAN MORNING will be back after this.



BOEHNER: It may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Well, paying for the payroll tax fight, the House scheduled to vote today after taking the battle to the final week. Republicans now worried that bad vibes are going to be lingering into 2012 on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 30 minutes past the hour. Your top stories now.

The U.S. is offering $10 million for the capture of an al Qaeda operative. Yasin Al-Suri is accused of transporting money and new recruits for the terror group. Officials say he is a danger to the United States. His capture could shut down a big financial resource for al Qaeda.

FEYERICK: Suicide bombers strike two government buildings in Syria. This morning car bombs exploded outside security offices in Damascus. Witnesses say they also heard heavy gunfire. Syrian TV reporting that number of military and civilian casualties. Reports say the attacks point to al Qaeda.

CHO: North Korea will admit South Korean delegations who wish to pay respects to its late leader Kim Jong-Il. The North is promising safe travel.

Seoul has already sent a sympathy message, but says it will only allow a limited number of private groups to send delegations to the north. Kim Jong-Il died over the weekend reportedly of a heart attack.

FEYERICK: New Zealand rocked by earthquakes today. A 5.8 magnitude quake struck Christchurch, second largest city there. Less than 90 minutes, another 5.8 magnitude quake. Several aftershocks followed. Falling rocks caused driving problems. At least two people were hurt.

CHO: You're waking up and traveling to grandmother's house today, you need to know this. A fresh blanket of snow complicating travel plans for some folks.

Up to a foot of snow fell in and around Denver causing a bunch of flight delays and cancellations. Meanwhile, in New England, some light snow could cause some minor delays today on the roads, and at the major airports.

FEYERICK: Well, Congress is now on track to keep the payroll tax cut in place. The House is expected to vote in two hours after Speaker John Boehner announced the GOP is on board. It's a two-month deal at least for the time being. Typical worker will get about $83 a month more.

Joining us now, Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page and co-author of "Return to Prosperity." Thanks so much for being here.

You know, one question really that I have to ask, this is an extension of a tax deal. This is not a tax cut nor is it by any stretch of the imagination tax reform. So what are we really talking about here?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMICS WRITER, WSJ EDITORIAL PAGE: Well, John Boehner said it very well when he said this wasn't probably the smartest political fight.

Republicans sort of folded their tents yesterday, stuck their tail between their legs and agreed to the president's two-month extension. This was an issue, in my opinion, where Republicans were right on the policy, but were wrong on the politics.

I mean, they were right that it makes no sense to do a two- month extension. If you're going to do this, it makes sense to do it for a year, for planning purposes and so on, but you know, the Senate had already left.

The Republicans at the 11th hour had tried to pick this fight with the president. It just didn't work very well. So you know, the good news is, starting on January 1st, people will get this payroll tax cut extension, as you just said. This is an extension of a policy we've had in place now for the past year.

FEYERICK: So really what we're saying is we're going to extend something two months and not take it away basically unless they extend it. But why was there no unified policy?

This could have been a good moment for the Republicans. Instead, looks like a triumph for President Obama who now says, look, I'm the tax cut guy, when, in fact, he's proposed so many tax increases.

So really, I think in the "Wall Street Journal" editorial it said it was like the Republicans made a circular firing squad, actually?

MOORE: Right. Well, there's a reason there's a stupid party and evil party in Washington and the Republicans are the stupid party. But I think that was shown in this instance.

But you know, it's interesting because a week ago the Republicans had sort of, had won on this issue. Remember, what we were talking about a week ago was whether the president would be forced to make a decision on the Keystone pipeline, Republicans prevailed on that.

That's an issue where, you know, something like -- where Republicans are the 99 out of 100 Americans, and the president is with the 1 percent of radical environmentalists who don't want the pipeline built. So it was a big victory for Republicans.

They also prevailed, by the way, Deb, on the issue of the millionaires' surtax, which you recall when the president came out with this extension, he wanted to have this big tax increase on business owners and Republicans were able to repeal that.

So they should have declared victory, gone home for Christmas and unwrapped their presents. Instead, they've got some egg on their face today. The question is whether there will be any lasting political fallout to this.

FEYERICK: Look, for the average American, it seems as if Washington is now this big political pinball machine with multiple balls that are simply bouncing off the walls. They're dinging and dinging and dinging. And nobody really knows what in the send is going to happen. Who's for taxing? Who's for spending?

MOORE: Right.

FEYERICK: Who is who now? I mean, where does this leave us? This is very confusing. We're going off for a week. What do we have?

MOORE: That is a great point because look, if Republicans are going to win the election in November of 2012 and it's going to be one of most important elections in our lifetime. The Republicans are going have to define for the American public that they are the party of lower taxes.

The Democrats are the party of bigger spending. This debate certainly clouded that issue. But you know what's interesting is, Deb, now the next fight, you're right, this has been a political pinball machine over the last year or so.

That's not going to stop starting January 1st. In fact, what's going to happen now in the next, starting January 1st over the next couple of months, there will be the big issue of how to pay for the payroll tax cut extension?

Democrats again are coming forward with their idea of a big tax increase on the rich. Republicans are going to say, no, they want to cut spending. So we're just at the start of this political football. Not the end of it.

FEYERICK: And just to wrap, Steve, because you know, there were a couple of digs there on the Democrats when, in fact, you know, I don't think both sides come out looking particularly well in this.

But at least, if nothing else, President Obama did stepped up to credit for what was going on in Washington. He looks like he's the one who's taken the victory lap not the Republicans in this, right?

MOORE: Yes, that's why this has been a big political blunder for the Republicans because you're right. President Obama, you know, basically established his position. He didn't back down and the Republicans did.

That's why, you know, as a Republican, I find it kind of tragic because a week ago, they looked like they were in pretty good shape. But you know, you're right, the whole debate over the next year now, Deb, up until November 5th of next year is going to be this whole issue of taxation.

How do we bring this deficit down? And those issues really have to be defined if Republicans are going to win and evict this guy from the White House, which, of course, is the Republicans' number one aim right now.

FEYERICK: Well, you know, absolute. And right now it's really got to be about tax reform and I think both parties have a lot of work that they need to do. Stephen Moore, thank you so much for joining us and --

MOORE: That would be my greatest Christmas present if we could reform this obsolete antiquated tax system.

FEYERICK: If not this year, maybe 2012. Who knows? Thanks. CHO: Tax reform and parachutes.

FEYERICK: -- which would actually work.

CHO: Pair of shoes.

Up next on AMERICAN MORNING for a Friday, Donald Trump not here? What about Michael Moore? It's time for our annual naughty and nice list and it includes a few presidential candidates this year. We'll have that for you next. It's 38 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Good morning, and Merry Christmas, Washington, D.C. President Obama, Sasha, Malia, the first lady, with mostly cloudy and 50 degree, although they're headed to Hawaii, right? High of 52 today.

Welcome back, 2011. It's been a packed year full of political scandals and congressmen who just can't seem to agree on anything. But there were a lot of inspiring newsmakers, too.

So in the spirit of the holidays, we asked our two favorite people to play Santa Claus and come up with this year's naughty and nice list.

We're joined by Robert Zimmerman, Democratic analyst and head of a public relations firm, Zimmer and Edelson and also John Avlon, CNN contributor and senior political columnist of "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast."

Boy, that's a mouthful, but great to see you both. Merry Christmas. Love the ties.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC ANALYST: Good to be with you. Before we get to naughty and nice, John and I both agree on what's hot and that's big stars -- congratulations, the buzz on that is amazing.

CHO: Thank you very much. Tony Bennett, President Clinton, today Jennifer Lopez. Will Ferrell, very much looking forward to that this weekend, 2 p.m. Eastern.

All right, Robert, I want to start with you. Your nice list, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson for their work on the deficit commission. Those two last names not exactly household names, but why?

ZIMMERMAN: Also one of the person I want to mention too, Dustin Lance Black, who, the Oscar winning screenwriter, who's got a new play called "Eight" focusing on the fight, the legal battles for marriage equality in California.

It's awesome, great, great play. He's become really the social conscience of our country. Bowles-Simpson is very important because while they're not household names, these two, Erskine Bowles, Clinton's former chief of staff.

Alan Simpson, Republican conservative senator, both put together a game plan for deficit reduction and to bring back our economy. I just wish both parties have the courage to listen to them.

CHO: Something that President Clinton, of course, supports wholeheartedly. Now John, you agree on Cuomo. You also throw in Governor Chris Christie, which I mean, listen, he always gets a lot of attention.

You surprisingly have some members of Congress, six of them, the gang of six. And one presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, who some people feel to have not seen his time in the spotlight yet, but let's talk about Christie and Cuomo.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, Christie and Cuomo because I think we've got the two best governors in America right now across from the Hudson River together.

At a time when people are frustrated about what seems to be a failure in governance out of Washington, these two guys have shown that you can govern difficult states effectively, close multibillion dollar budget gaps without raising taxes.

In the case Andrew Cuomo, of course, also formed a bipartisan coalition to achieve marriage equality. But Chris Christie's also formed a bipartisan coalition to pursue educational reform. So I think that's a great bipartisan partnership, strong personalities, but showing that government can work.

Gang of six picking up where Erskine Bowles and Simpson left off, that these six bipartisan senators had the courage to come up with a bipartisan deficit and debt plan.

Let's hope to there's more of them in the New Year and probably Huntsman because he's tried to run a simple campaign in an uncivil time. So a little Christmas cheer I think is appropriate.

CHO: I mean, listen, you know, he could maybe surprise some people in New Hampshire, right? You never know.

AVLON: That's the Christmas spirit.

CHO: You never know. OK, I'm staying positive for Jon Huntsman out there in the single digits. You never know maybe he'll pull it off.

Let's talk about the naughty list, this is the fun part. So Robert, you had a great list here including Donald Trump, Michael Moore, the majority leader, Eric Cantor. So I'm just going to let you have at it.

ZIMMERMAN: First of all, you know, Donald Trump is a real big star. A big player when he's taking on Star Jones or Meatloaf or Gary Bussie in a reality show.

But when you put him on the stage with serious people, well, you saw what happened to him. He was laughed out of contention by the White House over the birther issue.

At the end of the day, we need serious discussions about issues not cheap demagogues. Certainly, Michael Moore, there's not an issue or cause that Michael Moore can't find a way to make about himself or can't find a way to sell DVDs.

So, you know, once again, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, Michael Moore, there's no real focus except self-promotion. And Eric Cantor, it's amazing how he gets away with it. We're all focusing on John Boehner and his failure as a leader, but one of the reasons for that, Eric Cantor, as his number-two, is undercutting America every step of the way with the Tea Party caucus and trying to diminish Boehner's role.

CHO: An interesting side of the story we don't hear that often.

John, I want to get to your naughty list, including Michele Bachmann and the, oh, not so super committee.


JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR & SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "NEWSDAY" & "THE DAILY BEAST: And the, oh, not so super committee -- certainly, frustration in Congress -- the whole group in the naughty list. But the super committee was such a super fail that we cannot let them go unnoticed on the naughty list. They had the opportunity and the co-chairs, Jim Hensarling and Patty Murray, failed to deliver.

I also had Jon Corzine on the list. And Corzine, because the former governor New Jersey has misplaced $1.2 billion.

ZIMMERMAN: It happens, you know.


AVLON: It happens. And the greatest story by Michael Daly in "Newsweek," looking at the whole thing. But here's the guy that's warning about the dangers of debt and overleveraging, and then got out of office and committed the same sin he was criticizing.

CHO: John, I can't let you go before your final naughty person on the list, former flavor of the month, Herman Cain.


CHO: Let's watch this clip.


HERMAN CAIN, (R), FORMER GODFATHER'S PIZZA CEO & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me leave you with this -- I believe these words came from the "Pokemon" movie. Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It's never easy when there's so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHO: You know, it's really hard to top that. I have to say.


AVLON: Both naughty and nice.


You know, the naughty side of Herman Cain, clearly knowing all the allegations. But when you look back at 2011, there is surreal quality. Did we really spend six weeks on a former CEO's sex life?


We did. We did, America. And closing out his campaign with "Pokemon," too good.


ZIMMERMAN: Just sums it up.

AVLON: It really just -- that just happened, yes.

CHO: It's kind of a made-for-TV movie, isn't it?


AVLON: That's the problem, the whole reality-style of this entire primary season.

ZIMMERMAN: You have too many made-for TV programs like that --


CHO: OK, OK, all right.

AVLON: A surreal moment to savor.

CHO: Robert Zimmerman, John Avlon. Obviously, a discussion about the ties. But very festive.


Good morning. Thanks for being here. Merry Christmas.

ZIMMERMAN: Great to be with you. Merry Christmas.

CHO: See you next week, I hope. Thanks so much.


FEYERICK: That's right, the tail of "Pokemon."

Well, morning headlines next.

Plus, any holiday travel trouble out there? We'll have a check of the airports on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Also ahead, selling Christmas trees? Well, not exactly a cake walk. Coming up, we'll hear from a man who's been doing it for more than 20 years. Why selling Christmas trees is a risky business.

It is almost 48 minutes after the hour.


FEYERICK: It's about 10 minutes to eight. 50 minutes after the hour. Here are your morning headlines.

The Dow looking to continue its winning streak. Right now, U.S. stock futures are trading higher. The markets were up yesterday after some positive news about the jobs market.

And Congress now on track to keep the payroll tax cut in place. The House expected to vote in less than two hours after House Speaker John Boehner announced the GOP is onboard. It is a two-month deal, at least for now. It keeps $40 in your paycheck. So spend it, save it, but use it while you can.

Pakistan is disputing the results of the Pentagon's investigation into last month's air strike that killed 24 of their soldiers. The Defense Department's report found U.S. forces acted in self-defense after being fired upon. The Pakistani intelligence officials tell CNN the U.S. fired first.

Well, Best Buy canceling some online orders, including those made back on Black Friday. That's right. The electronics retailer says it was simply overwhelmed by the number of online sales and it's run out of merchandise.

And light snow falling in parts of New England could cause minor travel delays this morning. Travelers also dealing with headaches down in Atlanta after a powerful storm caused a nearly three-hour ground stop at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, affecting about 5,200 planes.

That's the news you need to know to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING, right back. We'll see you then.



CHO: Good morning, New York City. What a gorgeous shot there, where it is cloudy and 46 degrees. Showers and 48 a little bit later on. and one of my favorite Christmas songs. Merry Christmas, everybody.

FEYERICK: Well, Christmas trees just don't bring holiday cheer, but provide part-time jobs for a lot of people. But selling Christmas trees isn't easy. It's a very risky business that could tell us something about the state of the economy.

CNN's Felicia Taylor reports.


FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You see them all over New York City. Stands pop up just for the month of December, selling Christmas trees, and it's not just about holiday cheer. They provide part-time employment and family fun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a single mom and not working at the time, but I saved up all my money just to come here, which is really quite amazing, because I don't want to go anywhere else.


TAYLOR: Scott Luckner has been selling trees for more than 20 years. He has about seven stands around New York. And for him, it's a labor of love, even if it means losing money.

LUCKNER: It could be profitable. What most people don't realize is that it's one of the most risky rolls of the dice there is. If you don't have your act totally together, you can lose a fortune.

The overhead has escalated enormously over the years. Everyone needs to earn a little bit more money. Rents have sky rocketed by 400 percent, 500 percent in our case. Fuel, a truck load that used to cost us $4,000 just five years ago, costs over $9,000 today. That reflects the prices of the trees today. Sometimes consumers will only pay so much for an average Christmas tree and you have to adjust for them.

TAYLOR: This business is 24/7. Luckner and his worker elves live out of a Winnebago for the month with up to 10 men sleeping in rotating shifts.

LUCKNER: This is what we call home for about 40 days and we do the best we can with the help of our neighbors who provide us with plumbing and shower at local places like at the theater up the block.

TAYLOR: It's not just about selling Christmas trees. There's all kinds of other things, like ornaments, decorations, wreaths, bells even Santa hats, and some say that can even be a greater indicator of how the economy is doing.

LUCKNER: You know in '08, when everything went down the tubes, we couldn't sell any ornaments. And now, it's all of a sudden, they're starting to sell like crazy and that usually translates into a good economy. From what I've seen in my 35 years of Christmas tree experience, it never fails.

TAYLOR: An improving economy would provide some extra holiday cheer, but this neighborhood seems to be getting the benefit anyway.

LUCKNER: Makes them happy that we come back every season. You know, you see the smiles and some people look forward to. I'm happy to be here for that.

TAYLOR: Felicia Taylor, CNN, New York.


CHO: And before we forget, we wanted to wish all of you out there a very Happy Festivus. Festivus is celebrated every December 23rd. It's handed down by its creator, George's dad in "Seinfeld." We hope you put up your Festivus pole and train for its feats of strength. If you don't know the story of Festivus, well, why don't we just let Frank Costanza explain it.


UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son.


I reach for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.


MICHEL RICHARDS, ACTOR: What happened to the doll?

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: It was destroyed.


But out of that, a new holiday was born. A Festivus for the rest of us.


FEYERICK: You know, it's just genius.

How many television shows actually create their own holidays, something that is legitimately celebrated now. But of course, you have kids, Festivuses every day. It is actually not a holiday.

Well, the top stories next. Plus, Morgan Spurlock stops by our studio. The "Super Size Me" filmmaker has a new project. And this time, it's about failure or dreaming. It all depends. He'll explain.

CHO: J. Lo giving back in a big way. The performer and "American Idol" judge helping to improve the health of women and children by using cutting edge technology. I sat down with her in Los Angeles recently and we'll bring you that interview, next.

It's 57 minutes after the hour.