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Winter Storms Pound U.S.; Capitol Cliffhanger

Aired December 26, 2012 - 20:00   ET



If you're looking for tonight's breaking news, well, just look out the window. Just about anywhere east of the Mississippi there is something to see. Much of it seasonably nasty. The kind of stuff you expect this time of year. A big blizzard tying up travel. The rest, though, totally unexpected. Dozens of tornadoes out of season, out of the blue, in your face.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My god, we need to go. It's right there. We've got to hurry up and get past it.


KAYE: One view of the massive storm as it moved through the Mobile, Alabama, area. Now here's another.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My god, look, that's a tornado. Wow. Jesus, look at that tornado. My god, that's cool. Jesus, please keep your hands on whoever is over there. Look at them. That's like two tornadoes. It's two funnels on the ground. Oh lord. Look at there. Wow. Oh, my god, look at that. Look, there's another one and it's going to touch down by the roof. We have got to get in the bathroom. It's coming towards us.


KAYE: You don't expect a tornado in December but in the south like here Little Rock, Arkansas, you also don't expect much snow, but they got it nine inches in fact. More than they've seen in 86 years.

It's a lot more common farther north but rarely so much at once. With blizzard conditions in the Midwest, a foot and a half or more of snow forecast in the northeast. And airline delays up and down the map.

It's enough to make you want to stay put and watch CNN. We've got everything you need to know tonight from everywhere it matters, starting with Alexandra Steele who is tracking the storm.

Alexandra, who is getting hit the hardest right now? ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, they're not going anywhere in upstate New York and western New York tonight.

Here's a look at the radar picture. Of course the white, showing you where the snow is. The green and red delineating more than heavy rain is. But here is where the snow is. You can see it's really lifted out areas of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. So clearing conditions there. But, right along I-90 that's where the heaviest snow is now and for New York state and New Jersey we're going to see that rain lift up. So Washington improving conditions. New York City, very heavy rain and very gusty winds.

Here's a look. That's part of the problem with this storm and has been since the beginning. Not only are we seeing these swaths of snow but the winds are so strong. Look at this. In the last three hours 40-mile-per-hour wind gusts in New York City, 26 in Buffalo and Cleveland, and Indy. So again, the snow really clearing out of Illinois and Indiana but look at what it's left behind in areas of Illinois. Eighteen inches. In Indy, seven inches. But Duke and Kentucky over four inches.

And here's what's left of it. The whole storm lifts into the north, upstate New York and western New York, getting nearly five to nine inches or so. But then a little bit more than that nine to 12 maybe in northern New York, Messina, New York, and the green and white mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire because the snow will last the longest as it all lifts farther north -- Randi.

KAYE: And of course all anybody wants to know is when can we expect to see the weather improve around the country?

STEELE: Right. Well, it will. And it is going to improve and we're going to watch this move. Here's the area of low pressure we're watching so here's the time stamp for you tonight at 10:00. Still right on the money. Here's where that low pressure is right over Washington where it's rain but it is all going to the north.

So as we look from overnight tonight into tomorrow, you see the clearing out from Ohio, much of Pennsylvania by tomorrow morning, it is clear by 6:00 a.m. New York state still in (INAUDIBLE) snow throughout the day tomorrow but then as we head toward noon you can see it lifting from north to south. And then by Friday it gets only into Maine so it all finally by Thursday night you can see where it is and it moves on out for Friday.

But then there's a storm, Randi, brewing that we'll have to talk about a little bit later for New England also, kind of taking a very similar track for New Year's Eve and New Year's Eve day. We'll also watch that.

KAYE: Boy. All right. We'll keep an eye on that --

STEELE: Here is a holiday storm. They only come with the holiday.

(LAUGHTER) KAYE: What a Christmas treat. Thank you, Alexandra.


KAYE: Well, if you're watching tonight, there is a good chance that you are watching us at the airport waiting to board a flight that's been delayed or trying to reschedule after a flight cancellation. As always, whenever such a big storm blows through the entire airline system feels it.

Holly Firfer is at the nation's busiest hub, Hartsfield, Jackson in Atlanta.

Holly, cancellations are bad right now and the worst might not be over?

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Randi. About 1400 flights have been cancelled already. Hundreds more delayed. And that number, as the storm increases, as the storm heads to New England, as -- as Alexandra said tonight into tomorrow, that number may get worse. Delays in airports from Detroit to New York an hour, an hour and a half. In Philadelphia two and a half hours, they're waiting. And it's not just the passengers who are getting frustrated. Some of the pilots as well.

Take a listen to an American Airlines pilot. He had been sitting on the tarmac for five hours with a plane full of passengers. Listen to an announcement he made on board.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's beyond reproach. I have no, no words to tell you how sorry I am for all this. Decisions are being made way about our heads by people that obviously, in my humble opinion, don't have a clue what they're doing.


FIRFER: And according to American Airlines the problem, they say, was that they put safety first and that they were worried about de-icing the plane. The storm came so fast and they were concerned about the safety of their pilots and passengers before they were concerned about takeoff time. So this is going to continue into tomorrow. We've already heard that 90 flights are being cancelled tomorrow as well as the storm continues. So if you're planning on traveling, Rand, it's best to call your airlines ahead of time so you're not waiting too long in the airport to see if your flights are delayed or cancelled.

KAYE: And Holly, that's a look at the airports. What about the roads? And for those planning to hit the road?

FIRFER: The roads are just as bad if not worse. They are treacherous. In the Midwest, the roads are icy.

Take a look at this video we got earlier from Indianapolis. An 18-wheeler slid off of an icy road and had to be towed to safety. And, you know, the Midwest, not strangers to winter weather and winter storm. Indiana -- the Indianapolis Pacers cancelled an NBA game tonight with the Chicago Bulls because they were concerned about people on the roads. It's too dangerous on the roads there.

So Greyhound even cancelled most of their Midwest to their East Coast buses. So it's kind of a mess everywhere. They're telling people check if you're planning on going somewhere because it mostly may be cancelled especially if it's a plane or a bus.

KAYE: Holly Firfer reporting from a very noisy airport. Holly, thank you very much.

And as we've been showing you, whether by air or by road, there's nothing easy or simple about getting around tonight. They've already been hammered in parts of the Midwest, now the northeast is bearing the brunt and Ines Ferre is in Syracuse New York tonight where there's snow on the ground and plenty more to come.

Ines, what are the conditions looking like out there right now?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Randi, it already started snowing here and the heavier snow is expected to last anywhere from four to five hours. And Syracuse is expecting about a foot of snow. Now what you see behind me is actually accumulation of snow from some previous snowstorms in the last four days. They've already gotten 13 inches of snow here -- Randi.

KAYE: And a big concern is visibility, certainly, overnight, as the storm gets heavier. What can you tell us about that?

FERRE: Right. Visibility and also ice. That's one of the problems, snow falling on top of snow and potential ice in some areas. Even when we got out of our car we almost slipped in one area. But that's why the city has got plows all throughout the area that has been sprinkling salt. Even in anticipation of this snowstorm.

Now city officials say that Syracuse is actually used to this amount of snow. The challenge tonight is this amount of snow in such a short period of time. And it's been almost two years since Syracuse has seen one foot of snow all in one shot -- Randi.

KAYE: Ines, thank you very much for the update from Syracuse.

And a lot more happening tonight, including late news on avoiding the tax hikes and budget cuts that could sink the economy.

President Obama is rushing back to Washington. The question is what kind of reception will he get from the lawmakers he's been negotiating with? Dana Bash is doing some digging and joins us, so does David Gergen and the rest of our political insiders.


KAYE: Some late-breaking political news to report tonight. Hawaii's governor tonight naming a successor to the late Senator Daniel Inouye. He is Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz. Senator Inouye had recommended U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa as his replacement in a letter shortly before he died.

Meantime, with six days until we all go off the fiscal cliff, President Obama is cutting his wine family vacation short, flying back to Washington tonight, uncertain, though, what kind of deal-making possibilities he'll find when he gets back. House Republican leaders held a conference call today but made no decisions about when to call their members back nor is it clear what kind of deal if any they'll have to vote on.

A lot of moving pieces to this, a lot of digging tonight for CNN's Dana Bash.

I understand there were no decisions out of this call but do we have any sense of what fellow Republicans are telling Speaker Boehner. I mean, how likely are we to see a vote on this in time to avoid going over the cliff?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is up in the air and -- I'm told is, in part, the reason why House Republicans didn't make a decision yet about whether even to bring the House back or when to do it, because the ball really is in the Senate's court, specifically with Senate Democrats. That has changed big time since a couple of weeks ago.

At this point what Senate Democrats are trying to figure out, Randi, is whether or not they can find enough Republicans to cross party lines for what the president proposed right before he went for Hawaii which is a scaled-back. They are really just focusing on tax cuts and focusing on the same that he campaigned on during the entire campaign which is only keeping the tax cuts in place for those making under $250,000.

It's a big ask to try to get at least -- by our calculation -- about 10 Senate Democrats -- Senate Republicans rather to cross over but they think that with the deadline that they're up against, it's just going to be hard to go back home and say, I let everybody's taxes go up.

KAYE: Yes, so what more do we know then about what's in this scaled-back bill?

BASH: Well, it's still being crafted and that's sort of part of the dance that's being done in this next few days, which is what exactly do Democrats have to put into this in order to lure those Republicans. If anything, is there anything that they can do? Because fundamentally for most Republicans voting for the president's plan which would raise taxes on the top 2 percent which is something that most Republicans campaigned really fervently against, they're not going to go for.

But perhaps Democrats think if they can add an extension of the state tax cut, if they can put some other tax extenders in there, maybe they can lure some Republicans, but that is really part of the negotiation that's going to go on behind the scenes between Democrats and maybe one by one, Republican after Republican.

KAYE: Yes.

BASH: What do you need in order to come to the table.

KAYE: And Senate Democrats telling you that they think the best chance of passing this bill is actually to wait until the very last minute? Why is that?

BASH: This is going to make voters and viewers so happy, I'm sure. The reason is because they see -- they know the reality is, and the reality is, and we've seen it time and time again, Congress acts when they're up against the deadline. And really not before. We're pretty close to that deadline but it won't be until they're actually literally facing the cliff, teetering off the edge of the cliff, that many Republicans will say, you know, fine, uncle, I'll go for this even though I don't think it's the right thing.

But I got to tell you, Randi. Still, for the most part, Democratic and Republican sources do think that the most likely scenario is going off the cliff. And the reason is because, again, this is not going to make voters or viewers happy, is because politically it's going to be a lot easier for members of Congress to vote for a tax cut which would be -- what they're voting for if everybody's taxes go up, then right now what they're voting for is -- at least some people, a tax increase.

KAYE: Yes. Dana Bash, we'll continue to watch it along with you. Thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Randi.

KAYE: More "Raw Politics" now with senior political analyst David Gergen, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, and Alice Stewart, former Santorum and Bachmann 2012 spokeswoman.

Good to see all of you. Maria, I'll start with you tonight. You've been around Washington for quite a while and have watched this 11th hour negotiations. It really seems as if Democrats are not going to budge from their insistence that taxes be raised on wealthier Americans.


KAYE: Does it seem more likely now that we're headed off the cliff?

CARDONA: It actually does, Randi. And as you know, because we talked about this every weekend, I was optimistic that perhaps this holiday season and hopes spring eternal that we could actually get there.

But I think a couple of things are at work here. The first one is, you said it, Democrats are going to budge and actually don't think that they should. If there was one thing that was incredibly clear about what President Obama and the Democrats campaigned on this past election cycle, and by the way, he won, was exactly this fallback plan or the small piece of the -- of tax cuts being extended for 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses.

There is a bill in the Senate sitting there right now that the House could actually vote on. They don't need to wait for anything else to pass the Senate. The House could call a vote on it right now and 98 percent of America's families could see protection of their tax cuts extended. And so I think that that is a strong position for the Democrats. They won on this. The majority of American people agree that the wealthy and the 2 percent of the wealthiest in this country can afford to pay a little bit more. Most wealthy people agree with that.

KAYE: Let me bring Alice in here.

Alice, you say that you believe President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders prefer going over the cliff so they can raise taxes, cut defense spending and blame the GOP. But Republicans do have the option of locking in tax cuts for most Americans right now.

ALICE STEWART, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, SANTORUM AND BACHMANN 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, and to further that note, sure, I think the president does want to do this because as you said, he can increase taxes, continue cuts on the military, and point the finger at the Republicans. But the truth of the matter is that we need to have serious spending cuts. This is not an issue that's going to be resolved with taxing it away.

We need to address serious spending issues that we have in this country. And the truth is, Boehner and House Republicans today pointed out that the House has -- issued legislation that would extend the current tax -- the Bush era tax cuts and would also erase military cuts. And it's in the Senate's hands and they need to act on it. But something else that came up late this afternoon that's critical and as a reminder in this entire scenario, Secretary Geithner issued a letter today reminding and warning this country that we're going to hit the debt ceiling on New Year's Eve.

This is just a stark reminder that we have out-of-control spending in this country and Congress needs to wake up and smell the coffee that the spending needs to be first and foremost, not just raising taxes on Americans.

KAYE: So David, hard to believe we're still talking about this. Here were are, with virtually no time left for a deal. I mean did you see it happening like this? I mean, is Washington really so broken that they can't find a compromise?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I must confess, I have been a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist. I think the country will get back on track eventually, but it's going to take a while. This is extraordinary in two ways. Damage has already been down because of this craziness in Washington. You know, consumer sentiment is down, business plans for investment are down. KAYE: Yes.

GERGEN: Business sentiment is down. We're going to pay a price this next year regardless of whether we are or not we go off the cliff. How extraordinary is it, you know, the Senate hasn't acted, hasn't been called back to act on a bill in between Christmas and New Year's for 49 years. The first time in 49 years, the Senate had to come back like this.

And I think the prospects, as both of the others are pointing out, I think the prospects are strong that we're going to go over the cliff. They're high because of the differences are so big. I mean, the Republicans are going to clearly get most of the blame if we go over the cliff on taxes but the Republicans have an argument.

Look, the president promised us for every $1 of tax increases, he would put on the table $2.50 of spending decreases. The dollars for tax increases are on the table. The dollar for spending decreases are on the table.

KAYE: So --

GERGEN: But the Republicans will pay the price.

KAYE: So when you look at the Republicans, I mean, was it a mistake for the Republicans to get into this fight over taxes then? I mean, they could have had the more popular message about cutting deficits spending, right?

GERGEN: That's really a good question. You know, the truth is they've have been a lot better off taking the deal that John Boehner was negotiating with President Obama way back when. It was a better deal all the way around. They missed that moment. But I think the real thing is not who pays the price. I think Republicans have a point that they're going to pay the price. But the real people who are going to pay the price are Americans. The middle class.

KAYE: Yes.

GERGEN: And this is crazy. It's nuts to be putting us through this.


CARDONA: Yes, Randi --

KAYE: Maria, all of the focus, though, on tax cuts.


KAYE: But the revenue from increasing the taxes on the wealthy will barely make a dent in the deficit to say nothing of the trillions in debt that we're talking about. I mean is this all just some symbolic fight that the president is determined to win, just off his reelection? CARDONA: No. It's definitely not symbolic, Randi. Because there will be money raised if the tax cuts for the top 2 percent actually are left to expire. But let me just bring up a point. No Democrat and certainly not the -- not this president has said that there should be no spending cuts. On the contrary, this president has actually put on the table quite an extraordinary amount of spending cuts to the chagrin of many Democrats, I might add, to the extent that the grand bargain was several months ago, last year, no, of course not because the president is in a much stronger political position right now.

So let's remember that this president has never walked away from the bargaining table. The speaker of the House has walked away twice now. So David is right, Republicans will get the blame politically. Does that mean that we should not start -- we shouldn't continue to try? No. Because ultimately Americans are the ones who are going to be hurt if -- especially those middle class families. And let's remember, there's a bill today in the Senate where the House could pass it tomorrow if they wanted to to protect the majority of America's middle class families.

KAYE: Right.


KAYE: Even so, Alice, which is a worse political fate for Republicans, going over the cliff or voting to increase taxes on wealthy Americans and some small businesses? I mean if we go over the cliff Republicans didn't have to vote for a rate increase and then they can come back and cut taxes in the new year and look pretty good, right?

STEWART: Well, I think the point is it's not what looks worse for Republicans or Democrats as David said. It's what looks worse and is worse for the American people?

KAYE: But doesn't it seem to be what they're worried about?

STEWART: Well, what the -- what the Republicans are concerned with most is this out of control spending. And to your point about tax increases not addressing the problem as a whole, what we're looking at now with this fiscal crisis, it's like a mortal wound to our chest. We have blood gushing out of our chest and President Obama and the Democrats come along and put a Band-Aid on our forehead. And we continue to have problems coming out of a different area and they're not addressing the real problem.

We need to attack the spending and we need to not just raise taxes because even if we, for argument's sake, give the president every tax increase he wants, we're still looking at a $1 trillion debt every single year. We need to address the spending in this country.

CARDONA: And the president has addressed that. That's why I made that point. No one is saying that there should be no spending cuts. He has done that.

KAYE: So, David, in terms of --

GERGEN: Yes, but look --

KAYE: Yes, David.

GERGEN: Ultimately, listen, guys, we've got to find a bridge here to get across. We've got to find --

CARDONA: Absolutely.

GERGEN: What are ways we can all agree on that will help us through that. And I would worry a lot if we spent the next three or four days of the time of semi-crisis for the country, you know, getting back down into our foxholes and shooting across at each other. We've got to come out of our foxholes and sort of say, OK, guys, this is really about the country.

You know our international reputation is going to suffer yet once again. If our politicians can't do this. I mean, every other country in the world watching and saying, is American prepared to lead? If we can't solve, the conclusion has to be, you can't trust these guys. They're not up to it.

KAYE: But if we do go over the cliff, David, and the nation does slide back into a recession as many forecasters predict.


KAYE: I mean, isn't it pretty easy to imagine the blame being equally spread around Washington?

GERGEN: I think the Republicans will pay the biggest price in the beginning. How it gets resolved over time, I'm not sure. The president so far has -- you know, the fact is the Republicans have been losing the message war on this. They are, everybody knows that. The fact is, it's being painted as a part of this too extreme, too far to the right. It's got -- it's got to get back into -- I think for its own sake it needs to listen to more of this -- the right of center, not the far right in figuring this out.

The Republican Party can repair itself over time. But right now it has to act as if look, the country's needs come first. What do we need to do to protect the country's welfare? And that's the spirit -- if that spirit takes hold here, we've been -- you know, we thought it would come with the end of the elections, it didn't. Then maybe we thought it would come with the shootings in the Connecticut. It hasn't yet come. Maybe the politicians can find it in themselves the next few days to say, hey, you know, we're above this, we actually stand for something bigger than all this petty bickering.

KAYE: Yes.


KAYE: Well, we'll see. CARDONA: Randi, if I could just add -- as a mother, this whole scenario makes it a lot tougher to really actually show your children how adults act because I actually don't want to show them how Washington is acting because it's exactly the opposite. My daughter and my son are getting along much better at Christmas, imagine that, with sharing with all the toys.

KAYE: Yes. It's how not to act.

CARDONA: Than our leaders are in Washington. Exactly.

KAYE: All right. Maria Cardona and Alice Stewart, David Gergen, nice to see you all. Thank you.

GERGEN: Thanks, Randi.

CARDONA: Thank you, Randi.

STEWART: Thanks, Randi.

KAYE: Late developments as well tonight concerning the health of America's 41st president, George H.W. Bush. He has been in the hospital for weeks and Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to explain what exactly is going on.


KAYE: Former president George H.W. Bush spent Christmas in the intensive care unit at Houston's Methodist Hospital. He's 88 years old and has been in the hospital for more than a month now. Initially for bronchitis. He's since developed a stubborn fever and has been in the ICU since Sunday.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me now by phone.

Sanjay, last week it was expected that the former president would be going home for Christmas. Now we learned he's in the ICU. Generally speaking what does that tell you and how dangerous is bronchitis and this subsequent fever for someone his age. What are the potential complications here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, the age plays a big role here. As you might guess, Randi, typically bronchitis is something that can be pretty easily treated, often times -- some of the time you need to antibiotics to treat it.

But you know, someone like you and me is a pretty easy thing to treat. The fact that he had a bronchitis and then he was on the general care floor and went back to the intensive care unit with the fever probably, you know, indicates that the bronchitis was either not completely treated the first time around.

Or it came back, it just was treated, but came back pretty quickly and both of those things are, you know, we take those very seriously. As you might guess, Randi, the biggest concern might just turn into pneumonia.

Bronchitis is being the infection of the airways and pneumonia being an infection of the lung that would be a more serious condition. He's talking to his doctors and obviously more importantly shows that he is not using a breathing machine right now. And that is a good sign, Randi.

KAYE: Yes, that certainly some good news. As we said, he has been hospitalized right now for more than a month. Now to a lot of people that long of hospital stay sounds quite serious. His spokesman though says that he is in a guarded condition in the intensive care unit. What exactly does that mean, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Guarded is one of these terms that is not a formal medical term. Typically when you think of medical terms, you think of someone being in serious condition, someone being in critical condition. This is somewhere in between.

I think that is probably the best way to describe it. I think, you know, when I take care of patients in the intensive care unit, when we say they are guarded. That typically means we are keeping an eye on several different things.

It could be a lung or kidney function. It could be their neurological status, again, we don't know what this means particularly with the former president. But it basically means what needs to be on intensive care unit because we need around the clock monitoring.

There are things that we are trying to prevent from basically going in the wrong direction. They haven't done yet to become a critical situation, but we are worried enough that there are several different things to keep an eye on and the ICU is the best place for that to happen.

KAYE: And the former president spokesman also said that he is on a liquid diet. Does that tell you anything in particular?

GUPTA: Well, you know, that's a very interesting thing. Someone simply cannot eat solid food. That would be the most obvious. They either don't have appetites or having difficulty swallowing.

The former president himself has talked about the fact that he may have a form of Parkinson that is how they describe it. It's unclear what he meant by that, but people who have Parkinson's disease often have difficulty swallowing.

The other thing is, as someone developed an infection in and around the airways, Randi. Sometimes it becomes more difficult for them to basically protect their airways.

When they eat something they have a greater risk of aspirating it instead of going down their esophagus. It goes down their windpipe or their trachea. That's one of the reason sometimes they are in a sort of liquid diet as well.

The important thing in the ICU is someone -- the former president needs to get the calories that he needs to heal. So however they can get it to him solid or liquid that is the most important thing.

KAYE: Sanjay, really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

GUPTA: You got it. Thanks, Randi.

KAYE: And let's check in on some other top stories. Susan Hendricks joins me with the "360 Bulletin."

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Randi, former South African President Nelson Mandela is home from the hospital and will continue to receive treatment. The 94-year-old is being treated for a lung infection and had surgery to remove gallstones. He has not appeared in public since 2010.

Syria's chief of military police has reportedly defected to join the revolution. In a video posted on YouTube, he says Syria's Army has deviated from the mission to protect the country while carrying out massacres against innocent civilians. CNN cannot independently confirm the video's authenticity.

The two firefighters who survived the sniper ambush in Webster, New York will be upgraded to satisfactory condition. They were shot Monday while responding to a house fire. Today they issued a statement thanking the community and the nation for their heart warming response. The two firefighters who were killed will have funerals on Sunday and Monday.

NBC's David Gregory may have violated D.C.'s gun laws during Sunday's "Meet The Press." While interviewing an NRA executive, he held up a high capacity magazine as you saw there, which is illegal in the district. The Washington Metropolitan Police Department is now investigating that -- Randi.

KAYE: Susan, thanks very much.

Up next, big news if you drive a Toyota or have been watching 360's exclusive reporting on cars that owners say accelerated out of control, a billion dollar settlement to tell you about and more when 360 continues.


KAYE: Big news, a billion dollars worth in fact in a story that 360's been out in front of. Toyota today announcing a massive payout $1.1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit by customers who say their Toyotas accelerated out of control.

In addition to the money, Toyota agreed to modify affected cars and take other action beyond that. All told more than 16 million people may be covered by the record settlement, which follows a record $17 million fine Toyota paid federal regulators earlier this month.

The 360 has been on this from the beginning, uncovering details that no one else has. Back in February, Drew Griffin broke the story of a documented link between the company's history of unintended acceleration and Toyota software. That report highlighted an internal Toyota engineering memo. The company concedes it did not provide the government investigators and his story featured a Toyota customer who says she's convinced that her brand new Lexus surged ahead on its own.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tanya Spotts thought all of those problems with suddenly accelerating Toyotas were old news, which is exactly why she bought the car of her dreams, this 2011 Lexus ES350 last June.

(on camera): Did you think it was solved?

TANYA SPOTTS, TOYOTA CUSTOMER: I thought most definitely it was solved. The federal government tested, you know, Toyota they said it was floor mats or a sticky trod or something like that. I believed the government.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): At 7,000 miles later on the day after Christmas, she said she was pulling into a parking spot at a local mall gently riding the brake she says when, well, take a listen.

SPOTTS: The car just lurched forward and hit the cement wall in front of us.

GRIFFIN: She jammed on the brakes so hard she says she strained ligaments in her foot causing massive swelling. And when she called her dealership, a salesman insisted she call a Toyota company lawyer.

(on camera): And you won't drive this again?

SPOTTS: I will not drive this car again.


KAYE: Toyota has never conceded an electronics or software problem could in any way be responsible for sudden acceleration in its vehicles, but Drew and producer, David Fitzpatrick obtained an internal Toyota engineering document written in Japanese with English translation, which shows that in one instance during pre-production testing, an electronic software problem was discovered.

Toyota says this has nothing to do with unintended acceleration. Other safety experts disagree. Today's agreement does not address the software angle. And Drew Griffin is here tonight. Drew, the first big settlement earlier this month and now this, is this an admission by Toyota that they really did have a problem with sudden unintended acceleration?

GRIFFIN: You know, absolutely not, Randi, from the beginning Toyota maintained it doesn't have a sudden unintended acceleration problem. Certainly nothing wrong with the electronic throttle control system.

The company said this was three things. It was stuck gas pedals, stuck floor mats and quite frankly operator error as they said was Tanya's case. They believed that she just stepped on the gas instead of the brake. So then what's this settlement is all about, right? Why settle?

Here is what Toyota's U.S. legal officer said in a statement today. This was a difficult decision especially since reliable scientific evidence and multiple independent evaluations have confirmed the safety of Toyota's electronic throttle control systems.

However, we concluded that turning the page on this legacy legal issue through the positive steps we are taking is in the best interest of the company, our employees, our dealers and most of all, Randi, our customers.

The fact is these court trials were beginning to creep up on Toyota. A lot of lawyers asking for a lot of documents and depositions and this settlement keep all those records out of the public. Just like those -- the records that we found on AC 360 this past February.

So it is a way that Toyota says we are going to put this all behind us and we are going to keep all of our secrets out of the court.

KAYE: All right, Drew, great reporting on that. Thank you very much.

All right, just ahead, remembering Emily, Ana and Josephine. Her family called her Joey. Their funerals over the holiday weekend were the last ones in the Newtown tragedy.

Difficult days are ahead for their families. Tonight, we remember the indelible mark these three first graders made.


KAYE: No one could have predicted how life would change 12 days ago in Newtown, Connecticut. This has been a wrenching time. Many difficult days lie ahead. There are no adequate words to describe the murder of 20 first graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Since the tragedy, the town's police officers have worked around the clock. There have been so many funerals, so many grieving families to assist. Yesterday, though, they got a much needed break. Officers from police departments across the state stepped in. So that Newtown's first responders could have a day off.

The last of so many funerals were held over the weekend. Three little girls who had barely started their lives, we remember them tonight.


KAYE (voice-over): Anna Marquez Green is remembered by her family as a princess who loved math picture problems, arts and crafts, and ballet, but most of all loved people fiercely. She was known for her singing voice bigger than her size.

Just 6 years old, Anna grew up with music in her ears and her love of singing was evident before she could even talk. Her father is a musician and college music instructor.

His 2009 album features a song he wrote about her entitled "Anna Grace." Anna never walked anywhere. According to her family, her mode of transportation was dance. She leaves behind her patients and little brother, Isaiah, also a student at Sandy Hook Elementary. He was unharmed.

On a Facebook page setup by her family, her mother writes, "I know this is your best Christmas yet at home with our Lord and Saviour. As your mom, I just wished we could have had a few more to celebrate here on earth."

Josephine Grace Gay turned 7 just three days before her life was tragically cut short. Known to her family as Joey, she was to have a birthday party the day after the shooting with many of her Sandy Hook classmates.

Mourners at her funeral were encouraged to wear purple, her favorite color in her honor. Her parents say Joey rarely left the house without wearing something purple.

She loved to play with her Barbie dolls, iPad, swim, swing and to be anywhere her sisters were. Josephine's parents said in a statement, she was autistic and could not speak yet she touched the lives of so many around her. Teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, all loved and cherished her. They called her spirit indomitable.

Emilie Parker was a prolific and exceptional artist says her father. When she saw someone was sad, she would draw them a picture to brighten their day. at just 6 years old, she was also teacher.

ROBBIE PARKER, EMILIE'S FATHER: Emilie was a mentor to her two little sisters and delighting and teaching them how to read, dance and find the simple joys in life. Emilie's laughter was infectious and all those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that this world is a better place because she has been in it.

KAYE: At her funeral, mourners were encouraged to wear her favorite color, pink. Emilie's family had moved in Newtown from Utah just eight months ago because her father had gotten a job at a local hospital caring for newborns. Her funeral was held back in Utah.

JILL COTTLE GARRETT, EMILIE'S AUNT: Emilie was an example to not only to her sisters, to her family and friends and now she's become an example to the world about purity, innocence, tragedy and forgiveness.


KAYE: We remember tonight. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAYE: We are just days away from the most unpredictable night of year here on CNN. I'm talking, of course, about New Year's Eve when Anderson and Kathy Griffin co-host our live coverage from Times Square. You never know what to expect, of course, when they team up.

Well, here's something you can count on. Just like last year viewers will have the chance to see their own New Year's Eve messages on air. Just tweet using the hashtag cnnyne or you can post on

In the meantime, Anderson and Kathy are gearing up for their big night and here is a preview.


KATHY GRIFFIN: We are going to break it down this year. This year the mask is coming off.


GRIFFIN: The mask.

COOPER: What mask?

GRIFFIN: The secrets that you have been keeping. This is the year where you are in a ball in my arms sobbing and that is my 1020.

COOPER: I like that image of me.

GRIFFIN: I'm going to get it and you are going to be clutching me where they are going to be holding each other for safety.

COOPER: We tried to get the monkey from Ikea because I'm obsessed with it.

GRIFFIN: You're obsessed with a monkey from Ikea.

COOPER: You must have seen the monkey that got loose in Ikea in the Sherling coat.

GRIFFIN: I'm sorry, but if that is considered a big booking for the show?


KAYE: That is just a taste of what you are going to get. This will be their sixth year together. CNN's New Year's Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin starts at 10:00 p.m. Eastern from Times Square.

Being year's end all this week, we are counting down the top ten ridiculous stories of 2012. We asked you to vote online for your favorites. Number 10 and number 9 are posted on our web site at

And tonight, we are relieving number 8 on the list, the exercise equipment that, how shall I put, let's just say it leaves a lasting image.


COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding whatever this thing is. It's a piece of exercise equipment from what appears to be a Korean infomercial. It follows in the suggestive footsteps of such devices as the thigh master and the shake weight.

Let's take a look, shall we? Wow. That's not just suggestive. Now, there's a language barrier of course. From what we can gather, this piece of exercise equipment finally addresses a very common problem.

That problem being when you desperately want to ride a horse in your living room, but when you try to mimic the motion without any equipment, you're very likely to fall down.

See, problem solve, finally a way to pelvic thrust your way to fitness without falling on the floor, which always happens to me. To think all we have in this country is the shake weight, which looks downright demure by comparison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to kick your butt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just shake it back and forth.

COOPER: Actually forget the whole by comparison, thanks. Still looks like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introducing the shake weight commercial DVD featuring the shake weight commercial three times on a loop, then some static, and then nothing else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This DVD's great. First of all, you can show your friends that it's an actual commercial.

COOPER: Sorry, but all I can think of anymore when I see the shake weight is that time I was playing a game on Andy Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anderson Cooper, show me how to use this shake weight and you get the point. He gets the point.

COOPER: I think I lost the game but I like to believe I won a small victory for dignity that day. The Olympics are going on and people want to get in shape. You do not have to join a gym or buy a horse as the case maybe. You have to get your hands on the finest piece of equipment to get your hands onto the scene.


KAYE: Well, you can see number seven tomorrow night. That does it for this edition of 360. We'll see you again an hour from now at 10 p.m. Eastern time. Thanks so much for watching. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.