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JOHN KING, USA

Risky Search Aboard Capsized Ship; Less Pessimism on Economy

Aired January 16, 2012 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you for joining us. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King is off.

Tonight, we're live in Italy as the search for survivors aboard a capsized cruise ship becomes more urgent and dangerous.

We will also take you inside the ultimate and deadly serious video game. See how captains are taught to handle ships the size of skyscrapers and avoid disasters like the one off the coast of Italy.

Also this hour, we're releasing new numbers from our brand-new poll. What voters think about the economy might be good news for the Obama campaign.

We begin in Italy, where late today search crews finally were able to go back inside a capsized cruise ship. They were looking for any sign of survivors who may be trapped alive. Just a short time ago, officials raised the number of missing to 29, including 25 passengers and four crew members.

Time is running out. The ship hit the rocks off the western Italian coast on Friday night, killing at least six people. When the captain and a number of crew members abandoned ship, thousands of passengers were left to fend for themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY LOFARO, SURVIVOR: We went up to the top deck to look over to the side and we were shocked to see that we were right next to land. And I think at this point is when we realized that we were in trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: CNN senior international correspondent Dan Rivers is in Italy for us tonight.

Hi, Dan.

First, if you could, give us the latest count of missing persons as you know it.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been reporting all day that the number of missing persons was 16.

Within the last hour or so, it's jumped to 29. Now, it's not quite clear why that is. But it's possible this relates possibly to a party of German passengers aboard. It had been suggested earlier on, and some German networks were reporting this that there was a large number of German passengers unaccounted for.

Now it seems they have done some sort of recalculation of the number of missing. Obviously, it's been pretty chaotic with 4,000-odd people on that ship. Now they have decided to put that death toll up to 29. So the search and rescue will continue, clearly, through the night until they can ascertain exactly who is missing, who has perished and who made it ashore.

YELLIN: Well, 29 is the missing total, not the death total. We should just be clear on that.

Investigators we understand, Dan, have recovered the so-called black box. I imagine that's similar to what's found in an airplane crash. Do we know anything about what they're learning from the black box or black boxes?

RIVERS: Well, they have indicated to us that they have got GPS plots of the exact position of the Costa Concordia. And, clearly, it shows it went way too close to the coast.

I mean, they're going to go back over obviously all of the data relating to what actions were taken by the captain and the crew after it hit that rock, but it now seems almost certain that they were way too close. They were in the wrong place. And, you know, the captain's defense in all this has been he thought that they were 300 meters away from the shore. It seems now that they were a lot closer than that.

He's been maintaining that there was a rock that they hit that wasn't on his charts. Well, all the locals here are saying this is a very well-mapped part of the coast. It's very popular with divers. There's no possible way, they say, that there could be a rock unknown to the admiralty charts here.

YELLIN: Let's just hope those rescue efforts do yield something positive. Dan, thank you so much. Dan Rivers reporting for us from Italy.

Just to give you a sense of how big the ship really is, it carried about twice as many people as the Titanic. Passengers say the chaotic scramble to abandon the ship was just like a scene out of the movie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIO LOFARO, SURVIVOR: At that the point, the boat was really leaning over quite a bit, and it was actually difficult to walk in the ship.

N. LOFARO: And things started to actually fly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Fly. So how could such a catastrophic accident happen in this day and age?

CNN's Tom Foreman is here now with a closer look.

Hey, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jessica.

You mentioned the Titanic a minute ago. If you put the Titanic alongside the Costa Concordia, it would be about this size. It was a much smaller vessel in many ways. This, of course, as you said, carried about twice as many passengers and much, much bigger.

And everything that went wrong with the Titanic has been considered ever since in the construction of ships like this. So how did this happen? Let's take a look at some of what happened in the actual event and look at the key questions.

First of all, how did it wind up over here striking this rock? This was the key question. Now, you have the captain saying that his instrumentation and everything told him that everything was fine. One of the questions people are asking is about the power outage that occurred as soon as it hit.

These really are floating cities. They're not supposed to lose power in that way, even after a collision. Some people have been asking the question, does that suggest there was an underlying electrical problem beforehand that was affecting the navigation equipment that somehow led to this?

Here comes the second question in all of this. Once the ship kept moving on, why did it start tilting so badly so quickly? Look at the pictures here. There was a tremendous amount of damage obviously to the ship itself, a huge gash in the side. But we also know that ships like this are made with a series of watertight compartments that are supposed to keep it afloat even with massive damage.

And just as importantly, these ships are designed to remain upright even when they have been damaged. That's key because if you want to lower boats to help people off, you have to remain upright. If you want to use it as your primary rescue vessel, which is what you're supposed to do, you have to remain upright.

Last question in all of this, why was the evacuation so late in being ordered and why was it handled so badly? Why did you have crew members who according to witnesses there gave contradictory information? Why did the people on board not have a clear sense that an evacuation had even been called for many people?

Some people say the only reason they knew, Jessica, is because they had been on cruises before and they recognized the signal on the ship's horns. Tremendous chaos as that evacuation got under way. Those are three key questions that investigators are asking right now, Jessica.

YELLIN: The stories about the evacuation are just so upsetting. And we will have more on that later in the show. Thank you, Tom. And we will get back to the disaster story on that cruise ship.

But for now, we will have brand-new poll numbers about the presidential race we want to get to with CNN's Gloria Borger.

At least two of President Obama's Republican opponents have caught up with him. There's also a new snapshot of how Americans feel about issue number one in this election, the economy.

As I said, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger here to take us through the numbers.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Jess.

YELLIN: I will let you lead us off. Which numbers did you find most interesting?

BORGER: Well, I think the most interesting number really is -- are these matchups between -- and, again, it's early, it's early, it's early, of course -- between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and Barack Obama and Ron Paul.

So you want to take a look at those?

YELLIN: Yes, let's go.

BORGER: Let's take a look. Mitt Romney in this matchup, 48 percent, you will see, to Obama 47 percent. So that shows this is going to be a very, very close race if indeed Mitt Romney is the nominee.

But here's the really interesting number, Jess. When you match up Ron Paul with Barack Obama, take a look at this, still a statistical dead heat here. You know, we have a three-point margin of error in this poll. So we have Ron Paul...

YELLIN: It's pretty amazing.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, it is amazing because what it seems to me is you have Ron Paul essentially in a Ross Perot position right now. If you go back to 1992, Ross Perot was not likely to become the nominee, did not become the nominee, ran as an independent.

But he really affected the issues terrain. And that was very, very important.

YELLIN: Or is it just people are so upset with the economy, anybody but President Obama right now?

BORGER: People are very, very upset with the economy and they're looking at Obama and saying, you know, it's not getting any better, except, Jessica, we also have a poll which shows that there may be a little bit less pessimism about the economy.

If you take a look at this, we have a poll which shows that people now rate the economy -- this is a different one. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, we will go past that one and talk about pessimism and the economy.

Good, 18 percent. Do we have that number?

YELLIN: There you go.

BORGER: There we go. Was 15 percent in November, somewhat poor, 42, was 34 percent. So people think it's somewhat poor. But if you look at the very poor number, a 13-point differential, Jessica.

YELLIN: And that's positive for the president because it shows that some people think that maybe he's making a little bit of progress in improving the economy.

BORGER: Of course. Exactly, and he possibly is leading us out of it.

But, again, without going to that other poll we showed, let me just say that people right now seem to trust Mitt Romney more to handle the economy than Barack Obama.

YELLIN: Which would be the fundamental question in this election.

BORGER: And that shows that his campaign theme of business experience and I can do it, I know how to get it done, might actually be taking hold.

YELLIN: If he's the candidate, we have a big fight ahead.

BORGER: We do.

YELLIN: OK, Gloria Borger, thanks so much.

BORGER: Close one, too.

YELLIN: Yes.

And coming up, this programming note. CNN's John King will moderate this Thursday's Southern Republican presidential debate. Join us Thursday night at 8:00 Eastern, just two days before the all- important South Carolina primary.

And in addition to politics tonight, we will try to answer your questions about cruise ship safety. A cruise industry leader joins us next.

And, later, a busy artist carves the presidential candidates in sand, but can't keep up with today's dramatic change in the race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) YELLIN: In Italy, the urgent search is back on for 29 missing, including two Americans still unaccounted for after the massive cruise ship began to sink.

A lot of questions now about why this happened and how safe are these giant cruise liners.

For some answers, Michael Crye, executive vice president of Cruise Line International Association, joins us.

Thank you, sir, for being with us. first of all.

MICHAEL CRYE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, CRUISE LINE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION: Thank you, Jessica.

YELLIN: I would like to begin by asking you about the evacuation. First, reports say it took up to an hour for evacuation, for crews to even announce to people they should abandon the ship. If that's true, is that acceptable?

CRYE: Well, I'm not sure we have all of the details yet.

These items are under full investigation by the Italian authorities. So I think it would be a little bit premature for me to speculate on what did or did not happen. I can tell you...

YELLIN: Then can we listen to what some of the passengers had to say?

CRYE: Sure.

YELLIN: Because they were there and they can tell us a little bit about what did happen. Can we play some of this now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

N. LOFARO: And in English, they said that everything's under control, that there had been an electrical failure and there was a problem with the generator. Everything's under control. And my husband and I looked at each other and said, they're full of it.

BRANDON WARRICK, SURVIVOR: It was just battling, mad scrambles to get on the lifeboats. Nobody followed any procedure. The crew was yelling for people to wait their turn. And pretty much it was just a giant every man for himself to get onto the lifeboats, the first ones, before they were even lowered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: So they were there. We know that they were firsthand witnesses to what happened.

Is it acceptable for them to be told everything's under control?

CRYE: Well, I think what we're talking about here is a situation that was rapidly evolving. The ship obviously went aground. The captain, I have been told, was immediately attempting to get the ship closer to shore. He did not know the extent of the damage, but it's obvious at this point that there was massive damage and massive amounts of water that was taken in.

And the ship lost some of its stability and began to list immediately. And when it did begin to list, the lifeboats on the lower side of the ship were able to be lowered, but those on the upper side of the ship weren't. So they actually had to move people from one side of the ship to the other in order to be able to accommodate them.

YELLIN: Isn't that precisely why they're supposed to do a rapid evacuation? And is it policy to do a rapid evacuation, as opposed to telling people, everything's OK?

CRYE: Well, the rules of the International Maritime Organization, the Safety of Life at Sea treaty, require that when you have begun your vacation, you have approximately 30 minutes to get the people off.

So 30 minutes is generally the standard to which ships are held.

YELLIN: May I ask you, this is not the first time this ship has been involved in an accident. On November 22, 2008, the Concordia collided with a pier in Sicily during a storm. There were other incidents.

Is it common for cruise ships to have accidents and the general public just don't know about it, and you board a ship that's been in many accidents before?

CRYE: Well, I can tell you that this industry has a remarkable safety record.

Between 2005 and to date, there's been over 100 million passengers carried on board cruise ships throughout the world. And during that time, we can only record about 16 deaths related to maritime accidents. So, yes, accidents do occur. Any time you're operating on ships in very complicated areas, there are accidents.

But this is a remarkable safety record, 16 deaths out of 100 million passengers. Every one of those...

YELLIN: Well, let's hope that that record doesn't double with this one, or worse.

(CROSSTALK)

CRYE: Oh, absolutely. This is an absolute tragedy that affected us all.

YELLIN: Yes.

CRYE: And it's one in which we as an industry will participate very strongly in the lessons learned and to determine if there needs to be corrective actions that are taken. And we will do that.

YELLIN: Thank you.

CRYE: Thank you.

YELLIN: All right, Michael Crye, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

CRYE: Thank you.

YELLIN: And next: a special delivery that took cutting through 300 miles of ice.

We will also show you what some creative cooks can do with 20 pounds of butter, 55 pounds of marshmallows and a gun made out of pure sugar.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Welcome back.

And you're looking now at brand-new video from the Italian Coast Guard of the Costa Concordia taken just hours after the accident there. This is infrared video showing survivors on the boat looking for rescue. The warm areas, the areas of darkness are the survivors waiting for rescue, apparently waiting for boats or a way to escape, and, again, appears to be taken in those hours after, immediately after the accident as the boat was beginning to sink and list.

We will show you more of this video and continue to bring you more details of this accident as we get them and throughout the show.

(NEWS BREAK)

YELLIN: And ahead: some firsthand accounts from the frightened passengers who had to get off that sinking cruise ship with virtually no help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARRICK: It was just battling, mad scrambles to get on the lifeboats. Nobody followed any procedure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: In this half-hour of JOHN KING, USA": Passengers recall the nightmare moment they realized their cruise ship was rolling over and the frantic scramble to get off alive.

Also, some parting shots from former candidate Jon Huntsman. Those shots aren't just aimed at his one-time opponents, but also at the man he just endorsed.

We also have the top excuses for being late to work. See how many you have tried.

But, first, tonight's top story: an unexplained increase in the number of people missing after the deadly cruise ship accident off the Italian coast.

CNN confirms a total of 29 people, four crew members and 25 passengers are unaccounted for after Friday's accident, six people already confirmed dead. Rescue efforts were suspended for part of today when the ship began to move in the shallow waters.

About 4,000 people were aboard the ship when it hit some rocks and capsized. The crew and many crew members abandoned the ship, leaving the passengers on their own.

CNN's Mary Snow spent the day reviewing stories of survival.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amateur video captured the scene aboard the Costa Concordia Friday night. Despite what passengers were being told, Brandon Warrick of Boston, on board with his two siblings, describes massive panic.

BRANDON WARRICK, PASSENGER: It was just battling mass (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Nobody followed any procedure. The crew was yelling for people to wait their turn, and pretty much there was just a giant every man for himself to get onto the lifeboats. The first ones before they were even lowered.

SNOW: And once aboard in pitch black darkness, there were terrifying moments.

NANCY LOFARO, PASSENGER: At one point we were being lowered and we went sliding off to one side. Everybody fell into one side of the lifeboat. And then we went slamming into the ship. This happened a few times over about 30 seconds. And then finally we were lowered to the water level.

From there, it took awhile, even though we were so close. The photographs and video show what proximity -- close proximity we were to shore. It took about 30 minutes for us to get to shore. The lifeboats were hitting into each other. It was just chaos.

SNOW: For some, lifeboats were not an option. With none left, Mark Plath of Little Rock, Arkansas, along with his wife and in laws, had to make a quick decision as they waited on the lower side of the ship.

MARK PLATH, PASSENGER: We were helping the staff more than they were helping us. They weren't in control. There were very few people that knew what was going on in our area. Only one person, and he was shouting don't jump. But the boat was turning so fast that if we wouldn't have, we would have died.

JUSTIN BAINES, PASSENGER: Hit the cold water. And our life jackets have a little light on them. And when you turn it on, when it gets wet, it starts to flash. So all I could see was a lot of flashing lights in the pitch black. And I know they were just swimming. There were some people that were really freaking out, grabbing hold of other people. And you know, everyone was just trying to keep everyone calm. Officially, there were about 150 people that jumped in the water. People finally swam and got onto the island.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Jessica, it's striking how calm they are in telling these stories. And the two men you just heard from from Little Rock, Arkansas, told CNN they estimate they swam about 300 feet before reaching shore.

YELLIN: Mary, they say no one -- no one came to their aid?

SNOW: They said they waited for about two hours, no one came to help them. They said someone from the town walked them then to a highway and cars then picked them up, taking people to different locations.

YELLIN: And what about the missing retired couple from Minnesota? Do we know anything more about them?

SNOW: The State Department has identified them as Gerald and Barbara Heil. They're from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. And our affiliate, WCCO, reports they have four children, 15 grandchildren. They're described as devout church-going people. And their daughter told the station that they were so excited to be going on this 16-day trip.

The U.S. Embassy says the Heils were two of 120 Americans who were aboard the cruise.

YELLIN: It's just heart breaking. OK. Mary Snow reporting for us. Thank you, Mary.

While investigators try to figure out what went wrong on the cruise ship Friday, we have a unique look at what should have gone right. CNN's Brian Todd and an instructor booked some time in a cruise ship simulator down in Florida. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, take a look at this. You've got a lifeboat being lowered into the water here. This is part of the simulations that they take people through here at the American Maritime Officer's Union Training Center here in Dania Beach, Florida. Their teaching shift captains, captains of cruise ships and other vessels here how to hone their skills in navigation, emergency situations, just about everything they would face on the high seas and going into port.

Part of the program here is what they call the 360s. It's an incredibly hi-tech simulator that captains and others are put through to try to kind of hone their skills in navigating along the coastlines of various places. They basically can re-create any port in the world, where they showed us the recreation of a New York City approach approaching Manhattan but also a place called Generica which had pretty much every scenario that you would face along a coastline in approaching a port. You had a rocky coastline. You had kind of a tight shipping channel. You had to go under a bridge. We did all that with Captain Larry Reimer.

One of the things that he said they train captains how to do is how to deal with stress in a situation where things aren't going very well. Maybe if there's an emergency that's occurred, maybe an accident. And here's what he had to say about the whole concept of stress and how it plays into these situations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY REIMER, AMERICAN MARITIME OFFICERS UNION: What happens with stress is you get what they call tunnel vision, and you lose the whole picture of what's going on, OK? The only way to deal with that, to take that stress off you to open up your awareness of what's going on is to take some of the stress off you and to give it to other members of the team.

TODD: Captain Reimer and other trainers here say, despite this particular accident and the perceptions that may be attached to it, that being on cruise ships and the entire industry, the entire realm of navigation is a very safe practice. They say hundreds of thousands of people are on board these ships on any given day. Accidents are extremely rare. And in the vast majority of these cases, the captain and crew on board are extremely well trained -- Jessica.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: All right, Brian, thank you for that report.

And now we're counting down to Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in South Carolina, which will be moderated by our own John King.

And then on Saturday is the all-important South Carolina primary and Mitt Romney supporters know they have only five days left and a lot of ground to make up if they plan to beat him. Rick Santorum is one of the Romney challengers who is arguing that Romney cannot win in November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're tired of you folks compromising. We're tired of compromise. We're tired of everybody going to Washington saying they're going do something and doing something else. We want people who are going to stand for their convictions. Want people that have the courage to go out and do what's right because it's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: CNN's Jim Acosta joins us from South Carolina. Hey, Jim, you've seen them. You've been following them for months now. But these candidates all see this as the stop Romney week, don't they?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jessica. I mean, you really got the chance. we were at this party convention that just wrapped up here in South Carolina a couple of hours ago. And you get the sense that this is sort of make or break week for the un-Romneys in this GOP presidential battle.

Newt Gingrich was here earlier today, telling the crowd that you know, this is our last chance. This is one more chance on Saturday to make sure we don't nominate a moderate to go up against Barack Obama.

Rick Santorum was sort of dismissing the whole electability argument that the Romney forces try to put out there, saying that Romney has only won 1 1/2 contests, referring back to the Iowa caucuses. And Santorum even said at this event today that he's still holding out hope when the final results come out of Iowa, that he will have, in fact, won the Iowa caucuses and so he can say, "Look, I won one and Mitt Romney won one."

And a couple of interesting story lines coming from the Santorum campaign today, Jessica. One is a very tough new ad that the Santorum campaign is about to release. It is called "Easy Answer." And it talks about Mitt Romney's passage of Romney care when he was governor of Massachusetts, the prototype many Republicans think, of for Obama care.

And another story line coming from the Santorum campaign is that they are basically saying at this point, you know, they are not going to back down. You know, earlier today, he told one crowd that he plans to go into Florida and hopes to emerge as sort of the final un- Romney when all of this wraps up, even compared it to a reality show sort of like "Survivor." He likes his chances if he's in a one-on-one battle with Mitt Romney at the very end of this.

YELLIN: A lot of folks have been wondering when the health care attacks would start, so I guess they're coming. You are -- as you said, spent the day with Tea Party convention. Any signs that conservatives are going to coalesce around one anti-Romney candidate like the evangelicals said they were this past weekend?

ACOSTA: It does not appear that way. They did not come out with any kind of an endorsement at this Tea Party convention. As a matter of fact, when Mitt Romney was jeered yesterday, there were boos for the people who were jeering Mitt Romney.

And so you know, I think that there is a growing sense here in South Carolina that the Tea Party is really going to be fractured among several different candidates. You saw Jim DeMint earlier today saying he's not going to make an endorsement before the South Carolina primary. He's staying neutral. That's a sign at this point, Jessica, that the Tea Party is conflicted and divided over an alternative to Mitt Romney -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Jim Acosta reporting for us. Thanks, Jim.

And another story moving today. Jon Huntsman bowed out of the race for the Republican nomination. As he did so, he took a parting shot at his fellow candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in our nation's history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Huntsman's plea for unity and an end to political attacks may be more of a case of "do as I say, not as I do." That's because just a few weeks ago, he was attacking Mitt Romney, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN: When you have a candidate who talks about enjoyment in firing people, who talks about pink slips, who makes comments that seem to be so detached from the problems that Americans are facing today, that makes you pretty much unelectable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: CNN's Peter Hamby is in South Carolina for us. Peter broke the story yesterday.

So Peter, why, first of all, was Romney there when Huntsman dropped out and endorsed him?

PETER HAMBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite frankly, there's not a lot of love lost between the Huntsman and Romney campaigns. Their staffs do not like each other one bit.

And you know, what frankly does the Romney campaign get out of this? They might get a few votes around the margins. But Huntsman never really caught on here in South Carolina. So there's not really any end game from appearing with him down here, Jessica.

And also, you know, the Romney staff has also been very quiet about this. Everything that's emerged about why Huntsman dropped out and why he decided to endorse Romney has sort of trickled out from the Huntsman side, not the Romney side, almost as if they don't want to really give this guy credit for even running a campaign.

The Romney campaign put out a very brief, brief statement today, thanking Huntsman for his service and his campaign. But it's not typically the kind of statement you see when a candidate, you know, gets an endorsement from the another candidate when they drop out of the race. It was pretty striking today, Jessica.

YELLIN: It was a surprising move all around, including the endorsement. Peter, thanks you for the report and for breaking the story for us. Peter Hamby from South Carolina.

In a moment, we'll explore what certainly looks like a split between the Republican establishment and the party's social conservatives. Among those joining us, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

Later, if you've ever set up an online account at Zappo's shoe store, you need to change your password.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: A lot to discuss with our political panel tonight. Jon Huntsman's exit from the Republican race and what looks like a growing split between the Republican establishment and evangelicals.

Here to talk about it all in Baton Rouge, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. And here in D.C., Republican strategist Terry Holt and Democratic strategist Penny Lee.

Thanks to all of you for being here with me.

And first, as Peter Hamby and I just talked about, there is no love lost between Romney and Huntsman. So Terry -- Terry, why endorse Mitt Romney on the same day that he drops out? Why do you think Huntsman did this?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it would be the first question people would ask if he's going to drop out: who are you for? And I think the smartest thing for Mr. Huntsman is to endorse Mitt Romney. He has a similar profile. And he's the guy who's got the commanding lead in the race up to this point.

It is a bit of an afterthought. I think Romney's reaction to it was pretty predictable. This is a race -- this is a campaign that barely was a blip on the radar screen. So it's acknowledge it and move onto the real contest of South Carolina on Saturday.

YELLIN: Tony, let me ask this -- you, what's the impact on the race? On the one hand, Jon Huntsman was polling in single digits in South Carolina. So it would seem it would have almost no effect.

On the other hand, this seems to add to the perception that he's clearing a path for Mitt Romney to become the inevitable nominee, something I assume you clearly aren't gunning for.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, I mean, from a practical standpoint, I don't think it has a big impact on the race. Although I think it's interesting the timing to do that before the vote in South Carolina.

You know, it's possible it could open the door for other Republicans, maybe one of the social conservative candidates that might step out and say you know what? We need to consolidate that social conservative vote, because when you add it all up, there's actually more going to the truly conservative candidates than there are to Mitt Romney. So, you know, it could open that door.

YELLIN: There's -- let me play a part of what Jon Huntsman said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUNTSMAN: This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks, not worthy of the American people. And not worthy of this critical time in our nation's history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: This is also the message of establishment Republicans now, essentially, let's wrap up this race before any more harm is done to Mitt Romney. I mean, you've heard that from a number of people.

So Penny, I wonder are you, as a Democrat, worried that Republicans are uniting earlier than expected around Mitt Romney?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it was interesting. You know, it wasn't so much the story that Huntsman is leaving as who is left. And the two that are left standing, I think, in the strongest standing point is Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

And what are those two individuals going to do in South Carolina? They are going to continue to pull Mitt Romney further right. And that can only be to the advantage going into a general election. It will continue to bring up those Mitt versus Mitt as he's continuing to have to appeal to the conservative voters, because they are still left in this election. You know, what does that do to his own narrative?

So I think there's still a lot of time left. And it's very interesting to see where he's going to shift or where he's going to have to shift to make this greater appeal to actually wrap up the nomination.

YELLIN: Tony, do you see Mitt Romney moving further to the right?

PERKINS: I think he's going to have to if he's going to get the social conservative vote. Again, if you add up all the vote that Newt Gingrich has, that Santorum and Rick Perry have, it exceeds what -- what Mitt Romney has. So I think, if he is -- hopes to capture the nomination, if he gets that, and then to win the general election, he's got the same challenge that John McCain had.

YELLIN: On what issue?

PERKINS: It's not -- well, it's so much the issue. There's a -- there's a trust factor here in that four years ago, he ran very strong on a number of social issues. He worked very aggressively in the social conservative community. That trust cannot be gained overnight. He didn't feel like he was making enough progress, obviously, and he pretty much dropped it this time around.

And so it's given kind of credence to his critics who, you know, are saying, "Hey, it was a flip. He might flop back the other way."

So I think he's going to -- part of it is going to be who he surrounds himself. Maybe it's the VP pick. You know, I don't know, but he is going to have to move more and make social conservatives comfortable with it. But they're not ready to give up yet. YELLIN: Let me ask you -- let me ask you about your meeting over the weekend and then we can move on to -- but there was some controversy surrounding the evangelical meeting this past weekend that endorsed Rick Santorum.

A statement came out from Newt Gingrich supporters afterwards who attended the meeting with you, saying in effect, there was no consensus on a candidate and that the people who came out, some of them supported Newt Gingrich, in fact. So, what do you say to the charges -- yes, go ahead.

PERKINS: Really, the only thing that was at disagreement was the use of the term "consensus," and it was not a 100 percent agreement. There was a 75 percent majority there that, after three rounds of balloting, gave Rick Santorum their preference. It was not a group endorsement. It was simply their statement of preference to see support for Rick Santorum.

And now we see today and tomorrow and the rest of the week, you're going to see endorsements flowing from -- individual endorsements flowing from that meeting, so it was really only over the term. Rick Santorum won that -- the support there of the conservative leaders.

YELLIN: Terry, question to you. Newt Gingrich has now said that he is going to release his taxes. New assault in this battle because Mitt Romney is not releasing his taxes. Do you see this as a dangerous new front?

HOLT: No. I think Mitt Romney's going to probably take South Carolina, and the drama will be in whether Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum comes in second, because really, there's only one other ticket left out there to grab for the next prize.

The other thing is after South Carolina, this race gets extremely expensive for folks that don't have a lot of money on hand, and that again is one of Mitt Romney's great assets. He has a bank account. He's got a lot of cash on hand.

You know, look, the social conservative movement does need to have the attention paid to it that it deserves. People of faith are united by their faith in God, not by politics. It's perfectly fine that there's a big debate going on about who would best represent the Republican Party.

But I'll tell you this, Jessica. There's going to be one unifying thing about this next election, and it's going to be opposition to Barack Obama. I think that whoever the nominee is will be able to unify all of these different parts of the party so that in November, we have a unified party, and we can give it our best shot at unseating this unpopular president.

YELLIN: Penny, can I give you the last word? Do you see divisions on the other side that are making you pleased now?

LEE: The more in-fighting that they can have, the better it is for us to sit back and let the president deliver what he wants to for the American public in a free and open way and not having the infighting. In fighting always hurts and causes damages. Unexpected sometimes, so you don't know exactly where the damage will play itself out, but this president is going to be running strong and consistently, and he has a very loud microphone to work from.

YELLIN: That's true. He just has to deal with the economy.

All right. Healthy discussion. Thanks to all of you for joining us tonight. A discussion that's going to continue until November.

Ahead, more on tonight's top story. New video showing infrared footage, showing survivors clinging to the ship that capsized as it sink in Italy.

And next, a guilty pleasure. Our favorite moments from the Golden Globes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Let's get a closer look now at new video just in to CNN. This was shot by the Italian coast guard in the hours after that cruise ship capsized over the weekend. Tom Foreman is here now to talk more about it.

Tom, tell us what you think we can learn from this video.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what's important about this video, you see the people still on board there. This is important visual evidence that will back up what they get from the black box of the ship, which tells us importantly, how much this ship had listed or tilted in that period of time.

Because a lot of people out there in the maritime industry are saying it is astonishing how quickly this ship started leaning over and how far it leaned over, because these are designed to not do that even in a catastrophic accident.

So this is the first visual evidence of what it really looked like at that moment.

YELLIN: We don't know when this was taken, so we have to find out.

FOREMAN: We know there are people still on board. That matters. So they'll be able to measure the angle of incidence from the boat to the water, match it up with the black box, and it will be further evidence of where they stood at this point. Doesn't tell us why it happened, but it does tell us the impact.

YELLIN: Thank you, Tom. All right.

And Kate Bolduan is now here with the latest news we need to know right now.

Hi, Kate. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Jess.

Good evening, everyone.

Catching you up on the rest of the news today, on this Martin Luther King holiday, President Obama and members of the first family volunteered at a Washington school. The president also helped paint a bookcase.

And the online shoe store Zappo's says everyone needs to create a new password. Hackers gained access to 24 million customers' names, e-mail addresses, actual real addresses, and partial credit card numbers. The company says passwords got out, too, but they were encoded.

And if you're late to work once in a while, you have plenty of company, it seems. A survey for CareerBuilder shows 27 percent of U.S. workers are late at least once a month. Sixteen percent are late at least once a week. The most common excuses, traffic, not enough sleep, bad weather, and getting kids to school or daycare. Among the most -- more creative excuses that we came across, cat had hiccups, the car keys were stolen by a fox, and someone thought they had won the lottery, but unfortunately had not -- Jessica.

YELLIN: OK, those are ridiculous.

BOLDUAN: I know where that person lived that their keys were stolen by a fox.

YELLIN: OK, finally, tonight's "Moments You Missed," and my favorite moments from the Golden Globe awards, like when Ricky Gervais asked Johnny Depp if he was on recreational drugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICKY GERVAIS, ACTOR: Be honest. Are you on recreational drugs? I'm joking. No, it's not a question. You know the answer. Have you -- ready?

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: I guess so.

GERVAIS: Have you seen "The Tourist" yet? Have you?

DEPP: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Yes, I don't think that one was scripted. I think he just came up with that. But that's Ricky Gervais for you. He always goes off script at the Golden Globes.

BOLDUAN: The live unscripted moments, not the actual script. I mean, come on now.

YELLIN: Johnny Depp hadn't seen his own movie, "The Tourist." I love it. BOLDUAN: I've seen it.

YELLIN: Actually...

BOLDUAN: I kind of liked it.

YELLIN: I know. That's it from us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.