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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Captain of Sunk Italian Cruise Ship on Trial; GOP Presidential Contenders Debate in South Carolina; Wall Street's Reaction to E.U. Downgrade; Mississippi Governor's Trusty Program in Jeopardy; "It Is Only A Technical Failure"; Cruise Ship Captain Goes Before Judge; Unrest In Syria; It's Back To Work For Washington; Interview With Jim DeMint; Interview with Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Marsha Blackburn; Congress Works on Payroll Tax Cuts, Unemployment Benefits; GOP Candidates Make Pitch in S.C.; Child Refused Life-Saving Transplant

Aired January 17, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Good morning.

Our STARTING POINT this morning are these words. It is only a technical failure. Those are the words from the captain of the capsized Italian cruise liner who was speaking to the port authority just moments after abandoning ship. That captain is appearing before a judge right now.

Also this morning, Mitt Romney is under fire. His Republican rivals demanding that he release his tax returns. What the GOP frontrunner says he's going to do that maybe, possibly in April?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: April. April.

O'BRIEN: It could happen.

Also, the most unproductive Congress in history and apparently the most unloved, getting back to work. A new CNN poll rating the job that they're doing and the numbers are very, very low.

First order of business for the House is passing a payroll tax cut extension by next month. If they fail, maybe everybody will fail on that.

Well, as on Wall Street this morning as well, it is the first session since Standard & Poor's downgrade of nine European nations. That also puts our 401(k)s on the line. We'll talk about what could happen to us this morning.

And a mother claims that a prominent children's hospital is refusing her daughter a life-saving kidney transplant because the little girl who is 3 years old is developmentally disabled. The doctors called her mentally retarded.

Those stories and much more ahead this morning as STARTING POINT gets underway right now.

Welcome, everybody. We're happy to have you was this morning as we get underway. We're talking about these new developments in this cruise ship disaster. It happened obviously in Italy. We've got some new video from the Italian Navy that shows rescuers blasting a hole along the side of the ship.

I want you to watch the left side of your screen. We have to drop that graphic there because all the people. See the flashes that go. They're trying to blow a hole in the hull so rescuers can start getting in there is going to make the search and rescue team have better access and also make it easier for them to get out.

They're still looking for 29 people who remain unaccounted for. The death toll right now is standing at six. There are also some stunning new images coming in from under the water today. I want to share that with you. Rescuers -- look at these pictures -- have to swim through debris in the hull ways.

The first black box, we're told, it has been picked up already and it was apparently providing minute by minute details of how this disaster unfolded. The Italian Coast Guard says they now located the second black box and divers are trying to retrieve that black box as well.

And this morning we're seeing the transcripts of the recorded conversation between the port authority and the captain of the ship for the first time. It comes to us from an Italian newspaper, and the port authority says this. How many people are on board? The captain, whose last name is Schettino, says, 200, 300. Keep in mind there are 4,200 people on that cruise ship. The port authority says, how come so few people? Are you on board? Schettino says, no, I'm not on board because the ship is keeling. We've abandoned it. The port authority says, what, you've abandoned the ship? Schettino says, no, what, abandoned? I'm here.

The port authority says, you must return on board, climb the ladder, the rope ladder, return to the fore, the stem, and coordinate the work. And Schettino says nothing. The port authority say you must tell us how many people are on board, how many women, how many children, you have to coordinate the rescue operation. Commander, this is an order. Now I'm in charge. You have abandoned ship and now you are going to go to the stem and coordinate the work. There are already dead bodies.

At this point the captain jumps in and says, how many? The port authority says you should be the one telling me. What do you want to do? Do you want to go home? Now, go back on the stem and tell me what you want to do. And it ends, we have seen, with Schettino saying, OK, I'm doing it.

According to newspaper reports, though, the captain never went back to the ship. Absolutely --

(CROSSTALK)

SEEMA IYER, FORMER PROSECUTOR AND CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What he's done by saying the word "abandonment," that is an admission. O'BRIEN: He seems to retract it, and I should say Seema Iyer is our former prosecutor, so she goes right in on the jugular on the criminal gas. And we've got Will Cain joining us to talk politics, and Dwayne Moore is a political science assistant professor at Columbia University. It's nice to have you joining us. So let's talk the criminal case. He says abandon and then seems to back away from the abandon.

IYER: Soledad, he does it so quickly that to I peach him on his statement would be so easy for any prosecutor. You know Italy is a pretty tough system. We've seen that with Amanda Knox. And here this case is very analogous, I think, to the Dr. Conrad Murray case, because you're looking at what the standard of care was in that job. And by breaking it they're going to be able to say that he's reckless. And manslaughter is one --

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I'm shocked at this. I'm willing to grand good will, cloak it in competence. You jumped off the ship because you wanted to do something to help. I'm going to assume these things. I did assume these things. His answer, was no, I didn't do anything to go help. This ship is turning sideways. It's going under, I'm getting off. What are you talking about? That was his response.

O'BRIEN: In court today he's facing manslaughter charges. He's facing charges of shipwreck, and facing charges of abandoning the ship, which is at least 15 years total apparently.

IYER: That's right.

MOORE: The other issue here is that most of the staff on the ship were not trained adequately to help the passengers get to safety. How liable are they?

IYER: I will tell you.

O'BRIEN: Madame Prosecutor?

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: That goes also to that standard of care. As captain, you are part of your job, part of your duty is to train your people. And by breach that standard of care, again, it could go to the reckless but also the civil suit. It is a huge factor in the civil suit.

O'BRIEN: There's no question about that. Let's get to CNN's Barbie Nadeau. She has been in the courtroom where the captain is being questioned by a judge. She joins us by phone for an update. Barbie, where does this stand right now? Has the captain said anything officially in front of the judge?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Right now the court is closed to the public, but we've got reports coming out. It just adjourned for the morning. Whether it's for the lunch break or the day we haven't heard yet. The prosecutor will come out and say a few things and the lawyer for Schettino is expected to come out and also speak.

We do know that from reports and from people inside the court who are affiliated with the court who have been communicating with reporters out here that he did answer all the questions that were asked of him. He reserved his right, would be the guidance of his legal counsel, to not answer all of the questions.

But basically today we're not going to get much more than whether or not he has to stay in jail. He's been in custody since Saturday and his lawyer right now is trying to get him out of jail for the investigative period. He can be held for one year without being charged by Italian law. And he's facing charges for, as you said, manslaughter, abandonment of ship, and shipwreck, causing the wreck. We will know within the next, say, 20 to 30 minutes exactly what happened inside that courtroom and whether or not he has to stay in jail.

O'BRIEN: Barbie, thanks for that update. We'll be watching that obviously.

We've been talking to Captain Jim Staples over the last couple of days now. He's been a captain for 20 years. Also joining him is Gabe Saglie, senior editor of the online travel deal hub "Travel Zoo." Captain Jim, nice to have you back. There's so much to talk about here. First, if the black box. There is a recording. It's unclear if it comes from the black box which would indicate the captain is on the ship or the port authority's recording, which would indicate that maybe the captain was not on the ship. Would the port authority be recording this transcript as well?

CAPTAIN JIM STAPLES, CAPTAIN FOR 20 YEARS: Possibly on the VHF radio, whatever types of communication they were using, they could have been recording that. But on board the vessel there is what they call a VDR which will have all the communications that was being transmitted by the vessel at that time.

O'BRIEN: When you hear me read this transcript, I mean, we think it is stunning. As a captain yourself, what was your take on it?

STAPLES: Complete dereliction of duty. It was his responsibility to be on that boat until the last surviving person was on that vessel. He should have been there the whole time. There was no reason for that captain to abandon that ship and leave the passengers to fend for themselves.

O'BRIEN: And fill us in on these two black boxes. What do you get off the first black box and what do you get out of retrieving the second black box, which I guess they now have identified but are in the process of pulling out of this ship?

STAPLES: Well, one of the black boxes will contain a lot of the bridge equipment technical stuff that was being done, and the other one may have what was being done in the engine room. Most merchant ships only carry one black box which is in the bridge area that takes care of all the communications that's being said over the radios. Again, with the helm orders are being done, engine orders, technical things like the GPS position for the vessel will be used in an investigation.

O'BRIEN: Gabe, let me ask you a question about the impact to the cruise industry. This is literally of Titanic portions. I think this ship is twice the actual size of the Titanic. What is the impact you see and predict?

GABE SAGLIE, SENIOR EDITOR, TRAVEL ZOO: I think the cruise industry is on the alert now. Talking points are being disseminated among a lot of cruise agencies. The hard core cruiser probably will be unfazed by this. It's an anomaly, as devastating as it is. I think the avid cruiser is still going to go ahead and make their cruising plans. But perhaps the new cruiser that is going to set sail in 2012, those are the folks that I think are going to need a little bit of coaxing. The cruising industry is prepared for a softening of demand here in the immediate term. And you could expect pretty dramatic marketing opportunities here in the next several months as a way to attract these occasional and brand new cruisers.

O'BRIEN: Maybe all the marketing in the world won't save some of these people who have seen these horrific pictures. Thank you for joining us.

We're going to turn to our other top story this morning, which is that GOP debate in South Carolina last night. Mitt Romney's corporate record was a big issue with his rivals. Governor Perry demanding to see Romney's tax returns, says Americans should know how he made his money. And Gingrich and Perry pressing Romney hard. Here's what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a pattern in some companies, a handful of them, of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or think have been them go broke. That is something he ought to answer.

RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I visited Georgetown, South Carolina. Mitt, it was one of those town where's there was a steel mill that Bain swept in, they picked that company over and there were a lot of people who lost jobs there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Joining us from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is Senator Jim DeMint. He has a new book which we talked about last week which is called "Now or Never -- Saving America from Economic Collapse." It's nice to have you back, sir. I know we will be talking as we head to South Carolina in the next couple of days. Was there a winner in tonight's debate? Who do you think did the best job?

SEN. JIM DEMINT, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Soledad, it's good to be back with you. It's good to see CNN all over the state of South Carolina. We're looking forward to having you here.

It was a feisty debate. Frankly when you give the candidates more time to talk, it made it a little harder to decide which one was doing well. But they threw a lot of punches, but I felt good about the whole field after I heard them talk. Even though they were attacking each other a little bit towards the end, I think they were doing a lot better about expressing their vision for our country. It's hard to tell a winner, but I think they all won in a lot of ways because we could see more depth in each of them.

O'BRIEN: That's such a politically down the middle of the road answer. Everybody was a winner last night, because many people said it was Mitt Romney who was a winner. But I get it. You're not endorsing anybody. The last time we talked you said you had no plans to endorse anybody.

You have been annoyed, I think is a fair word, about the focus on Bain Capital from the opponents of mitt Romney. So I want to play a little bit of what Newt Gingrich said last night in the debate about Bain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I don't think raising questions is a prerogative of only Barack Obama, and I don't think Republicans should allow themselves to be intimidates because every time you raise a question someone yells you're doing something the Democrats do. I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Do you think that's a fair response? That, in fact, all the focus on Bain which you have to expect is going to come from the Democrats as they head into the general election are fair questions?

DEMINT: Well, it's fair to ask questions and I think there is a good chance for Republicans to explain how free enterprise works how it makes America so prosperous. If we can't defend free enterprise, we don't belong in the White House. I'm looking forward to it. I think if you look what the government does when it tries to run the economy. You can look at Solyndra.

But if you look at the overall record of companies line like Bain, you see that the net outcome is job creation, long-term success of a lot of companies. But I was a consultant for a lot of business for years myself. I know that well over half of new companies fail. It's part of the creative destruction process. But the net result is the most prosperous nation in the world.

So we don't need to go towards Europe just because you're trying to make someone look bad. But I think it's a good debate. I don't mind the questions and I just hope Romney and a lot of Republicans know how to answer it.

O'BRIEN: Senator DeMint, I'm going to ask you to stand by for a moment, because I want to turn to our panel one second. Another awkward moment in this debate was the question about the tax reforms. It was this -- which I thought was interesting, because you think that Mitt Romney by now would have sort of tested that question and worked out whatever the office answer was going to be. It was a very tap- dancey quite answer. He says eventually maybe April.

CAIN: I heard you say a moment ago that many people are saying that Mitt Romney won the debate last night. If that's true it's only because he didn't fall on his face or vomit on his podium. He did not do well. This was his worst debate. It's clear. That being said, because he didn't do those two things I just mentioned --

O'BRIEN: Because he's such a front-runner.

CAIN: -- he might have still won the debate.

Mitt Romney, what we see now is very good when he's prepared. He's prepared to talk about Bain.

O'BRIEN: How can you not be prepared to talk about the taxes?

CAIN: When he's not prepared, it doesn't come off well. Was it for some reason, he wasn't prepared to talk about his taxes. This one is understandable, he wasn't prepared to talk about the voting rights of felons that Rick Santorum boxed him into and won a big debate point on last night.

O'BRIEN: The audience was very interesting. Lots of cheering on that.

Before we lose Senator DeMint I want to throw another question at him. Senator, there is a woman named Karen Martin who runs the Tea Party in -- where is she? She's -- I can't remember. Spartanburg. And she said this -- "I don't know a single Tea Party person who does not despise Mitt Romney to the very core of their being." How big of a challenge is this going to be in terms of a split? Because when you look at the polls he does well or better than others on the Tea Party, but you the have these really strong emotions from Tea Partiers who feel like they will never ever support him. Is this a problem?

DEMINT: I don't think it's true. I think you've got -- no one can speak tort tea party. It's thousands of groups all over the country of citizens who are active, worried about our debt, our spending. And I see in South Carolina members of Tea Party supporting all of our candidates. So I don't think that's true at all.

I think whoever the nominee is for the Republican Party is going to get the support of active citizens all over the country because we're afraid of where this administration is taking us. Republicans will be united, I think united along with libertarians, a lot of independents. Those people who are concerned about our debt and our spending are going to vote Republican later this fall.

O'BRIEN: All right. Senator Jim Demint joining us. Thanks, sir. Appreciate your time.

Time to check in with Christine Romans. She's got a look at some of the other stories that are making news this morning. Hey, Christine. Good morning to you again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, it's kind of like the first day of school today. Members of the House returning to work this morning from their winter recess. This is a live picture of the Capitol. At the top of the agenda for lawmakers will be funding a payroll tax cut. They face a February 29th - there it is - they face a February 29th deadline to extend the tax break for millions of Americans. The Senate will be back in session next week.

The FBI asking farmers and ranchers in Montana and North Dakota for their help in searching for the body of schoolteacher Sherry Arnold. Arnold disappeared more than a week ago while jogging near her Montana home. Two men in custody in connection with the case are charged with aggravated kidnapping.

Jordan's King Abdullah is in Washington today meeting with President Obama. Both leaders looking to advance peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. King Abdullah has taken a more active role in the Mid-East peace process.

And what goes up can go up even higher. Gas prices have been steadily rising and some analysts say gas in parts of the country could hit $5 a gallon by summer, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. That sounds very depressing for our summer look ahead. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning, Europe gets hit with a downgrade, so how will U.S. markets react? We're going to talk with our panelists about that straight ahead.

Plus, Republican presidential candidates make their case to Tea Partiers in South Carolina. We'll be talking to leaders to find out if this influential voting bloc has a favorite yet.

And winter weather in the northeaster, storms from the south are affecting travel plans this morning. We're going to check in with Meteorologist Rob Marciano who's watching it all for us.

That's straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Money talks and we're listening. So what will U.S. markets say when they open in just about two hours from now?

Standard & Poor's have downgraded nine eurozone countries on Friday. Many people knew that was coming as that region struggles to get a better grip on its debt crisis. So the question is what effects are we going to see from Europe's debt crisis right here in the United States?

We've added the people who know the answer to that question to our panel, Christine Romans and Ali Velshi. They wrote the book, "How to Speak Money." They also have our panelists, Will Cain and Dorian Warren is back with us as well. So the markets will open because they've been closed for the holiday.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

O'BRIEN: What are the concerns going into this opening day?

VELSHI: Well, the market reaction will be virtually nothing only because we sort of had this rumor on Friday. So anybody who felt like they wanted to trade on it did. We have had European and Asian markets open yesterday. Not much of a reaction there.

We knew this was happening, right? It's like the U.S. downgrade. It was what you call priced in and not surprising. The bigger issue is the question you asked, is this going to continue to have a larger effect on the world's economy. Can Europe which is probably in a recession if not going into one, drag the rest of the world down. As you know, things are getting a little better in America so we don't need that problem.

O'BRIEN: Can they - can they kill that getting better?

ROMANS: Absolutely they can, but we are watching the credit markets in Europe and actually the big bond markets that really matter like Italy's, they had a couple of big bond options, they did OK. I mean investors still kind of want to invest in some of its debt (ph). And they're not paying as high a price to borrow money to governments.

So that's a sign that at least a little bit of that is easing. The European Central Bank has stepped in to say, look, we're not going to have a credit crisis like Lehman Brothers here. That appears to be working.

But bottom line is when you look at manufacturing and export data out of the E.U. and out of China and elsewhere, you can see that the slow growth or the no growth in Europe is closing down factory orders. And that's really important because it's the biggest destination for our goods. If Europe can't get its act together, that means American factory workers will be idle.

WARREN: And that means that American growth this year was going to be much smaller than anticipated. So instead of 2.5 percent, it might be two percent or 1.5 percent. And that's going to have an affect I think by November on the election.

VELSHI: Sure.

ROMANS: One percent feels like nothing.

CAIN: Can I ask one question? Christine, you said there's been a big bond sales since this downgrade the other day. We know that in 2008 these bond companies prior to that were rating sub-prime mortgages AAA. We know that six months ago they downgraded U.S. debt to AA. And we've had - we've had interest rates drop. Bond sales are fine. Does it matter what the bonds rating says anymore? Have they lost all credibility? VELSHI: For big bond buyers, the biggest investors, they don't wait for this. They don't wait for the rating agencies, right.

O'BRIEN: They knew Italy is shaky. France is shaky. Spain is shaky.

VELSHI: (INAUDIBLE) knows that. Here's the problem. There are a lot of mutual - a lot of pension funds, for instance, that have rules that say you cannot be invested in a country that is not rated AAA. So the minute France -

ROMANS: They have to have a - right, they have to have rules otherwise they could be investing in anything with the public's money.

VELSHI: Now that - now that France gets downgraded, they've got to sell those bonds, they've got to buy something else. So there are material effects to it, but, no, it's not like anybody was waiting for this to find out that Europe is in trouble.

ROMANS: I'm more interested in what the bond markets do there. And U.S. stock markets today, I mean, futures are higher. I mean we're at six-month highs in stocks. If we were worried about Europe burning down to the ground, why are stocks in the U.S. is at six-month high?

What we're really focusing on here is if Europe can just hold the line and the U.S. can slowly grow this year.

O'BRIEN: That's an if and another if.

ROMANS: And both big ifs that's why stocks is where they are today.

O'BRIEN: We'll be watching that. All right. Thank you. Appreciate it, Christine and Ali.

Still ahead this morning, (INAUDIBLE) outraged over the pardons of these convicted killers could spell an end for Mississippi's long- standing Governor Trusty Program which essentially was a funnel from the trusteeship to being pardoned. We'll take a closer look at that straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Time to "Get Real" this morning.

And we are learning that someone is getting real in a little bit on that state's trusty and pardon program and that would be the new governor of Mississippi. You might remember that the outgoing Governor Haley Barbour pardoned nearly 200 people including at least four convicted killers. It's put a very harsh spotlight on that longstanding program where prisoners knew that if they did a good job while working as trustees at the Governor's Mansion, they would eventually be pardoned. So here we've been asking some questions about that program. We were trying to figure out exactly when it started, exactly how many prisoners are involved in the program, exactly how many of those prisoners would eventually go on to win pardons.

And so far officials have been able to answer questions - those specific questions, but we do know this. The new governor is weighing in on the Trusty Program and the giving of pardons. Governor Phil Bryant says he has done away with program. He has no intention of granting pardons to anyone. He also says he plans to sign legislation which is now working its way through the state to ban the program forever. While some people talk about it being a legacy he says he's done with it. And that is a governor "Getting Real."

Our prosecutor's stunned, not stunned?

IYER: Oh, no. I'm just -

O'BRIEN: Well, I've never ever seen you without a word. Someone mark this moment.

IYER: Somehow I think she's going to yell at me if I say the wrong thing -

O'BRIEN: No, I like to peer into your heart (ph).

IYER: -- every morning.

So this is the situation and I think we're finally getting to the real issue is that the new governor has a problem with the law. So he's doing something to change it. So last week all this controversy surrounding what Haley Barbour did, everybody's problem is with the law. You have to put aside what Barbour did.

Now, he has his reasons or he doesn't have his reasons but that's not part of the law. It's a pardon. You get to do it. And now the new governor is really being proactive about it at this point.

O'BRIEN: Interesting to watch what he does and if he's able to get that legislation through. I can't imagine that there's so much support because people were furious about that.

IYER: And I think that 30-day dissemination rule was a good idea and it was somewhat strict and I know that last week there was some talk about it being so novel. And it's not really.

You know, sex offenders - with sex offenders, before they're released into the community, there's the same kind of dissemination requirement. It may be obviously a different - it's a different type.

O'BRIEN: Right. And that's not unusual for other things as well. All right.

We've got to take a short break. We come back in just a moment.

Members of the House go back to work today. We're going to talk to two of them, Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver and Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn. We're going to talk about those poll numbers which do not reflect well upon those members of Congress, all of them. It's the lowest approval rating ever. We'll ask them what they're planning to do about it.

And then talk about a whiteout, 332 inches of snow on the ground in one U.S. city. Wow. That's a lot. That's straight ahead.

Stay with us. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're getting our first insight this morning into what exactly happened after the captain of that Italian cruise ship steered right into the rocky coast of an Italian island.

We have some transcripts between the captain and the Port Authority that had been printed as transcripts in the Italian newspaper. Here's how it goes. First, the Port Authority says this, Concordia, we ask you if all is well there. Concordia says, all is well. It's only a technical failure.

But then it goes on a few hours later. The Port Authority asks, how many people are on board? And the captain, Schettino, says, 200, 300. Bear in mind that at that point there were 4,200 people on that ship. He had no clue and he wasn't even close.

Then, the Port Authority asks, how come so few people? Are you on board? And Schettino says, no, I'm not on board because the ship is keeling. We've abandoned it.

At which point, the Port Authority says, what, you've abandoned the ship? Schettino says, no, what abandon? I'm here. The Port Authority goes on to say, you must return on board. Climb the ladder. There's a rope ladder to get back on the ship.

Return to the fore, which is the stem, and coordinate the work and Schettino does not reply to that demand. The Port Authority then says, you must tell us how many people are on board. How many women? How many children?

You have to coordinate the rescue operations, Commander, this is an order. Now I'm in charge. You have abandoned ship and now you are going to the stem and coordinate the work. There are already dead bodies, which seems to, that information, surprise the captain.

Who says, how many? The Port Authority says, you should be the one telling me this. What do you think to do? Do you want to go home? Now, get back on the stem and tell me what you want to do.

At which point, the Captain Schettino says, OK, I'm doing it. And newspaper reports that the captain never appears to have gone back to the ship. And it does seem, from many eyewitness reports that the captain at this point was off the ship, in fact.

He was doing press conferences. He was, you know, did an interview with Italian media from certainly dry land and there were still people on the hull of that ship so pretty shocking developments this morning, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do we know -- I'm just throwing this out there. Do we know whether the captain was under the influence of any alcohol or --

O'BRIEN: The prosecutor has answered that case so far. I read a report where he said that he did not drink. That he was not drinking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did they do any toxicology --

O'BRIEN: The now the captain is facing a judge and we're certainly learning some details about what's happening. Dan Rivers is live for us in Italy with an update on some of those many questions. What do we know, Dan?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, the latest here, Soledad, is that they have continued to try and blast their way into the ship behind me. A fifth explosion was heard echoing across the bay here about an hour ago.

This is the Italian Mavy using explosives to try and open up parts of the ship that have been inaccessible so far. We've heard from them about the very thick windows, exterior windows on some of these cabins that they tried smashing them.

They can't. Now they're starting to use explosives to try and penetrate that part of the ship. Meanwhile, the number of missing is still confusion, I'm afraid. They left the figure at some 16 yesterday to now 29.

Now, we think that number of 29 includes a body that was found yesterday. So, in fact, the actual number of missing as far as we can figure out is 28. But unfortunately, the information here as you can probably gather has not been coordinated in the best way.

The Italians are saying that that number includes 14 missing Germans, but the German Foreign Ministry themselves are saying it's 12 missing Germans. That gives you an idea of the confusion surrounding the exact number of missing and the information coming out of this.

As I'm speaking to you the helicopters again are circling around the ship giving us the impression that they are, again, dropping search and rescue teams on board to resume looking for people. I think, this far on the chances of finding anyone alive is fairly slim.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, certainly hope they are able to do that. Dan, thank you for that update. Let's get right to Christine who has an update from the magic wall. Google Earth has been so interesting on this, right, Christine? Because there's that island, which is kind of the focus of everything. Pull up that island. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Here's the island Giglio, it's, you know, off the western coast of Italy and that's where this ill-fated trip came from. It's quite interesting how close it came to land just 300 feet off the coast quite frankly.

If you look here, Soledad, you can see, took off here from the western side. This is all happening here on this little island over here in the west. Ship took off from here and then hit this granite out cropping right here is where it strikes the rock.

And the people on board were told it was an electrical problem. They said they felt a shutter. The ship continues on and makes this turn and comes in here closer to the coastline of this island. It makes this funny turn.

All of this is happening at night, of course. It's pitch-black overall and when you see it in broad daylight, about 300 feet off the coast, 200 people actually. That's what it looks like in broad daylight, left there.

You look here. Look at the granite big boulder there in the bottom of the ship. You can even see really interesting here. This is sort of the schematic of the different decks. Look at the decks as you go through here.

The deeper you are. The bottom of this ship, the more under water they are. These are all passenger cabins. Wow, the whole thing just tilting on the side there, pretty interesting stuff.

In other news here, other morning headlines for you. In Syria, opposition groups say 13 people were killed by government security forces in the latest violence there. It comes just Qatar became the first country in the region to suggest Arab troops intervene militarily in Syria.

The Saudi suspect accused in the bombing of the "USS Cole" back in 2000 will be the first detainee to be tried under revised Military Commission rules at Guantanamo Bay. A hearing is scheduled to begin today on that.

In Wisconsin, today is the deadline for a petition drive to recall Governor Scott Walker. The governor angered Democrats and labor unions when he stripped public workers of collective bargaining rights.

Opponents say they have the half million signatures needed to force a recall election for the governor. But Walker remains confident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The optimist in me says the overwhelming majority of people in the state chose not to sign that. I earned the trust of majority last time to serve as governor. My hope is I will earn the trust again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: "New York Times" is reporting the federal government will force drug companies to report the money paid for doctors for research, consulting, even travel and entertainment.

Researchers found that such payments can influence decisions on treatments and contribute to higher costs with more expensive drugs and medical devices.

Quick check on weather now and how it might affect travel today. That's meteorologist, Rob Marciano. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. We start you off with video fresh overnight across Nevada. Missouri, this town saw some rough weather as in much of central and eastern Missouri.

Lightning and thunder, even a couple of tornado warnings and tornado watch, which is about to expire, quite the light show. Likely woke you up in the show me state. Show me a tornado warning south of Bloomington, Indiana right now.

Davis, Green, Lawrence, and Martin counties are under a tornado warning for the next 45 minutes. That storm rolls at the east at about 50 miles an hour. Off to the north, north of Chicago, Milwaukee, a little bit of snow on the back side of this, but the front side is pretty mild.

And that's why we have the severe weather. There is some cold area in places in the northeast. Winter weather advisory here, but the most of the precip is moving off to sea. Temperatures just barely above freezing. Next batch of precip comes in tonight.

And because of that there's another winter weather advisory up. Winter storm warnings for this storm, it's a big one coming into the Pacific Northwest. Already we've seen some snow across Seattle and Portland.

Seattle could see the most they've seen in over a decade, 6 to 12 inches in some spots especially south of Seattle. Some wet snow across parts of Harlem and windy conditions with this storm.

And as mention with the next batch of moisture coming into the northeast tonight, one to two inches, mostly away from the bigger cities and again a threat for severe weather with this front barreling across parts of the south. One quick picture of Alaska or Valdez, one of the snowiest parts of Alaska, well, they've seen 322 inches of snow this year alone, Christine.

So far, they are on tap to break a record. They're shovelling snow furiously off of rooftops and boats. That's a lot of work up there. That's where the snow and cold air has been, if you are wondering.

ROMANS: All right, I guess, we will be happy for the reprieve we're seeing in other parts of the country. Thanks, Rob. MARCIANO: Exactly, all right.

ROMANS: All right, Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you. We expect work in Washington, D.C. today. The House returns from its winter break and on the agenda, extending the payroll tax cut and long term unemployment benefits.

We're joined this morning by Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. It's nice to have you both. Thanks for talking with us.

Before I get to what's on your plates as you move forward with the work, let's get to the review. And I got to warn you ahead of time it's not very good.

If you look at this CNN/ORC poll that talks about how Congress is handling its job, the approval rating is 11 percent. This is literally the lowest in the history of CNN polling on this issue. Explain this number to me. Why don't you start, Congresswoman Blackburn?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSE: Thank you, Soledad. I think that what we are seeing is people are just frustrated with the fact that Washington cannot seem to get things done.

A great example of this is the House has passed over 30 bills that are jobs related bills. Many of these are with a bipartisan vote of support. And they are sitting in the Senate waiting for action and they are not being taken up.

And the economy is just really struggling. People are struggling with jobs. They want to see some action on these issues. They want the spending to be cut back. They want the size of government to be cut back.

And it's frustrating when they see Washington continue to spend more to grow more and nothing being done about the economy and jobs.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Cleaver, when you hear congresswoman say people are frustrated with Washington, I'm like, you all are Washington, you're it. You're to a large degree, both of you and your colleagues, of course, the focus of everybody's ire. How do you fix that? How do you change that?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: Well, first of all, I think that the 11 percent of Americans who think that we're doing a good job need therapy. This is a very, very sad moment. I'm embarrassed.

And every member of Congress ought to be because, look, you can't make honey and sting at the same time. The Congress of the United States has become a body of stingers. And if we continue to do that, it's going to -- irreversibly do damage to the body of politics because the American public is angry.

We can't get anything done because I think we become pathologically partisan and instead of trying to work together, we look for new ways to agitate each other.

And I think we're going to see that when we get back, a resolution of disapproval with regard to the debt ceiling is very likely going to hit the floor.

It's not a good time, and, frankly, the American public is going to eventually bail out on all of us.

O'BRIEN: So when you look at -- and I'll ask this of both of you, the head to head numbers. If you look at Mitt Romney up against Barack Obama in the general election, if that is, in fact, how it turns out, they're neck and neck.

I mean, literally right next to each other. I think that number is 48 percent to 47 percent for President Obama. Does that mean that down the road whoever wins, it's so close that actually we're just going to see more of this partisan bickering because there's not sort of one person with a mandate potentially if that number bears itself out?

BLACKBURN: Soledad, I think that what we are seeing here and with all due respect to my colleague from Missouri, what people do want to see is items like the resolution of disapproval on the debt ceiling. They do not want Washington take money. Washington takes too much money and it spends it on programs that people do not want. And bureaucracies that are broken. What they want to see is not just reforming but beginning to remove and replace some of these programs out of Washington. Get rid of redundancies. Get rid of duplications. And stop the out-of-control spending. That will help with the jobs projections and everything else.

When it comes to the head-to-head numbers on what we're seeing with the presidential election, think about this. People are paying closer attention now than ever to the issues that are coming out of Washington. They're listening. They are researching. They are coming well prepared to town hall meetings.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: But they're also disillusioned. They're also disillusioned. Look at the poll numbers. Really unhappy.

BLACKBURN: Yes, they're very frustrated. You're exactly right. And I think with due reason they're very frustrated because they want Washington to stop the spending, to stop this overreach of bureaucracy. They're very upset that members of the administration and the bureaucracy make more money than their colleagues in the private sector. And Mr. Cleaver --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm going to have to stop you there, Congresswoman, and Congressman Cleaver, I'm going to stop you there, because we're out of time. But I think all of that will be interesting fodder to see exactly what happens. That disillusionment, what that means for the primary process but also the general election.

I thank you for joining us this morning. I certainly appreciate it.

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I'll let you guys get back to work.

CLEAVER: Sure. Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: GOP candidates made their pitch to Tea Party voters last night at a convention in South Carolina. We're going to talk about what came out of that, and what does it mean for the Tea Party. That is straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Will Cain is like, finally, my music.

(LAUGHTER)

My husband at home, too, is like -- you can be my TV husband, Will Cain.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: -- used to.

O'BRIEN: Hardly. So, hardly. I'm just saying you and my husband have the same musical tastes.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. That will start them up.

GOP candidates, making their pitches to voters at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention last night, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, all there. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were no shows.

So we're going to go right to Myrtle Beach which is where Ron Hughes, one of the organizers of the convention and a board member of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party, is this morning.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us this morning.

So what was the take away? Is the Tea Party as split as some people describe it? You have some saying, Nikki Haley, going for Mitt Romney, strongly, other's who say -- like Karen Martin, who runs the Spartanburg Tea Party -- I think the word she used is "disgust," when she was talking about Mitt Romney. What's the reality? RON HUGHES, BOARD MEMBER, MYRTLE BEACH TEA PARTY & TEA PARTY CONVENTION ORGANIZER: I think the reality is that each of the various Tea Parties around the state, which we were able to bring together over the weekend, they each have their own views and their own convictions about who they think needs to be the next occupant of the White House. And I believe that they didn't go away with the consensus and that was not our intention. Our intention of bringing folks here was to, first off, educate them with a very quality lineup of speakers. We've had most of the state elected officials here. We had Governor Haley, Senator DeMint, four of our five conservative freshmen congressmen. We had subject matter experts on just about every subject that is of importance in today's world. I believe that everybody left here better informed about the issues that we face.

O'BRIEN: But if they're better informed but there's no consensus around one candidate, isn't that a big problem?

HUGHES: No, that's not a big problem. Having the choice and the ability to look at the options of the candidates is a good thing. It's healthy for our system. We're glad we have that opportunity.

In the end, we're -- we're going to vote on Saturday. We're going to select who we believe needs to be the next occupant of the White House. We'll walk away united behind a candidate. And I think that that's very healthy to have this debate before the election, to have this group of people talking together and finding -- learning their message --

O'BRIEN: How united --

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: -- and go away and vote our conscience.

O'BRIEN: How united can you really be? I want to throw up numbers of registered voters who are enthusiastic. I think this might kind of get to the heart of how united everybody might come out. Because if you look at from October to now, and look at only the Republicans, that's the first line there. That number has dropped 10 points for people who are enthusiastic. Isn't that enthusiasm rating really very correlated to who turns out in a general election and who's really united at the end of the day? Isn't that poll problematic?

HUGHES: No, I don't think it's problematic. It's very typical during the primary season that the candidates are trying to get their message across. During the season, they're all trying to gain the upper hand and that causes some friction. At the end of the day, we're going to walk away with a candidate that I believe we're all going to get behind and support very enthusiastically.

O'BRIEN: Why aren't the people in the Tea Party not getting behind Ron Paul enthusiastically? Let me play a little bit of the debate last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. RON PAUL, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should have the lowest tax that we've ever had. And up until 1913, it was zero percent. What's so bad about that?

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: A big cheer out of that. And yet, at the same time, when you look at how he's polling in South Carolina among Tea Party supporters, it's Romney at the top and Ron Paul is only at 13 percent. That surprises me. Why do you think that is?

HUGHES: Well, I think each of the candidates brings to the table their set of issues. And Congressman Paul has some strong ideas about debt reduction. And his trillion-dollar bill to reduce our debt is a good thing. He also has other opinions about foreign policy, for instance, that I think a lot of the Tea Party folks are having a little bit of troubles with.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like he's hit a ceiling there.

HUGHES: So at the end of the day, we're going to walk away and vote our conscience.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time this morning, sir.

When we come back in just a moment, a mother says her young daughter, 3-year-old, was denied a life-saving kidney transplant. We will tell you why. It's pretty shocking. Stay with us. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

A mother is claiming that a very prominent children's hospital is denying her 3-year-old daughter a life-saving kidney plant because the little girl is developmentally disabled.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is in Atlanta this morning.

Tell us a little bit of the background on this story, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Soledad. Here is the story. A little girl, Amelia Rivera (ph), she's 3 years old, was born with a terrible genetic condition called Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome. Her parents say she needs a kidney transplant to save her life.

When they had a discussion with the doctor last week, the doctor said, no, we are not going to put her on the list for a kidney because she is -- and these are according to the mom, these are the doctor's words -- mentally retarded. That's the reason we're not going to put her on the list. He also mentioned that the drugs she would need to take once she got the kidney could aggravate her condition. But the main thrust of it, according to the mother, was she's mentally retarded and, therefore, we don't think her life is -- she really doesn't need to get a kidney. There are other people who need that kidney.

O'BRIEN: Has the hospital said that, in fact, what the mother has said, which she put on line, and it started this online brouhaha -- has the hospital said, yes, in fact, that did happen or are they saying no?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: In other words, the story is in her words?

COHEN: Right now, the story is in her words. The hospital says, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says this is an individual case and we don't comment on individual cases. They also said they've never denied a child a transplant solely on the basis of their cognitive abilities and status. They also added -- I'm going quote from them, that they "Are taking action to review all existing policies to make sure they reflect the core values that we live by."

It is interesting also the mom got a phone call yesterday. She says the hospital called them and said, hey, we're going to do this again, have another meeting with the transplant team. Give us a call and we'll set up an appointment.

O'BRIEN: Wow. That is so hard core for this little girl, who's apparently not going to survive if she doesn't get this kidney transplant.

Elizabeth Cohen for us with an update.

Do you have something to say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would love to hear from the hospital on this. Soledad, these hospitals are constantly in fear of being sued. I do want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I do think there may be --

O'BRIEN: But in their comments, they didn't say, it's not true. Usually, there's the option of it's not true. What they said was we don't comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they want a meeting. They want another meeting to review what's in front of them. And perhaps it is a -- it's more than just, OK, this is not the right candidate. Maybe there are some issues with her condition, her physical condition, her mental condition being incompatible with the transplant. I'm hoping that's that. We know children's hospitals around this country are incredibly prestigious. They do great work for kids. They don't turn people away because they can't pay, in general, Children's Hospitals. So I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt.

O'BRIEN: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hospitals, doctors, they just constantly live in fear of being sued. It's a really tough business for them. I have sympathy on that end. So I'd like to hear more.

O'BRIEN: It'll be interesting to see what they have to say or if the family comes out after that meeting. Clearly, there's been a meeting that's been called and they want to resolve it in some way.

Straight ahead this morning, the chocolate industry pledged to fight child slavery on cocoa farms, but have they? CNN travels to the Ivory Coast for some answers about that.

Plus, we'll talk to a survivor from that Italian cruise ship disaster. That's straight ahead when we return in just a moment.

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