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Italian Captain of Sinking Cruise Ship Under House Arrest; Newt Gingrich Calls on Rick Santorum and Rick Perry to Drop Out of GOP Presidential Race; Rivals To Romney: "Show Us the Money"; Iran Mocks U.S. with Toy Drone; Cruise Ship Rescue On Hold; Rescue Worker Treated By Paramedics; Congress Again Votes on Raising Debt Ceiling; Some Think Paula Deen's Recipes Brought on Diabetes

Aired January 18, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm laughing because our executive producer is like, oh, they're on TV now. I need to get out of the shot.


O'BRIEN: I was going to introduce her if she would just stay, but you can tell she's a chicken. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, we're talking about these rescue operations that were suspended in Italy. The death toll is now 11. There are 23 people who are still missing. Surprisingly, the captain is now out of jail. He's been put under house arrest.

Also this morning, we continue to talk about politics. Mitt Romney says he thinks his tax rate was around 15 percent.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Make everybody happy. Heads explode.

O'BRIEN: Heads exploding this morning as Will Cain holds up the whole picture and all --

CAIN: My friends across America.

O'BRIEN: He didn't even say 15 percent. He said approximately, I think -- or maybe more like, exactly. We're going to talk to our panel about that, much more.

Plus, this weather in the pacific northwest. They're bracing for some unprecedented snow. Ten inches expected, and that is usually more than they get in the entire year which is always a terrible thing to hear as it heads your way.

Plus, our get real this morning, the United States said they want the drone back, the drone that crashed in December in Iran. Well, Iran says, sure, we'll give you a drone back, absolutely. It costs roughly $4 and it's about this big.


We'll talk about the political implications of that all ahead.

First, though, let's introduce you to our panel. Seema Iyer is with us. She's a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. Will Cain is back. He's a columnist with "The Blaze." Dorian Warren is back as well. He's an assistant professor of political silence -- silence.





O'BRIEN: My bad. Political science at Columbia University. And Andy Serwer is the managing editor of "Fortune" magazine. So nice to have you and so great to have you today as we crunch some numbers.

Let's get right to this cruise ship. The chances of finding survivors we now know on this cruise ship we know are dwindling. The rescue operations have been put on hold. The ship is apparently teetering on the seafloor and the death toll is standing at 11. There are two dozen people still missing. That number includes an American couple from Minnesota. Today a prayer vigil will be held with that couple.

The captain is now under house arrest. Prosecutors are going to appeal that decision that let the captain out of jail. Plus, there are more tapes between the captain and port authority that are emerging and remember how stunned we were just reading the transcripts yesterday of the audiotapes I think are even worse. It appears to show the captain safe in his life boat while ignoring the orders to return back to his sinking ship. Listen.




O'BRIEN: For our non-Italian speaking viewers like myself who are having a hard time. Pop that back on the screen. This is basically what we were telling you in the transcript yesterday where he was saying, I understand, listen -- because you can hear Schettino's voice panicking.

"I understand there are people coming down the ladder. You must take that ladder the opposite direction. Get on board the ship. Tell me how many people are on board and how many in each category. Remember, they want them by women and children and disabled so they can figure out how to do the rescue operation. Without some leadership on board they can't do that. Just absolutely amazing to hear what we were talking about in those transcripts yesterday. Let's get right to Dan Rivers because he's in Italy and he can update us on what the latest is in this story. Good morning to you, Dan.

DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. Rescue operations were suspended for a short time this morning over behind me. The boats background the ship. Again, let me step out of the way, you can have a look at what we've got here.

They've started to put booms just around this little beach that we're standing in front of I think in anticipation of any fuel spills the ship. We've been blessed with really calm, clear weather. But a bit concerning, if they get a big storm, then this is going to make things a whole lot worse. And that's why they've put those booms out. There are forecast for winds to pick up later in the week.

In terms of the mission, the number of bodies recovered and number are missing. There is 11 confirmed dead, 23 still missing. We've just been talking to a brother of one of the missing crew members. It's really difficult for these people to come here seeing this wreck behind them, and really they're totally helpless. They can't do anything but watch and wait and just pray that they get some good news.

They have now brought in a big crane to this island which they may start to deploy today, and we're told that we're going to use explosives again today and try to open up more of the ship to getting access so the divers can get in under water. But it's a really long, complicated, laborious job they've got here.

O'BRIEN: It looks horrific for the family member just sitting there and waiting to hear any word. As every minute clicks by it gets less and less likely there will be survivors.

Let's get right to Jim Staples. He's a captain, been a captain for 20 years, master mariner in the U.S. merchant marine. We appreciate you've been joining us all week with your expertise. You heard me read a little bit of the debate going back and forth between the port authority and Captain Schettino. At the end of the debate it ends like this. The port authority says to Captain Schettino, "get on board, damn it," like they have to convince him that the role of the captain is to go back to the ship. As someone who has been a captain for more than 20 years, what's your reaction to that debate?

CAPTAIN JAMES STAPLES, CAPTAIN FOR 20 YEARS: Well, exactly. The captain should have stayed with that vessel until everybody was known to be off or until the rescue operation started and there was no more that he could do. He should never have left that vessel. To get back on would have been a physical difficulty but it could have been done. He's being paid to take charge of that vessel. That's his responsibility. He should have stayed.

O'BRIEN: I have found it so surprising to hear that and hear the audio of the debate going back and forth.

SEEMA IYER, FORMER PROSECUTOR, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yesterday we were saying, isn't the rule the captain goes down with the ship. And now today we're also seeing that women and children first issue. And he ignored both of these tenets of what we know as the law of the seas or what at least is proper.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The hallmark of a bad movie is that the bad guy is i' impossibly weak, impossibly cowardly. You can put him in the scenes that you revile. But life is not that complicated. Here we have a character who seemingly is all of those things. He seems to be that cowardly, that weak. It makes me wonder are we missing something. Are we being so judgmental?

O'BRIEN: You're looking for the explanation. It can't just be that the captain of a cruise ship with thousands of people has somehow decided just not to go.

Let me ask calm tan Jim something. They talked about the first officers has also been arrested. What are the rules for the officers? Because when we talk to the people trying to get off the ship they will talk about the wait staff helping him, talk about some of the people who worked in the lower levels of the cruise ship helping them. No one is talking about the officers.

STAPLES: The first officer is second in command. He's under the captain. We need to find out at what point he left the vessel also. He may have left at the same time. He may have been in the same boat. I don't know. But if he had stayed, then he would have been in command of that vessel once that captain abandoned that ship.

And one of the reasons the captain stays is not only to preserve the lives and get the lives off safely but it also has to do with salvage rights of the vessel.

O'BRIEN: What do you mean?

STAPLES: Stay there and negotiate -- salvages come alongside to make an agreement with the owners with the rights of salvage. They will have a right to cargo, the ship. So the captain will stay there to sign an agreement that's agreed upon through what they called a Lloyds agreement. That's one of the reasons, also, that the captain stays on board.

O'BRIEN: Have you ever heard of anything like that, the debate you hear that you have the port authority ordering the guy to go back to his ship? Have you ever seen that in 20 years of this business?

STAPLES: No, I've never seen that in my 20 years. And that's what's so appalling is that it seemed that the port authority had more common sense and knowledge than this captain did.

O'BRIEN: Terrifying.

STAPLES: It's absurd that this captain left the vessel and left during that state and didn't even realize how many people were still on board.

O'BRIEN: The captain has said, in his defense, well, you know, I was actually heroic. I turned the ship into, you know, once we had this accident, once we hit the rocks that he claims that were not on his map, he actually was doing this maneuver to turn the ship, trying to spin his reaction.

WARREN: That may be, but, in fact, as it seems like he was pushing women and children out of the way to get in the life boat. One thing that I'm curious about going forward though does this remind you of the case of that American girl getting caught up in the Italian legal system. We're going to have American interest going up against the Italian legal system going forward. We've already heard the captain was under house arrest. Now he's been released, now back under --

O'BRIEN: That's a wonderful tease for later this morning when we talk to a maritime legal expert because it's not only the case is in Italy, it's also maritime law which makes it much more complicated.

ANDY SERWER, MANAGING EDITOR, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: A friend of mine says that the captain should be under cabin arrest right now, back on the boat. But the big issue is what's going to happen to the cruise industry. Hundreds of thousands of workers who work on these ships are going to be possibly out of work because Americans and people all over the world are going to stop booking their cruises.

O'BRIEN: Wow, this is not -- I've been on a bunch of cruises. Sometimes you cover them as stories and you get the sense that it's all -- it's all a system and it's all this big giant thing going down, protected, and there's a system. And now you're like, wow, if the captain can leave and it's like every man or woman or child for themselves, it's sort of.

When the captain says what he was trying to do in this maneuver, I know now you've studied this maneuver a lot, where he says he actually was trying to turn the -- bring the ship into port, is that -- from what you've seen, does that seem like it's a possibility?

STAPLES: Well, actually, cruise ships are probably one of the best maneuvering vessels in the world. They have what they call bow thrusters and stern thrusters. So maneuvering a cruise ship is not as difficult as maneuvers a single screw deeply laid denned freight vessel because you don't have the thrusters or the nozzles that these ships can turn. You can move these ships in almost any direction. So not knowing the speed that he was going or that much about that actual characteristics of that vessel, I would say there was really nothing spectacular about what he did maneuvering that ship.

That might be the understatement of the morning for us. Captain Jim, I like when I get to call him Captain Jim like we're like this, but he's been hanging out with us this morning, so we appreciate your time sir. We'll check in with you again tomorrow, I'm sure.

Other stories, of course, making news, and Christine has that for us. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. It's all clear at the White House this morning After a smoke bomb was tossed over the fence. It happened during an Occupy Wall Street protest where more than 1,000 people were demonstrating. President Obama, the first lady were not home at the time. They were out celebrating the first lady's 48th birthday. No one was arrested.

Today is the House of Representatives is expected to take a symbolic vote not to raise the debt ceiling. It's a chance for conservative lawmakers to show their opposition to President Obama's request to raise the debt limit by another $1.2 trillion.

Coming up, Soledad will talk to Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen who served on a debt super committee and also Georgia Republican Tom Price.

Newt Gingrich believes he's the only candidate that can beat Mitt Romney. Just a few days before the South Carolina primary he has a message for GOP rivals Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. His message -- drop out.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I'm respectful that Rick has every right to run as long as he feels that's what he should do, but from the standpoint of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee victory on Saturday, and I would be delighted if either Perry or Santorum want to do that. They have to make that decision.


ROMANS: Sarah Palin says if she lived in South Carolina, she would vote for Newt Gingrich. Last week Palin's husband Todd went rogue and threw his support behind Gingrich.

And Wikipedia and other online websites pulling the plug for 24 hours. They're protesting anti-piracy legislation that's working its way through Congress. They say that legislation would censor the web.

Minding your business now, let's check in on the markets. Futures for the DOW, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 all pointing to a higher open right now. Today Greece's government meets with private investors trying to work out how Greece with keep paying bills on time and make good on loans. Also today, big Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs will report its profits from the last three months of 2011. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you for the update.

Let's turn to Seattle now. You know, everyone knows in Seattle they're used to rain but not snow. There's a storm in the pacific northwest and that could mean more than a foot of snow and it would be if that happens more than they've seen in 70 years. Thelma Gutierrez is in Seattle. That's a fun assignment for you. Good morning. What are they expecting and how bad is it expected to be?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, if the snow actually does come down right now we're just seeing flurries, but later on this morning if the snow starts to fall hard, we're talking about five to 10 inches. That doesn't sound like a lot to people who live out where you are. But out here it's very treacherous, because you're talking about steep hills, you're talking about lots of traffic in this downtown area. You can see right behind me a dusting of snow on the cars. Still though that snow has not yet started to fall in the way that it's expected to a little bit later today.

Soledad, the city officials have said that they feel that they are prepared for the storm. They have already started to ice the bridges, the roadways, overpasses. They've opened up emergency shelters for the elderly and the homeless. And they've also closed schools. In fact, several of the airlines have canceled dozens of flights in anticipation of the storm. But we'll see how it transpires. Back to you.

O'BRIEN: Always one of those things, you know, everyone can predict a lot and then it doesn't happen.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, new questions about Mitt Romney's taxes, or I should say the same questions about Mitt Romney's taxes, but he is giving a little more information. He talked about basically he's paying about 15 percent. And it's the "about," I believe, that everyone is kind of jumping on. We're going to dig into this story a little bit more this morning.

Also, the U.S. says they want back that top-secret drone from where it crashed in Iran back in December. Well, Iran says we'll send you a drone all right, but not the one you want. We'll tell you what they're doing.

Also, Occupy Wall Street puts itself on a spending freeze. They're trying to keep enough cash so they can bail out the protesters. We'll update you on what's happening there.

Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: The waiting is the hardest part, get it? It's being described as a slow '50s (INAUDIBLE). What did you pay in taxes?

Mitt Romney is now saying that he will release his tax return sometime around April. He said that in the debate and he didn't even say it that clearly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe, kind of.

O'BRIEN: It was more maybe, um, um, maybe. He's trying to.

But in trying to brush away the comment from the debate, he then said that his - his tax rate was something like 15 percent, closer to 15 percent. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's the effective rate I've been paying? Well, it's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything because my last 10 years I've - my income comes overwhelmingly from - from investments made in the past rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker's fees from time to time but not very much.


O'BRIEN: Not even four sentences - not even four lines and there's so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stumbling around.

O'BRIEN: Stumbling. And so, what a hot mess.

All right. We're decoding 2012 with our Senior Political - CNN - I'm having trouble speaking today - Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein is in Columbia, South Carolina ahead of us so we're going to head toward him after the show this morning.

So, he didn't let that slip, do you believe? Do you think there was a strategy behind that? I can't imagine that you just accidentally let slip what your effective tax rate is when this is an issue that's been dogging you for the entire campaign trail.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he's moving toward more disclosure, but it certainly is going to be - if he gets that far, a general election issue. It falls right into what, you know, we call the Buffett Rule, Warren Buffett saying he should not pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. And certainly it's something that President Obama wants to stress.

You know, and the Republican primary, it's interesting, you know, he is one of the only candidates who would not cut capital gains taxes which is what is allowing him to pay this lower rate on people like himself. All of the others, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum would reduce or eliminate capital gains taxes. Romney is saying he will only cut it for people earning $200,000 or less.

But having said that, I mean this certainly feeds into a larger narrative. You can imagine the president using - and the Democrats using very extensively in the general election.

O'BRIEN: I've got to ask Andy Serwer a question. Because I believe that often when it comes to issues that he should - Will has described Romney as just very organized, strategic -

CAIN: Premeditated.

O'BRIEN: -- premeditated. And, you know, he doesn't flail a lot. So then whenever you see him flail, which is on the Bain issue and on this tax issue, you have to ask yourself why. What is going on? And is it that we're seeing the tip of the iceberg and underneath is this giant iceberg that the reason he can't release them and the reason he's saying around 15 percent is that there is some big issue underneath? Otherwise, why not just do it.

SERWER: Well, I think he's very defensive about it.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Clearly, yes.

SERWER: You know, think he's defensive. I think it's complicated. He is obviously one of the one percent. He's a very wealthy American. This is lightning rod issue right now and he's not something he's comfortable with.

IYER: Is that the issue that it is 15 percent? I mean, you were saying, OK, is there something else going on here? Being 15 percent, as someone who is a small business owner and pays about 40 percent, is that the issue?

WARREN: This is precisely the issue because when people who work hard every day go to work, pay, you know, 25 percent, 35 percent, up to 40 percent, and Romney says, as part of the one percent, I made around $374,000 last year.

O'BRIEN: And it was not very much -

WARREN: And it wasn't very much.

O'BRIEN: -- talking about his speaker fees alone and he really is talking 15 percent which is the tax on investments. So this is not his annual income.

WARREN: But when you put that in perspective of half of Americans make $30,000 a year or less and they pay a higher tax rate, that's really offensive, people.

O'BRIEN: You guys see that's the White House I think was the one who brought this, which was - oh, hang on one second, Ron. You saw this. The George Romney, it was unprecedented years ago when he released in 1967 -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the first, right.

O'BRIEN: He was the first who said I'll release 12 years of taxes. So the White House happy to point out the irony in that. Go ahead, Ron. I'm sorry to cut you off.

BROWSTEIN: As I've said, I mean - I mean, I think clearly the argument will be that Romney embodies the inequality that the Democrats will argue their policies would lead toward. I mean that will clearly be the case against him.

Just to clarify, if I may, you know, most people below the median income do not pay the federal income tax. They pay the payroll tax, but they don't pay federal income taxes.

O'BRIEN: Because they don't make enough money.

BROWNSTEIN: They don't make enough money and that has become an argument for both. But this - this is the overall portrait that Democrats want to argue is that the Republicans are promoting an economic policy that has diminished upward mobility, widened inequality, benefited the top against the middle. It is a - there's a lot of -

O'BRIEN: But the Republicans are arguing it, too.

BROWNSTEIN: -- argument right now, but it's still a tough (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: Listen to Newt Gingrich saying this.


O'BRIEN: Will Cain just rolled his eyes.

CAIN: Being spokesman for the DNC, Newt Gingrich.

O'BRIEN: OK, Bittermann (ph). We will roll it. Go ahead.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we ought to rename our flat tax. We have a 15 percent flat tax. So this will be the Mitt Romney flat tax that all Americans can then pay the rate Romney pays. I mean, that's just terrific.


O'BRIEN: The Mitt Romney rate. A little phrase like that could stick.

CAIN: You know, I will never begrudge Ron Brownstein's political analysis. I think he's exactly right. This is the argument that will be used against Mitt Romney, the inequality argument. This will be used to bolster.

But let me say this. Talking about what Dorian said, pitting this against what average hardworking Americans pay and bringing in the Buffett Rule and talking about paying less than your secretary, these are ways to emotionalize an argument that shouldn't be emotionalized.

The only question in this entire debate over Mitt Romney's tax record should be do you want to incentivize investment? He pays 15 percent because most of his income comes from investment, not wages. We as society -

O'BRIEN: Right. But he's saying he would not be willing to invest the money in, for example, bonds -

CAIN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: -- because he was going to be taxed at 30 percent, it wouldn't be worth it.

CAIN: So we need to - do we want to incentivize investment?


WARREN: I think the debate will be the Romney Rule versus the Buffett Rule. I think we'll have -

SERWER: I've never heard anyone, any business - I'm sorry. Go ahead.

WARREN: No, that will be the - that will be the debate in the general election and I think people do vote based on emotion and that's going to mobilize him.

IYER: I was just going to say -

SERWER: It's the ultimate decision based on taxes. You have a good investment. If you're Mark Zuckerberg and you want to create Facebook, you're not thinking about how much you're paying in taxes. So to suggest that you're not going to do something because of tax rates generally speaking, I think is wrong.

CAIN: It doesn't affect behavior?


O'BRIEN: Well, we will - we will -


O'BRIEN: And being broken affects behavior as well. And that could affect behavior. OK.

SERWER: Not generally, it doesn't. Is Mark Zuckerberg not going to create Facebook because of high tax rates?


O'BRIEN: OK. No more coffee for our team. No more coffee.

SERWER: We do not create Facebook because of high tax rates in California?

O'BRIEN: Stop. That's a good question.

SERWER: Tax rates are high in California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very high in California.

O'BRIEN: However, we're going to talk about it on the other side of the break.

Tomorrow, as you guys know, we're taking the show on the road. We're going to be live in South Carolina. And there, look, me in the same dress in the graphic, STARTING POINT will be coming to you live from South Carolina. Still ahead this morning, in the middle of a flight, passengers mistakenly hear that they're going to crash. It happens twice. We'll tell you what happened and just how terrifying that was for some of those passengers.

Also, our "Get Real," Iran's answer to President Obama's request, return that top secret drone. They don't say no exactly. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Time to "Get Real."

Remember that U.S. drone that crashed last month in Iran? It was called the RQ-170 Sentinel. It is one of the most sophisticated drones in the American fleet. It was operating over Eastern Afghanistan when it veered and then crashed into Iran.

Well, last month President Obama said, quote, "We've asked for it back," which was met by a lot of chuckles. We're not sure what the response. But the response actually given now is the one he was looking for.

Instead of the original top secret spy plane, an Iranian company is sending a tiny toy replica of a full squadron of 12 toy drones to the White House. 1/80 of the actual size of the plane apparently costs something like $4, mockingly. The company says they're trying to work out the president's favorite color. You can see where they're going with this. Talk about trying to get PR behind them. And they're going to paint those little toy drones before they sent them over.

(INAUDIBLE) United States with the toy drones seems to be something they should "Get Real" on.

Still ahead this morning, a Navy SEAL's perspective of the search and rescue operation in Italy. We'll talk to him about what is happening now and the likelihood that there could be any survivors still on that ship.

Also, Occupy Wall Street puts itself on a spending freeze. That's straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back. It is 32 minutes past the hour. We're going to be voting on the -- the debt ceiling vote will be happening in the House today. Conservatives voting no on this.

But a lot of it really has been called a charade because, of course, the decision was made before the year ended. We're going to talk to two members of Congress about that issue, what's ahead on their agenda, and also those ridiculously low approval numbers for Congress. Just over 10 percent, which cannot be good news -- all connected. Also this morning, going to talk about obesity numbers that have just been released and again, talking about something that is not looking good for this nation. They are bad numbers for us.

First, though, got some other stories making headlines. Let's get right to Christine. Christine, good morning again.

ROMANS: Good morning again, Soledad. A senior Obama administration official says a recent visit by one of Iran's elite military commander is the strongest sign yet that Tehran is supplying weapons to Syrian security forces. U.S. officials have long believed that Iran is helping to drive the deadly crackdown on dissent in Syria.

A community in Maine holding a candlelight vigil for little Ayla Reynolds one month after the toddler vanished from her home. Police are conducting a criminal investigation into her disappearance, but say they currently have no new information.

The co-founder of Yahoo! is calling it quits. Jerry Yang is resigning from the board of directors and all other positions with that company. The beginning of end for Yang started in 2009 when he snubbed a $47 billion buyout offer from Microsoft.

With donations slowing down and drying up, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is tightening its belt. Occupy leaders have imposed a partial spending freeze looking to eliminate all non- essential spending. They say they want to hold on to enough money to bail out protesters when they are arrested.

British Airways apologizing to passengers on a trans-Atlantic flight from Miami to London after mistakenly playing a message that says the plane was making an emergency water landing, twice. The automated announcement triggered panic among passengers in the cabin.

All right, minding your business now, U.S. stock futures trading higher right now. Futures of the Dow, Nasdaq, S&P 500 all pointing to a higher open.

Today, big Wall Street bank, Goldman Sachs reports its profit for the last three months of last year. And the World Bank is now out with a new report warning about global growth slowing down over the next couple of years. That news weighing on the markets overseas a bit this morning.

All right, let's get a quick check of the weather. How it might affect your travel day. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins us. I'm glad I'm not going to a conference in Seattle today.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not much you like snow. Good morning again, Christine. There's a couple of storms actually book ending the country are going to create problems for us travel goes.

The first one is out east with the cold front that actually brought some severe weather across parts of the Midwest yesterday. That's pushing down south and east. Rainfall across parts of Florida and southeast Georgia.

There's the snow from Seattle down to Portland. About to change over to rain in Portland, but behind that are some serious winds so pretty intense storm system rolling in through here. We could see some record-setting snow totals between five and ten inches potentially between Seattle and Portland before the day is done.

That does not include the winds. We could see hurricane strength winds across the Oregon coastline. We've already seen hurricane strength gusts across upstate New York and Northern New England this morning.

So winds are going to slow down travel both on the roadways, but mostly across at the airports. New York specifically, Boston, Philadelphia, D.C. as well and there's your snowfall in Seattle with some wind to boot. Christine, back up to you.

ROMANS: Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine. Thank you.

Rescue crews say they're doing all they can to try to find those two dozen missing passengers on board the doomed cruise ship. Right now though, the search has been put on hold. It was suspended a few hours ago because the ship is slipping and moving.

And in fact, one rescue worker who had to be treated by paramedics because that worker said he started feeling sick not only because of the slipping and the moving, but of course, the stressful conditions trying to rescue people off of that ship. And the thing starts to sink lower and lower.

So earlier in the last hour, we talked to Joe Ryan. He was a passenger on board that cruise ship. He talked about as many of these passengers have done, talked about the absolute chaos in trying to just get off the ship. Listen.


JOE RYAN, PASSENGER ON ITALIAN CRUISE SHIP: We were completely full and they had tried -- they maxed out our boat. I was able to kind of view the smallest little area that we had to see other people.

People's faces were just panic and they were trying to jump in and they just started hitting people with anything they could, the ores, the poles, trying to push people back saying, it's full, it's full, it's full.

Just kept pushing, but people were just kept persisting. That's when the screaming started and the boat and everyone was screaming. And that's when they said, all right, we need to go, we need to get this down.

It was just heartbreaking to see people still not being able to find a ship, but then again, we were kind of helpless just sitting in the boat knowing that our boat was already full.


O'BRIEN: Sounds horrific. Also this morning, the captain of that ship was out of jail just in the last hour. Prosecutors say they are going to appeal the judge's decision that meant the captain could be released from jail. He's now under house arrest.

We're joined this morning by former Navy SEAL, Eric Greitens. He's in St. Louis. He's the author of "The Heart and The Fist, The Education of a Humanitarian, The Making of a Navy SEAL."

Thanks for joining our panel, Eric. We appreciate your time. Let me ask you a question about this rescue effort that we're hearing about now has been put on hold. At this point, is it even slightly realistic to think there could be survivors on the ship?

ERIC GREITENS, FORMER NAVY SEAL: At this point, Soledad, it's really probably a recovery operation rather than a rescue operation. Miracles are always possible, but at this point that's what it would take for this to be a survivor.

O'BRIEN: When our show ended yesterday, right after that, we got word that there were five bodies that had been recovered. Apparently, they were in their life jackets and they were sort of in this area of an exit.

They were trying to get out. Is it -- would that be people who drowned, would that be people who just the hypothermia on that ship at that point would have gotten them? We don't know a lot of details obviously, but what could it be? I know you've been involved in rescues sort of like this.

GREITENS: It certainly could have been that those individuals drowned, but also, Soledad, what's important to understand is that in water temperature like that, people get cold very quickly.

Water makes people colder than air at a rate 32 times. They get colder faster. Once your body temperature drops to about 86 degrees, people go unconscious and they pass out.

O'BRIEN: We heard --


O'BRIEN: I'm sorry, Eric. Let me ask you a question about the rescuers because we're now hearing at least one rescuer said it was so stressful having to try -- showing pictures yesterday of blowing the holes into the hull so they could try to get in to get to some of the those sites to rescue people.

A rescuer removed from the ship because it was so stressful with the slipping and just the conditions. Describe what that would be like for those rescuers at this point. GREITENS: It's an incredibly difficult and dangerous rescue situation. You have to keep in mind that the minute that they head into that hull, there is no natural light, there's no electricity.

So it's pitch-black. You also have debris from the ship. Every mattress, every piece of furniture, every personal item is now floating in that ship.

You're moving through a ship that was 1,000 feet long, 100 feet wide, with multiple levels, thousands of doors. And as the rescuers are moving through, they have to check every single one of those compartments as they search for bodies in the ship.

O'BRIEN: That sounds just like a horrific situation. Do we know who would be heading this rescue work? Is it the Italians? I know first that the coast guard --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Italians have what's equivalent to our search and rescue. So I imagine it would be the head of that agency, would be instructing all this as well as the military forces.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Eric, I'm sorry.

GREITENS: That's exactly right. It will be the head of the Italian Coast Guard will be responsible for the ship. The minute that a captain declares abandoned ship, the coast guard immediately takes control of the situation.

If you remember from that transcript last night, the coast guard was saying, you've declared abandoned ship. I am now in control and the head of the Italian Coast Guard will be responsible.

O'BRIEN: What did you make of the transcript and the audio released afterwards, Eric?

GREITENS: Well, obviously for anybody, you can hear that the captain has abandoned his duty. It's the duty of the captain to stay on that ship until every person gets off.

It's important to understand why. When you make an emergency call, what the captain has to do is to let the coast guard immediately know three things. One, what's the position of the ship. Two, what is the problem. Three, what is the condition of the people who are on the ship.

When the captain abandoned the ship, he effectively abandoned his duty to help with the rescue operation. Keep in mind, the captain and his crew know that ship better than anyone.

And the rescue workers who are coming out are unfamiliar with the ship. The captain should have stayed on board to provide hands-on information so that those rescuers could rescue as many people as possible.

O'BRIEN: It is so ironic and horrific that these rescuers are sort of feeling their way in the dark through all the mattresses and all those things that Eric described as they try to figure out where bodies could be.

And the captain has been released back home, I think, with his mom because he's on house arrest this morning. So, Eric, we thank you for your insight. Appreciate that.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to talk about the debt ceiling vote in the House today. The president wants to raise the debt ceiling $1.2 trillion, but we kind of know the outcome even before the first vote is counted. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll be back in just a moment.




O'BRIEN: It's so clearly not my play list, I'll tell you that.

Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.

The House wants more. Expected to vote on raising the debt ceiling today. The president wants to raise the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. Conservatives are prepared to vote it down and send a message to the president.

In Washington, D.C., we're talking to Democratic Congressman Chris van Hollen from Maryland. He served on the debt super committee. And from Capitol Hill, we're talking to Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia.

REP. TOM PRICE, (R), GEORGIA: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: He's the chairman of the House GOP Policy Committee.

Nice to have you gentlemen. I appreciate your time.


PRICE: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: When you look at some of releases that the Club for Growth, the conservative group, Club for Growth has been sending to my e-mail a lot, one of the things they've been blasting in this vote that will happen today is the self congratulatory press release, their words, from the GOP.

So, Tom Price, what do you think that a lot of this seems to be a charade, as others have put it? That this decision has been made already. This is not a real vote?

PRICE: This is compliant with the law that was passed back in August, is to have a vote up or down, a vote of disapproval on whether or not the president ought to be able to increase the debt limit by $1.2 trillion. So it's following the law that was already passed. These aren't self congratulatory press release. What they are is drawing attention to the remarkable spending that is out of control here in Washington. This administration has increased the debt by $4.6 trillion in its three years, the three highest deficits in the history of this country. So we know that we've got to get spending under control. We just need a willing partner on the other side of the aisle in both the Democrats and House, as well as the Democrats in the Senate, who have failed to pass a budget for nearly 1,000 days.

O'BRIEN: When they talk about a willing partner, this is what Harry Reid said on "Meet the Press," over the weekend. He said, "We've had obstructionism on steroids. I think the American people would say the thing."

PRICE: Sure.

O'BRIEN: And we'll talk about poll numbers in just a moment. "I would hope they understand that everything doesn't have to be a fight. Legislation is the art of working together, building consensus, compromise, and I hope the Tea Party doesn't have influence in this next year that they had in previous years."

Chris van Hollen, do you think that Harry Reid is right and what do you do about it?

VAN HOLLEN: I do think Harry Reid is right. This is a perfect illustration of what people don't like about Congress. If we don't raise the debt ceiling, meaning if we don't allow the United States to pay for the debts that's already incurred, you would wreck the economy. You would spend it into a tailspin. You would destroy a lot of jobs, which is why responsible people aren't going to allow this to happen. And what people really hate about the Congress is that people want to have it both ways. So here you have Republican colleagues, who last year voted for a budget that would add $8 trillion to the debt, that would require us to lift the debt ceiling, and now they want to pretend that they're not doing that by having this sort of symbolic vote.

O'BRIEN: Do you think --


O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question to both you gentlemen. Do you think that the people are angry voters, the American voter is angry? Or is the American voter -- let's pop up the approval numbers, shall we? Because they're really, really, really bad. Which is 11 percent, a profit of the job that the two of you are doing. And actually, you're quite close, Democrats, Republicans. The numbers are really bad for both sides of the aisle.

Ultimately, is it not -- wanting to have it both ways or is it we sent you to Washington, D.C., to work on this and it's not getting done and we're unhappy? Is that the message?


PRICE: First of all, Soledad, I think the American people are sick and tired of Washington not addressing the fundamental challenges. And one of the huge fundamental challenges is the amount of spending.

Look, Senator Reid has nearly 30 pieces of legislation that the Republican House and, oftentimes, in a bipartisan way has passed and sent over to create jobs and to decrease spending. Our budget, that Chris mentioned, decreases the deficit over the 10-year window by about $6 trillion. It gets us on a path to balance and paying off the debt.

Again, what we need are willing partners, folks interested in solving these challenges as opposed to the kind of sound bite legislation and the kind of sound bites that my friend on the other side of the aisle insists on continuing.


O'BRIEN: With all due respect, sir, everybody in Washington speaks in sound bites.

All due respect to both of you.

Chris, I'm going to give you the final word. You have about 30 seconds left. What else is on the agenda, because we can go back and forth on this debt limit thing? What else is on the agenda? What have you done today?

VAN HOLLEN: Unfortunately, we don't have much else on the agenda. House Republicans are bringing us in for just a half day today. There's only one full working day in January. I happen to be one of the conferees on the legislation to try and make sure we extend the payroll tax cut and make sure we provide unemployment compensation to people who are out of work through no fault of their own. I hope our Republican colleagues will meet soon as members of the Conference Committee because there is a lot to do.

But just to close on this issue that the -- the debt ceiling. I think every American knows it would be totally irresponsible for them not to pay their mortgage. What House Republicans are going to do today is vote for the United States not to pay its debts for the first time in our history. It would make us worse than Greece in terms of where we are in terms --


VAN HOLLEN: -- of the deficit.

PRICE: What our plan is to do is to bring focus to the amount of spending. As a fellow conferee, on the Conference Committee, we look forward to meeting and making certain that we extend the payroll tax holiday, that we make sure unemployment benefits are provided and that we provide sustainable growth rate for physicians to be able to care for seniors.


PRICE: We're looking for positive solutions, real solutions here in Washington. And I welcome Chris' -- (CROSSTALK)


O'BRIEN: I can tell this back and forth --


O'BRIEN: -- that we're -- that we're back to that confrontational, because it makes everybody wonder, watching the show, so how come you all can't work together when it's actually in Washington, D.C.?

Gentlemen, we're out of time.


O'BRIEN: So I have to stop there.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks a lot.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate your time this morning. I know we're going to continue to have these conversations.

Also ahead this morning, Paula Deen. She says she's got diabetes. And, of course, it brings into question that fattening and delicious food that she has been making for decades. We'll talk about that.

Plus, the Acropolis is for rent. That would be a nice place to have a wedding.


O'BRIEN: Yes, it's a strange one. Greece is now giving out its ancient sites to the highest bidder. Those stories straight ahead.



O'BRIEN: I love --


O'BRIEN: Could you please? I'm begging. I'm begging. What was that?






O'BRIEN: Jersey metal.


O'BRIEN: I wish we'd do a little gospel just for me, just every once in a while.


O'BRIEN: Darn it, my name's on this show.

OK, let's talk about Paula Deen. She's been diagnosed with type- 2 diabetes. That is the kind of diabetes is acquired and also is connected or correlated to obesity. There are some people who think maybe she brought it on herself because when you look at her recipes, they're wonderful. And they've wonderful because they've got sugar and butter and they've got cream and they are amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And also just so many bread products and bread is sugar. So that translates also to being able to acquire type-2 diabetes.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk to Elizabeth Cohen. She's in Atlanta and she's our senior medical correspondent.


O'BRIEN: Yes. She's --


Let's leave it all to the doc.

First and foremost, she's actually had type-2 diabetes for a while. Why did it take so long before she made it public?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That depends who you ask, Soledad. She's had it for three years. Paul Deen says it took me three years to learn about the disease and decide exactly what I should tell my viewers. Other people say, well, you waited until you got a big pharmaceutical company to pay you to talk about diabetes. She's now a paid spokeswoman for Novartis, which makes diabetes-related medicine. So, depends who you ask. But --

O'BRIEN: So -- so what -- she's known for making these really wonderful foods. I've had some of her food. It's incredible. It's incredible because it's laced with cream and butter and everything wonderful that you shouldn't eat in big portions. Is she going to change what she's cooking now?

COHEN: It sounds like she's not going change. But that her son is going to start this franchise where he redoes his mother's recipes to make them healthier for you. I actually have two in front of me. I'm going to be very curious to see if he redoes these. Because, man, it would take a lot of work. O'BRIEN: What are they?

COHEN: This one over here is the Lady's brunchburger. Right over here, what that is, is that is a hamburger and a fried egg. This is bacon. Instead of a bun, it's on two glazed donuts.


COHEN: This is not my recipe. This is hers, OK?



COHEN: That is 1,000 calories right there.

O'BRIEN: I'm surprised it's that low.

CAIN: Me, too.

O'BRIEN: OK, go on.


COHEN: If that's not enough for you --


O'BRIEN: What's the other one?

COHEN: Soledad, if that wasn't enough calories for you, we have the Twinkie pie. That's Twinkies, pineapple, vanilla instant pudding, Cool Whip, nuts and cherries, for 750 calories a slice. So these are two Paula Deen recipes.

O'BRIEN: No, it's --


CAIN: It sounds gross.

O'BRIEN: That's the kind of food, if you gave it to a kid, they'd be spiraling around the house.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll get one for you.

O'BRIEN: Obviously, diabetes, especially the kind that she has, type-2 that you acquire, is correlated to obesity. What do we know about sort of the nation and obesity? There are new numbers out. COHEN: Actually, let me talk a little bit about what she says about this. She says that her type-2 diabetes has nothing to do with her diet. She says she's always eaten in moderation, whatever that means. She says that the food has nothing to do with it. And I didn't get to interview her. She wouldn't answer my questions. But I would like to ask her, are you overweight? If you're overweight, that can lead to type-2 diabetes. But she says food has nothing to do with it. Doctors, I'm sure, would beg to differ.

In that vein, let's take a look at these new Centers for Disease Control numbers telling us how fat we are. What the new numbers say is that, in America, 36 percent of men are obese. Not just overweight, obese. 36 percent of men are obese. And 39 percent of women are obese. The numbers for women -- that's been a pretty stable number for men -- that is up about 4 percent points.

O'BRIEN: And remind me, what is obese? What is the definition of obese?

COHEN: It's a BMI number. It's a BMI over a certain level. It depends on your height and whatnot. But it's a BMI over a certain level.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Wow, that is a shocking number, 40 percent. It continues to climb.

And the more people know about it, in a way -- we've known about the obesity issue and it -- for a decade. Clearly --


O'BRIEN: Yesterday, you were talking about fast-food delivery. Is this any surprise to all of us?

CAIN: Now we get we bring McDonald's and Burger King to our home. Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So everyday day, there's something new with this.

O'BRIEN: We're moving on now to commercial break.



O'BRIEN: Exactly. Got to get (INAUDIBLE).


A cruise ship rescue mission is now on hold because, of course, the ship is sliding and there are some concerns for the rescuers. We're going to talk about what's the latest there.

Also, it looks as if the judge in the case has released the captain. He's now on home arrest. The prosecutor in the case says, no way, we want him back in jail. We'll talk about the reasons behind the release and if the prosecutor has any leg to stand on.

And then a partial blackout at Wikipedia and other sites.


O'BRIEN: What are they protesting? Stay with us, everybody. Short break. Right back.