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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Mitt Romney Releases Taxes for Two Years; President Preparing State of Union Address; Life on the Hill; Bruins Goalie Can't Mask Feelings for Obama; Florida Early Voting; Iran: E.U. Oil Embargo Won't Work; Senator Mark Kirk Suffers Stroke; Biggest Solar Storm In Years; Lowest Fares: Six Weeks Before Flight; Federal Reserve Meets Today On Interest Rates; Showing The Money; Preview Of Romney Tax Returns; GOP Race Tightens; Documentary "Big Hits, Broken Dreams" Premiers, Discusses Concussions; Valerie Jarrett Discusses Obama's State of the Union Address Happening Tonight

Aired January 24, 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 HOST: Hey, hey, good morning. We're in D.C. this morning, of course, for the State of the Union tonight. Welcome everybody, you're watching STARTING POINT. And yes, you know what, I'm having some breakfast this morning. What I actually make at home or I should say microwave at home, tater tots. My favorite.

Welcome, everybody. On STARTING POINT, Romney, as we've been talking about all morning, Mitt Romney releasing taxes, expecting that to happen in just about 90 minutes. The numbers, though, have already been put out to the "Washington Post." we'll talk about those.

We know that he made more than $21 million in 2010 and paying taxes at a rate of 13.9 percent. So, is that enough to finally close the issue? We'll discuss that straight ahead.

Plus, a Florida debate last night. In some ways, it was kind of boring debate, but in other ways, you did get a little glimpse at a new Mitt Romney. He was aggressive. He was attacking Newt Gingrich. He clearly was not going to be Mr. Nice guy anymore. Was it effective? How did that debate go? We've got a little analysis of that this morning.

Plus, we turn to those storms we were talking about yesterday in Alabama. Three tornadoes, two people dead, more than 200 homes destroyed. Look at some of those pictures. We'll update you on the latest from there.

Plus President Obama today is preparing for the "State of the Union" address tonight, and it's going to be all about the economy. We'll analyze what the president needs to tell the nation tonight. That and much more ahead as we begin "Starting Point" right now.

(VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. You're watching "Starting Point," and we are at the diner today in Morgan Adams (ph) section of Washington, D.C. So, you got to love that diner. The have these massive menus. They just go on and they go on. But this dish is their delicacy which is the Diner Royale, the low, low price of $13 -- go ahead, David. You keep eating. It's fine. It's two eggs, pancakes, French toast, bacon, ham, sausage, chicken sausage, wheat or rye toast, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, no substitutions.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Roll-out out.

O'BRIEN: Take you out to your car and put you on a treadmill. This morning I'm going to stick with the tater tots because they're easy to eat to anchor a show. Hello, everybody. CNN's political analyst Roland Martin is with us this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: It's a bad start if I can't get through Roland's name. David Frum is back with us. It's nice to have you in person. And also this morning, Grover Norquist is joining us, president of Americans for Tax Reform. You're going to be our tax expert this morning as we sort through Mitt Romney's taxes. It's nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

Mitt Romney we know now officially released his tax returns. We're expecting that in about 90 minutes. But there is a preview. The preview is roughly 550 pages long. Romney made $21.6 million in 2010, paid over $3 million in taxes. And the effective tax rate, as we mentioned, is 13.9 percent. So to crunch al the numbers for you, right to Christine Romans in New York. Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

There's three different trusts. There's a foundation, 550 pages. Let me put it together for you. For 2010, it looks like his income was $12 million, taxes, $3 million. He gave $4 million to charity. That is pretty interesting here. Effective tax rate is about 13.9 percent. Then you look at 2011, about $20.9 million. I guess we don't have the screen but I'll roll through it for you. Taxes, $3 million, charity about $3 million. The effective tax rate in 2011 estimating about 15 percent.

Soledad, we'll be closely watching here exactly what the foreign capital he was earning, foreign earnings, things in offshore tax havens. His campaign says according to Reuters he did close a Swiss bank account in 2010 but there are investment vehicles running through Cayman Islands and also Bermuda. That is going to get some attention.

I'm zeroing on in $100 million trust set up for his five son, Soledad. The campaign says that they paid no gift taxes on that trust because they were able to use a credit to offset it. People will be looking at that as well.

And also, you know, what -- how much he made in carried interest. Millions of dollars in something called carried interests. That's something hedge fund managers, private equity managers get to take advantage of means their earnings are taxed less than regular work. O'BRIEN: All right, clearly lots and lots of questions. We only sort of gotten the first little bit of information. You know, I want to talk to you because you are the tax expert guy. When you see these first releases, again, we don't have the full picture yet, what's your take away?

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: What you would expect. He made a lot of money work for Bain, paid taxes on that. Now that he's living off his investments, in a sense retired while run for president, he's paying capital gains on his investments. When people say paying 15 percent, that's not instead of paying 20 percent or 25 percent. That's on top of the taxes he paid the first time he earned money. If he's foolish enough to die, the government will take about half of that again. The government comes in taxes the same dollar you earned multiple times. We're just looking at least the second or third bite at the apple that he's paying.

O'BRIEN: When you look at his charitable contributions, what's your take away?

NORQUIST: Very impressive compared to other people who have run for president in recent history. It's hard to argue that his stingy, $3 million or $4 million over the last two years. It fairly impressive, contributing more than 10 percent of his income to charity and apparently tithes to his church.

O'BRIEN: David, I feel like in a way this brings another round of conversation we haven't even gotten the full release yet.

DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: It opens two conversations. The first conversation is one about mitt Romney, and the second is one about the way the tax system works. I don't think anybody will suggest that any presidential candidate has an obligation to volunteer to pay extra taxes. President Obama has two children, and no one is going to tell him, you know, don't take the deductions for two children. Say you have zero. You take the deductions you have.

Then we're going to have a question about what do we think of his taxes? I hope it's true as Grover said that first mitt Romney paid income tax and later he paid capital gains tax, probably not true however. Probably he used this carried interest loophole since it began to exist in 2000s, which treat things that look more like income as if they were capital gains. That's a problem in the system.

O'BRIEN: Meaning that he wouldn't have originally paid taxes on that -- it's unclear because we haven't --

NORQUIST: He would have paid capital gains taxes. The law says it's capital gains. You have an argument about whether you want to change that law and tax certain income as income, ordinary income versus capital gains. Again, this is the second time he's paid taxes on it. It's possible some of his income was capital gains to start with. Some was ordinary income. This is not the first time he's paid taxes on these dollars.

FRUM: That discussion about the way the tax system works is a separate discussion from the qualifications --

O'BRIEN: And a political discussion.

FRUM: The policy discussion which is separate from what do you think of this guy who has met his obligations to society and volunteered to pay, again, even more in charity than he paid in taxes.

O'BRIEN: That's a good question for Adam Putnam. He's the Florida chairman for Romney for President, and he is in Florida this morning. Thanks for joining us. Do you feel like, OK, the taxes will be released in roughly 90 minutes. Will it put this issue to rest, done and done?

ADAM PUTNAM, FLORIDA CHAIRMAN, ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT: You know, I think I understood you, the question about the release of his taxes, that is, you know, certainly something that scratches our voyeuristic itch. But it shows that he's a generous guy, gives to charity, tithes to his church. It shows that he made a lot of money by successfully creating jobs and deriving money from the private sector, as opposed to Newt Gingrich, cashing in and drawing nine from Freddie Mac while the housing market in America was going down the tubes.

O'BRIEN: Is that a fair thing to say, voyeuristic itch, as if Americans have been nosy about the taxes, versus what Senator DeMint said, which was it's less about the taxes. I think he actually said I don't care about the taxes. What I need a definitive answer from a man who would like to be president of the United States. Yes, I'm giving them, no, I'm not giving them. Is it more about that?

PUTNAM: Well, you know, the issue is, you know, I think he's uncomfortable talking about having his whole life spread out in front of him. But he released it, and he released two years' worth, which is more than any of the other presidential candidates have done.

Ad they reflect a guy who has been very successful. He has been a self-made guy. He has paid al of the taxes that were due. And he derived his money from the pry vet sector. He's a problem solver. He understands being competitive in a global marketplace. Those are the skill sets we need to turn this economy around as opposed to this continuous loop of influence peddling in Washington, D.C. where you cash out and you get thrown out as being speaker and then you cash out from Freddie Mac to help give strategic advisor, or as he called it, recent Washington history, that would influence housing policy in America.

O'BRIEN: So his own father, George Romney, released 12 years of taxes. Is that something your candidate is going to do?

PUTNAM: Well, you know, that was a different era. He has released more years of tax returns than any of the other candidates running for office. In fact, there were candidates on the stage last night who still haven't released their taxes, and yet, you know, little was made of that.

So, you know, I think the issue here is less about the tax story, which is now out. There's nothing new there. He's paid at the 15 percent rate, the rate that anyone would pay on investment income. It reveals his charitable giving. The story is what's buried in that $1.6 million contract with Freddie Mac and what other clients were out there paying either Gingrich or portions of Gingrich incorporated to lobby for different aspects of public policy, whether it's housing policy or health care policy?

PUTNAM: We'll have an opportunity to talk to Trent Franks just ahead and ask him those questions later this morning.

It's interesting, Roland, to hear -- I'm not surprised, it's been constantly about the taxes, let's talk about Gingrich and influence peddling.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think for the American people, the issue was absolutely why can't you answer the question? Why can't you be definitive? Now he's answered that. I don't think people out there are sitting here going, oh, my god, this rich guy paid -- this guy made a bunch of money and he paid a lower tax rate.

I think the problem that people have is there's a belief that people of means are using the influence in Congress to be able to affect tax law to greatly benefit them versus the average people. People are going to be asking the most important question. Can this man understand me? Can he understand what I go through in my life? To have this back and forth or will he pay this, this to charity. I'm sorry --

ROMANS: It's really two problems. One is, can he understand me, regular guy who is paying 40 percent tax rate. But number two, the tax system, is it flawed? How is it possible, as Warren Buffett would say, that my assistant is paying less money in taxes percentage wise.

FRUM: George Romney was governor of Michigan when he began to run for president 1968. And this was an era in which we knew absolutely nothing about public finance. We didn't know who gave money to the president. We had no information at all on any of these campaigns. George Romney, governor of Michigan, was running against Lyndon Johnson, who over a lifetime in politics accumulated a fortune worth in today's money about $100 million in ways that were deeply disturbing. What he's trying to show is I have a sitting governor and I have not gotten rich as a city governor as opposed to the man I think I'm going to be running against who was a senator and did get enormously rich --

O'BRIEN: Hold that thought because we are going to go to commercial. Thank you. No, we're actually going to get Christine updates on the other stories making headlines. Sorry, Christine. It's like wrangling cats this morning. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning to you. President Obama putting the final touches on the tonight's State of the Union address. It's his third and perhaps most important given the political stakes right now. He's expected to use that speech to frame the message of his reelection campaign. Coming up at 6:45 eastern we're going to talk with Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett about what to expect from the president tonight.

All right, two more bodies recovered from the wreckage of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy. That brings the number of confirmed victims as 15, and 17 people are still unaccounted for. Italian officials say salvage workers have started pumping fuel out of the cruise liner.

The pardoned Mississippi murders will remain free. A Mississippi court ruled yesterday there will be no change in conditions. Haley Barbour granted full pardons to about 200 people as he closed out his second term as governor.

The public will be able to pay their respects to the late legendary football coach Joe Paterno. People can view the body today and tomorrow on the Penn State campus. A private funeral service will be held tomorrow. Paterno's son Jay and daughter Mary Kay will join us in the next hour to on STARTING POINT to talk their father's legacy with Soledad.

And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul refusing a full body pat down after an airport scanner went off in Nashville. The TSA says a targeted pat down is usually used to address the alarm. Paul's office said he was blocked from boarding the flight. Things were eventually sorted out and he boarded a later flight.

"Minding your Business now," U.S. stock futures trading down this morning. Futures of the DOW, NASDAQ, S&P 500 a little bit lower. Today it's about corporate earnings. Greece debt deal negotiations. A very big week for economic news in this country. Soledad?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I couldn't hear you. I'm shushing Roland. You know what, we are -- they're like still discussing taxes, which is great. We're going to keep talking. Lyndon Johnson taxes. You can tell how this morning is going to go, 12 minutes in, and I have lost complete control.

MARTIN: No, you haven't.

O'BRIEN: I know. We've got to turn and talk about this weather, a massive clean-up. We talked a little bit about it yesterday, those storm in central Alabama. We have pictures to update you with. Three tornadoes touched down in Jefferson County and Tuscaloosa County. Now there are two people dead, 100 people injured. And look at these pictures -- 200 homes absolutely destroyed. There is a state of emergency now in effect.

(WEATHER BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to two members of Congress, new members of congress. Terry Sewell is the first African-American woman elected to Congress in the state of Alabama. And the Tea Party's Allen West will join us. He, of course, is from Florida. We'll chat with him. Plus, we'll talk about State of the Union. That address is tonight and it's going to be all about the economy. So what does the president need to say to satisfy Americans?

And our "Get Real," you'll hear the story of the hockey goalie who snubs the president at the White House. We'll tell you what happened. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're coming to you from The Diner this morning in Washington, D.C. The food is really, really, really good. And I've only just had the tater tops.

Nice to have everybody back with us. Joining our panel this morning is Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell. She is the first African-American woman elected to Congress from the Great State of Alabama. It's nice to have you.

Also with her is Republican Congressman Allan West from Florida, a Tea Party member. We talked about your election about a year ago now.

REP. ALLEN WEST, (R) FLORIDA: Yes. You visited us in the University of Miami.

O'BRIEN: I sure did. Nice to have you with us this morning. Appreciate it.

So first and foremost, you're the newbies, how is it going?

REP. TERRI SEWELL, (D) ALABAMA: Well, you know, listen. I would be remiss if I didn't start off by saying that my heart and prayers are going out to the Alabama families that were devastated by the tornadoes yesterday. Part of it was in my district as well.

You know, I think that this year - last year was pretty frustrating for me.

O'BRIEN: And Americans would agree with the approval rating.

SEWELL: Absolutely. I mean, 365 days and no jobs plan. And frankly, the folks in my district didn't send me out there to be part of the problem but a part of the solution.

O'BRIEN: And frustrating a word you would use, too?

WEST: Well, I think, you know, there's a lot more that we could have done. Of course, for me, having served 22 years in the military and to have the opportunity to continue to serve my country is a great honor and is a privilege. So that's what makes it special each and every day.

But when I look at the fact that today is 1,000 days that we have not had a budget for the United States of America, you know, the House, one of the things we did, we passed a budget last year. But that is still sitting over there at the Senate. And so we have got to get this country back on track.

O'BRIEN: In the next hour and 10 minutes or so, we're going to be hearing the full tax report from Mitt Romney, who is hoping to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. A little bit has been leaked, you know, he's released a little bit of information. I can throw it up on the screen.

Made $21 million, more than $21 million in 2010, paid $3 million in taxes, a little bit more. His effective tax rate was 13.9 percent. Congressman West, what do you think of that?

WEST: Well, I mean, I'm not going to, you know, demonize a guy for going out and being successful and making money. I think that Governor Romney operates on the capital gains tax, his investments, what he lives off of instead of doing it off of his income.

But I think the most important thing I see in this Republican process is that we are severely betting our candidates. We are, you know, turning them over like pancakes since we're here at breakfast and we're seeing everything -

O'BRIEN: Pancakes like that? Those pancakes.

WEST: Absolutely, like those pancakes. And I think that that's better because, you know, let's be very honest. In 2008 we weren't allowed to ask many questions of President Obama and at some point you got - you got chastised for even using his middle name. So I'm proud that we have a very good vetting process in our -

O'BRIEN: I believe that was a little slam on the media in there but I'll move on. Talk to me about if you want to see more information about Mitt Romney's taxes because it's only one year and some people have called for more and others have said, listen, he's released them or will release them in an hour or a bit, enough a enough.

SEWELL: You know, look. I believe that, you know, in this day and age, especially when we're trying to get the economy back on track, it should be about shared responsibility. I think that something is fundamentally wrong if a person of his great wealth is only paying 13.9 percent effective tax rate and most of Americans are paying 28, 30 percent and they make far less.

And so I think that, you know, I'm looking forward to hearing what President Obama has to say tonight at the State of the Union, but I think it's about shared responsibility. I think that it's not about the wealthy just getting richer, but something -

O'BRIEN: What do you think people in your State of Florida, as the debate heads to Florida, the primary all heads to Florida, the is focus is on Florida. What do you think they're going to say when they say, God, I pay 28 percent effective tax rate and here's a guy who is worth $250 million and he's paying significantly less percentage-wise. Do you think they're going to care? WEST: Well, that's one of the things that I've always stood up for is that we need to have a whole hearted reform of our tax code system because the United States of America, since the 16th Amendment came about, we have a progressive tax code which means based upon the amount that you are making on the income tax side the more that you are paying but, also, we have capital gains tax and dividends taxes which have less, you know, tax codes, 13 percent, 15 percent.

And that's why I believe that immediately we go to a flat tax system across the board, somewhere between 13 and 16 percent. You can reduce the number of deductions that you have. And we can zero out capital gains and dividends tax. And I think we need reform for our corporate tax rate as well.

O'BRIEN: How come you haven't endorsed anybody yet?

WEST: Because I think that the American people all across this country should make that decision.

O'BRIEN: That's such a political answer.

WEST: It's not a political answer.

O'BRIEN: I mean, come on. Everybody -

WEST: It's not a political answer.

O'BRIEN: A lot of people are endorsing.

WEST: It's not a little bit political. But, you know, look, what difference -

O'BRIEN: It's completely a little bit political. I would argue more than a little bit.

WEST: But what difference does my endorsement make?

O'BRIEN: You have two leading - oh, please.

WEST: I mean, really, I am not trying to -

O'BRIEN: Because there are people - you are a leading Tea Party -

WEST: I'm not trying to influence the process. Let the American people decide and whoever the eventual nominee is I will get behind that nominee and I will try to help that nominee.

O'BRIEN: Do you both want to know more about, you know, the topic of the debate in terms of candidate Newt Gingrich was all about influence peddling or being a consultant, et cetera, et cetera. Do you want to mow more about that?

SEWELL: Well, frankly, I have been quite amused by the whole Republican debate, to be honest with you.

WEST: Well, I'm glad you find humor.

SEWELL: It's been quite amusing, actually.

WEST: Yes. People are -

SEWELL: Oh, no. Listen, these are - these are really tough issues. Very tough issues. And it's about putting our country right on track.

WEST: Well, I hope the president talks about tough issues tonight.

SEWELL: And I'm sure he will. I'm sure he will.

O'BRIEN: Wow. I'm getting - I hope you guys aren't going together on date night. We know that we're going to have bipartisanship. I hope the two of you were not speaking together -

WEST: I've been married for 22 years. That's the only person I want.

O'BRIEN: Because it's a little tense right there. I want to thank you for talking with us. I appreciate it. And, of course, you're always welcome to join us here.

WEST: Thanks for having us.

O'BRIEN: Our pleasure. Nice to see you.

Still to come this morning, last year's Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins were honored by the president at the White House, but there was one notable absence - the team's star goalie. We'll tell you why he decided not to show up. That's our "Get Real" segment, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at the inside of The Diner, which is where they are hosting us for breakfast this morning as STARTING POINT moves to Washington, D.C. because, of course, the State of the Union is tonight.

Our "Get Real" segment talks about, in fact, president, a job that often invites sports teams to the White House to congratulate them when they have a winning championship.

Well, yesterday it was the NHL's Boston Bruins turn. They won the Stanley Cup. And President Obama used the visit to enjoy sort of a funny moment. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Bruins, the Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots, enough already, Boston, what's going on? Uh?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, behind the scenes, believe it or not, there was much less laughter behind the scenes and it was a little bit more political, because missing from those pictures they were taking was a Bruins goalie. His name is Tim Thomas. And Thomas is just one of two Americans on that team and he played a key role in the Bruins amazing season.

But he chose not to attend because he says he's unhappy with the state of the country. He is opposed to what he calls the out of the control growth of the federal government. And Conservative Commentator Glenn Beck he says is his hero.

Thomas said this. "This was not about politics or a party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an individual."

The Bruins Coach Cam Neely says visiting the White House was an honor. He was disappointed that Thomas did not attend, but he said he had no other comment than that.

The other American on the team by the way is Steve Kampfer and he did attend. I guess Steve Kampfer is getting real.

MARTIN: You know what, I would like to ask that hockey player how did he feel about taxpayers helping to build a new stadium for your hockey team. See, I love it when people say, oh, I don't like government, but you're benefiting from government with a new arena. I'm just saying.

O'BRIEN: Oh, hypocrisy in sports.

NORQUIST: Well, I'm not happy with the government at any level, state or local, building stadiums for anybody. There are a lot of - there are a lot of nice, rich people who might develop stadiums and name it after themselves and have sports operation - actually they don't. That's old school. They now all get paid taxpayer funds.

O'BRIEN: But to take a political stand because you don't like government when a lot of what you do is in some ways built on what government has helped create is a little hypocritical.

NORQUIST: All presidents bring these guys in Washington to stand behind them to make a political statement about how cool they are, but they don't like it when one of them decides to mouth off. You know, you're just supposed to stand in the back and look good (INAUDIBLE) for sports. All presidents do that.

O'BRIEN: And some of it, is I think, truly, regardless of over the years just the honor of coming into the White House. If you won a championship, it's kind of cool.

MARTIN: Chicago Bears fan did the same thing, didn't like Obama. But again, when you say I don't like government, that's fine. Then why don't you oppose your stadium. Enough said. O'BRIEN: Still come on STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to talk to Texas Senator Kay Billy Hutchison. She'll join our panel live and she's going to join us to talk about Mitt Romney's tax returns and who she thinks won last night's debate.

Plus, the strongest solar storm in years hits earth. What does that mean for those of us here on earth?

And finally, the best time to purchase airfare has been revealed. When you should book to score cheap tickets. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: There it is, breakfast at The Diner. Here we are in Washington, D.C. tonight, of course, is the "State of the Union," which means we are going to be listening as well. Grover Norquist, we are on TV now. You will have to keep the panel quiet for just a moment.

MARTIN: When it comes to taxes, he doesn't stop.

O'BRIEN: I know. He has just been talking about taxes. We're going to talk more about that in just a moment. First, though, some other stories that are making headlines this morning. Christine Romans has those stories for us. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Grover Norquist talks taxes. Thanks, Soledad.

The primary still a week away, but voting has already began. Early voting began statewide over the weekend. Officials say 53,000 ballots were cast. About 180,000 absentee ballots have been cast.

Washington State is poised to legalize same-sex. Legislature now has the votes to pass the measure. Washington would be the 7th state plus the District of Columbia to let gay and lesbian couples wed.

Iran says an oil embargo imposed by the European Union won't work. Government officials say they're confident they can find new markets for their oil. The E.U. embargo is part of sanctions to pressure Iran to resuming talks on that country's nuclear program.

Doctors say Illinois Senator Mark Kirk is expected to make a full mental recovery from a stroke he suffered over the weekend, but he could have paralysis in his arm and leg. Kirk you may recall was elected to fill the Illinois Senate seat left vacant by President Obama.

The strongest solar storm in six years now hitting earth. The first solar flare occurred Sunday night. Officials at NOAA say radiation will likely continue through tomorrow. GPS systems could be effected if the storm is long enough it could even damage power grid transformers. And want to get away? A new study finds airline passengers paid the lowest fare nearly 6 percent below average if they purchase their tickets six weeks before their flight. Wait longer than that, you'll likely pay more.

Minding your business now, U.S. stock futures trading lower this morning. Futures for the Dow, Nasdaq, S&P 500 all down. Later today, the Federal Reserve gives new meaning on the interest rates. We will hear more about what the fed's plan are going forward.

Also something new, the fed will provide new details about the forecast for the economy and for interest rates in an effort to increase transparency -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you for that. We have been detailing all morning and revealing some of the details of Mitt Romney's tax return information.

We're expecting in the next hour or so to get full details. But here's what we know, for 2010 in adjusted gross income of more than $21 million and total tax of roughly $3 million and an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent.

It brings us right to Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She joins our panel. She's right in Capitol Hill. Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

Let's talk, Senator, if you can about some of these numbers. When we begun to get some of the information about Mitt Romney's taxes, do you feel like this is enough? What more do you want to know?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: I think that his release of his taxes is a good thing because it had been a distraction in the campaign. We all know that he is a self made man, that he worked tirelessly to earn his own way and he is very wealthy. We know that. So releasing the returns, I think, is a good thing just to get the distraction out of the way. And I think he made the right call.

O'BRIEN: You have not at this point endorsed anybody yet, but you have said that you think Mitt Romney is excellent, a quote, and you said that Newt Gingrich has, quote, "shown a lot of creativity." I'm not sure how to take that last one. What does that mean, show a lot of creativity?

HUTCHISON: Well, he is a person that has original ideas. There's no question about that. Is he the right person for our ticket? I think that we're going to play it out. We're going to see what the voters say.

I think that everybody is on fairground to criticize and look at the records because we want our strongest nominee to go against President Obama because we disagree so much with the direction our country is going under President Obama.

O'BRIEN: Last night in the debate, I'm sure you watched, Mitt Romney was attacking Newt Gingrich, and really on his leadership ability. I want to play a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you choose the president of the United States, you're looking for a person who can lead this country in a very critical time, lead the free world, and the free world has to lead the entire world.

I think it's about leadership and the speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994 and at the end of four years he had to resign in disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Is that an accurate assessment? I mean, you're one of the longest serving senators. You were there at the time of this -- ethics investigation happening. There's a whole debate over whether Newt Gingrich quit or was he pushed? You tell me. Disgraced?

HUTCHISON: Well, Soledad, I didn't serve in the House. But I do think the point that America is the free world leader and everywhere I do when I travel in foreign countries, they are looking to America to lead the way. And what have we done in this administration?

We have gotten to 100 percent debt to gross domestic product. That's almost Greece. That is not leading the world. It is not understanding that we can't have a $15 trillion debt. I think people look to us --

O'BRIEN: And I understand your position on that, but let me interrupt you -- I'm sorry, Senator, forgive me. But let me interrupt you because I want you to answer the question I asked. I know you were serving as a Senator, not in the House.

But you were at that time and the debate we were having yesterday is people who support Newt Gingrich were rewriting history, I thought, to some degree.

It was a debate over was he pushed or did he up and quit? Since you were in Washington, D.C., in the beltway at that time, what happened?

HUTCHISON: Soledad, I think you should let the people who were there in the House make that call. But I think -- I think honestly, Mitt Romney has taken a lot of hits from a lot of candidates, criticizing him.

And I think it's fair game for him to bring out the records of the other candidates that are still in the race. I mean, that's what people want to have hashed out before we have our nominee selected.

And so I have no problem with him going on the offensive. He's been on the defense for a long time.

O'BRIEN: OK. MARTIN: Senator Hutchison, Roland Martin here, Texas longhorn. Last night, I've watched all of these candidates talk about Cuba, the continuation of their policy. Here's what I'm confused by. We trade with China. We're cool with them. We're fine with the Soviet Union.

Yet, why is it that we are continuing a policy where we are saying no to Cuba. They're communist, but we're cool with other communist countries like China?

HUTCHISON: You know, honestly, Roland, I have to say I'm glad that you're a good Texas aggie. But I do think that we have tried the approach with Cuba that we don't trade and we don't have any dealings with them. That has not worked, in my opinion.

I think we should open trade and start being able to talk to the Cuban people about freedom and how -- what they could have if they had freedom. And so I'm one of those who believe that we should be starting to open the door.

And let them have the capability like the people in China do to have the internet and the freedom of hearing other views. I think that will be good for Cuba.

MARTIN: Glad to hear it.

O'BRIEN: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison joining us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, we're going to talk about what we can expect from the "State of the Union" address. Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama will join us up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. This morning we are talking about football and concussions, and not just the pros on Sunday but the dangers for children across the country. It's all part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's documentary, called "Big Hits, Broken Dreams," and it premiers this weekend on CNN. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Football in North Carolina, it was really big.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're from around this area, you know J.H. Rose.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pumped up, excited, ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all I thought every single day, football, football, football.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Football is a tough sport. You know, it ain't for everybody. There's collisions in this sport.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Julian (ph) is my little brother is not moving. He needs help breathing. I mean, I just lost it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Waller was tackled, walked to the sidelines and then collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Friday night's death of LeQuan (ph) Waller is being felt --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a very tough time for the whole community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember getting hit hard. It rang my bell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first three weeks, it was a constant headache.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trainer was asking me questions and I was answering them all wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a small percentage of impacts that simulate that car crash.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He does have symptoms of a concussion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a parent came to you and said, Coach, my kid really wants to play football, but I want you to tell me that he's going to be safe.

UNIDENTIFIED COACH: I can't guarantee that.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a violent game. That's always going to be there. Can we make this game safer?

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Oh, my goodness.

Sanjay, so interesting, my boys, who are now seven, are dying to play tackle football. And all I can think about is exactly what you have shown there, people slamming into their little heads. Is there more reporting of their concussions or is it just more dangerous today?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there is more reporting. You're going to hear the numbers of concussions go up. And people say, look, that's a sign that things are getting worse. Not necessarily. It could be good news because it increased awareness.

But, Soledad, one thing worth pointing out is with most things kids with much better at healing and recovering than adults are because their bodies are much more resistant to blows to the head and things like that. When it comes to concussion specifically, they can be more problematic as a player is younger because the brain is still developing at that age, so they can be more problematic than a player in college or certainly professional football player. So that's of concern for kids in particular.

That's why I was so interested in doing this as well. We know more about what these blows to the head do at all ages than ever before.

And I love football. I love watching it. I have all daughters. I don't have to make the decisions you do, Soledad.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm sure you like it. But would you play it --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- is the question, not do you like it, would you play it as a doctor?

GUPTA: I'm not sure if I'm the right guy --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: As a brain doctor?

GUPTA: Right, right, right. But I have three daughters. I don't know if I make the decision for my kids. I would let them play as long as they are implementing some of the rules that people are talking about now. Not leading with the head, taking out some of the helmet-to-helmet collisions during practice. Because we find a lot of injuries that occur to kids' brains, and adults' brains for that matter, occur during practice from those drills over and over again. I think that there are things that can be done to make the game safer. That's what we've found over the last year.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Soledad, I have four nephews. I absolutely do not want a single one of my nephews playing football. My nephew, Chris, went to the Houston Texas. They were signing this football. They said, Chris, what do you want to play one day? I said, stop. I would rather him be an owner than player. I just don't -- what is happening with these young kids having these concussions, when you're talking about -- look at the gentleman who played with the Cincinnati Bengals, 20 something-odd years old. When he died, they took his brain, they said, wait a minute, it like he was a 60-year-old guy.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for that story.

We're going to bring Sanjay back in the next hour to talk more about brain injuries.

Sanjay, this documentary airs on Sunday on January 29th at 8:00 p.m.

GUPTA: Right.

O'BRIEN: We'll keep our conversation going. This is fascinating. I have to tell you, when I watch someone getting hit, I cringe. I think, no way I would let my kids play.

MARTIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Also ahead this morning, Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, she is going to join us as well. Talk about what we can expect from the State of the Union address that's happening this evening.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We have to take a short break but we're back in just a moment

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Look at that. Holding the baby and trying to eat your breakfast. I have done that many, many times.

MARTIN: That's momma there. Give it to the daddy.

O'BRIEN: That's right, hand off that baby. Relax. Enjoy your breakfast.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

Tonight, the president will deliver his third State of the Union address. What are we expecting to hear from the president?

Valerie Jarrett is a senior advisor to President Obama. And we want to talk about State of the Union.

Ms. Jarrett, thanks for talking with us.

But first and foremost, I want to talk about taxes. We're expecting in 40 minutes we'll get the full release of Mitt Romney's taxes. You've heard a little bit about what he's released. I'd like to know your reaction and if you want to know more about his taxes. Good morning. VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I'm glad you brought up taxes, Soledad, because tonight is an opportunity for the president to talk about taxes. He quoted Warren Buffet a while ago where Warren said, it's ridiculous that he has a tax system where he pays a lower tax rate than his very own secretary. So tonight, the president will be able to describe what he thinks is a fair tax system.

I think it's also important that this evening he's going to walk through his vision for the future. This is a make-or-break time for the middle class. It's a time where, as a book end to the comments that he made at his speech in Kansas last month, where we want to really make sure that our system is based on fairness, where everybody who plays by the same rules can exceed their wildest dreams if you work hard --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Let's ask you that.

JARRETT: Pardon me, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So let's ask about that. Sorry for interrupting you. I just wanted to ask because you said the president, which he has said a couple of times and has previewed in his State of the Union speech, which is going to happen tonight, is about fairness. Let's go back specifically to Mitt Romney's taxes. When you look at what he's released, do you feel like, listen, what he's paying percentage wise is fair and is the American way or do you feel like the American people say it's unfair? Where do you stand on Mitt Romney's taxes?

JARRETT: Soledad, he's in the middle of the Republican primary. There are 47 more primaries or caucuses to go in the Republican primary, so I'm going to let them sort it out. I haven't reviewed his taxes.

But I think what's important is that we have a system that's fair where everybody is paying their fair share. One that rewards success but also recognizes that everyone who is successful in this country derives that success because they're in this country, a country that educates its children so we have the best work force in the world, a country that invests in infrastructure, roads, bridges, technology, a country that invests in science and technology so people can invent the drugs that cure dreadful diseases. So I think as the president describes his vision for America --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That sounds like you're giving us -- I'm sorry for interrupting you. It sounds like you're giving us sort of this as the preview of what we're going to expect from the State of the Union.

David Frum wanted to hop in and ask you a question.

DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, FRUMFORUM.COM & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I understand the president is going to talk about the future. The president always does that. How much time will he spend on the past, in particular, the past three years? Is the president going to offer some assessment of why he doesn't think the economy has done better? Is there going to be maybe even a hint of self-criticism and the suggestion of a different approach?

JARRETT: I'm not going to preview too much about the president's speech. I want to leave that to him. He will describe how we got to where we are, but more importantly, how we move the country forward. Over the last 22 months, for example, we've had private-sector job growth each and every month. We created 3.2 million jobs. We created more jobs last year than any year since 2005. We're clearly moving in the right direction.

But as we know, and you know, too many families are still sitting around their kitchen tables trying to struggle to make ends meet. What the president's belief is is that we should have a country that invests in manufacturing, that invests in new energy, that invests in preparing our work force. And it has American values that are about fairness and equity.

O'BRIEN: Valerie Jarrett is at the White House for us this morning. She's the president's senior advisor.

Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate your time.

JARRETT: Thank you, Soledad. Thanks a lot.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Straight ahead, we're going to continue to talk about Mitt Romney's taxes.

Also, what does it mean for Newt Gingrich? We'll assess some of the debate last night, which seemed a little strange to me. Without the audience cheering, you really felt that Newt Gingrich took it down a notch. We'll talk about that.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Also, we have some new video of this ship wreck. I'm going to show you some of those updated pictures.

And we'll talk about rising tensions with Iran. A "New York Times" columnist has an op-ed on the possibility of bombing Iran's nuclear facility.

All of that straight ahead as STARTING POINT continues right after this.

MARTIN: Did you see the story --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)