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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Interview with Michael Reagan; White House Sharing Too Much?; Florida Voting Begins; Interview with Senator Marco Rubio; Interview With Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; Is Donald Trump Entering GOP Race?

Aired January 31, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I love when the panel is just chitchatting away when I'm trying to start the show.

Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. The candidates have had their say. It's the voters' turn in the state of Florida. The polls are open right now. Mitt Romney appears to be on a roll.

Plus, this man hasn't endorsed anybody, but he is considered to be a prime pick for the slot of vice president, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio will be joining us right here in just a few minutes.

Plus, the president's letting secrets fly about U.S. drones during a Google Plus hangout. Did you see this? Kind of strange. Now, he's getting a little criticism about those loose lips.

We're going to talk about all of that as STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: I do. Yes. You know? Wow, Steely Dan. A big hit with the crew this morning. That was Congressman Davis' pick because we went right into his iPod.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: He picked better than you the first time that, I'll tell you that.

As you know, we've been taking suggestions. Our new strategy to improve the music is to steal a musical selection from our guests and our panelists and contribute. Friday, we're going to open up to our viewers. So, feel free to send, the only thing, people, like a little bit of tempo in the music so people don't fall asleep. You can tweet me at @Soledad_OBrien. Or just @StartingPtCNN on Twitter. Send us those things.

OK. We got lots to get to this morning. We're back with our panel, as I mentioned.

Congressman from the state of Virginia joining us, former congressman. Maria Cardona is back as well. Will Cain joins us as well. Nice to have you all.

We're talking about voting in Florida, because it's gotten underway in the last hour. And the polls are showing that Mitt Romney is up a lot in the Sunshine State. And throughout the campaign he has been slowly improving. The last 10 days from South Carolina, we've only seen improvement from his side.

The candidates have mastered the art of name dropping. It is one name in particular, the name of former President Ronald Reagan time and time and time again on the stump. Here's what they say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will every day assure you that I will fight to keep America as Ronald Reagan so often spoke, keep America the shining city on the hill.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I worked with Ronald Reagan to create jobs.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was one of four in Texas, one of four members of Congress that supported Reagan in '76.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Ronald Reagan came down here to Florida everyone said, oh, no, you've got to pick this other guy.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O'BRIEN: Well, Michael Reagan is the author of "The New Reagan Revolution: How Ronald Reagan's Principles Can Restore America's Greatness," today. He's also the former president's son.

It's nice to have you. You know, I read a count that said that Newt Gingrich brought out your father's name 61 times in a debate. I think that that is an accurate count.

Why the dropping of the Ronald Reagan name over the last few days as we head to the Florida primaries?

MICHAEL REAGAN, AUTHOR, "THE NEW REAGAN REVOLUTION": Because he is the iconic figure of the Republican Party. I mean, you left out Barack Obama. He's dropped Ronald Reagan's name many times himself.

O'BRIEN: That's true. That's true. And others, a lot of people.

REAGAN: It seems to be Democrat, Republican, you know, absolutely.

But, you know, Newt Gingrich was there in the 1980s during the Reagan revolution when my father took over Washington in 1981, sworn in as the president of the United States. And so, he was there. So, out of those who in fact are running, I mean, Newt Gingrich was there, Ron Paul was also there. But Newt Gingrich was there on the front lines, as he was in the 1990s when he led the Republicans to their first majority in over 40 years.

So he could talk about those times because he remembers those times. And when you go around and you talk to Republican purists, I mean, they all remember those Reagan years and would love to get back to those Reagan years, hence, everybody drops my father's name.

O'BRIEN: So, in your estimation then, it's Newt Gingrich who is the true holder of the mantle of Ronald Reagan? Yes or no?

REAGAN: No, I'm the true holder of the mantle. You know?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Are you dropping your father's name?

REAGAN: There you go. But I'm not running for anything.

But as far as saying that he was there, he's allowed to be able to go out and say those things because he was there at the very beginning. He was the one fighting for tax cuts, you know, with Ronald Reagan and what-have-you. So, he can go out and say those things even though he catches it from the other side.

But the truth is, he was there and so he gets away with it.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let me play a little clip of what Nancy Reagan had to say. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: Barry Goldwater handed the torch to Ronnie and in turn Ronnie turned that torch over to Newt and the Republican members of Congress to keep that name alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Now according to NBC News, sources close to Nancy Reagan say in that speech, she was actually referring not specifically to Newt but to Congress in general, sort of the speakership in general, not specifically to Newt. Is that true?

REAGAN: Well, the reality of it was that Newt was speaker of the House. Newt is the one who gave us 54 Republican congressmen, eight senators, 12 governorships, including George W. Bush and got control for the Republicans first time, as I said, in 40 years.

So, Newt was the leader of that, hence, turn it over to Newt and the Republicans. And so, the Republicans have that mantle on them to get back to those days. They've been arguing about it ever since.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Michael, Will Cain here. Soledad mentioned that Newt Gingrich had mentioned your dad's name 61 times. The way things are going in Florida right now, he might have -- should have used it 62 times.

But let me -- Peggy Noonan had a column article in "The Wall Street Journal" a few days ago where she said your dad did so many things. He brought so many disparate groups of conservatism together, and the Republican Party establishment, anti-establishment, social conservatism, economic conservatism.

But she said in the end, the main thing your dad was positive, he had a message of building. And Newt Gingrich seems to have the opposite message. He has one of destruction.

Don't you see an inherent tension between the two men?

REAGAN: Well, no, but you can play that on all sides? I mean, come on, this is a campaign, this is a primary. This is what happens. I'll put this on Newt Gingrich's shoulders to say he has the policy of destruction and Mitt Romney's just the purist and wonderful person.

You know, but the reality is, you look back at Republican presidential contenders, when they have put up a moderate, Bob Dole, John McCain, what-have-you, they've taken losses at the presidential level. When they put up somebody who says they're conservative or runs on a conservative message, they end up winning the presidency of the United States of America.

So, is it wrong for Newt Gingrich to bring those things to the forefront and remind people so when you have Bob Dole, who's the one who sold my father on the three for one, $3 in spending cuts for $1 in new taxes -- my dad went to his grave waiting for the $3 in spending cuts he never got for the Democrats.

So, conservatives have that memory that, in fact, they don't get their side of the equation when they make deals. So to blame Newt and say, well, it's Newt that's the policy of destruction -- yes, Ronald Reagan as I talk about in my book, "New Reagan Revolution," was a uniter. He brought all factions together.

But you look at this, Newt Gingrich when he was speaker of the House, he was speaker working with then Democrat President Bill Clinton. What do they do? Balance the budget four times. Without a law, they balanced it. They reformed welfare. They worked together.

O'BRIEN: So --

REAGAN: So to say that Newt's the man of destruction, he's the only one that actually worked with the other side to make this place a better place during the 1990s.

O'BRIEN: Michael Reagan joining us this morning -- nice to have you. Thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.

REAGAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I think you're right, maybe 6,200 times would have been a little more helpful in the state of Florida.

CAIN: Want to get it covered.

O'BRIEN: Sixty-one didn't get it anywhere near covered.

But, you know, every single political strategist this morning has said, well, we'll have to see tonight.

CAIN: We'll have to see. Right.

O'BRIEN: We've got other headlines making news this morning. And Christine Romans has a look for us.

Hey. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

The U.N. Security Council today could take up a resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria and calling for President Bashar al- Assad to step down. The Obama administration has said the Security Council must act.

Meantime, opposition forces report new clashes with Syrian security troops in the suburbs of Damascus.

The horror of that massive pileup on I-75 in Florida, it's captured in the 911 calls. Ten people were killed after heavy smoke from a brush fire left drivers with zero visibility. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DISPATCHER: Do you see any fire? Do you see anything like that?

CALLER: No fire. We can't see. You can hardly even see your hazards. Here comes another one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, he's coming too fast.

CALLER: He is coming too fast. Here comes another one. Oh, see there he goes. Oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) that one is a bad one.

I'm hearing people crying. One the other side -- that is northbound.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: Investigators still looking into whether that fire was arson.

With Mitt Romney poised to beat Newt Gingrich pretty good in Florida, this could be considered piling on a lawsuit filed against Gingrich's campaign for using the song "Eye of the Tiger" at campaign rallies and other events without proper authorization.

And David Axelrod, the president's chief re-election strategist, is using first dog Bo to dig Mitt Romney. Axelrod posted a photo of the president to the back of his car with the Bo, and the caption, "How loving owners transport their dogs". It's, of course, a jab at Romney for transporting his family dog in a kennel on top of the family station wagon when his kids were kids.

The Obama campaign has launched a Facebook page calling it Pet Lovers for Obama.

O'BRIEN: Oh my God. Tom Davis is on the roll. Come on, repeat that. What is it?

TOM DAVIS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I'd say this could be a ruff, ruff, ruff campaign and they're really hounding Romney.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It only gets better from here, Christine. Don't you wish you were sitting at this table?

ROMANS: It's a dog eat dog world.

O'BRIEN: Oh, God. All right. Circling the train this morning.

OK. Thank you, Christine.

There's some new questions about I guess you'd call it loose lips at the White House. First, you had Leon Panetta revealing a key source for the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

And then President Obama did this online town hall and revealed what officials, I think for years, had been pretty careful not to reveal, which is that the U.S. is using drones to go after terrorists in Pakistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are able to pinpoint strike an al Qaeda operative in a place where the capacities of that military and that country may not be able to get them. So, obviously, a lot of these strikes have been in the Fatah, and going after al Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Barbara Starr. She's live at the Pentagon.

I have to tell you, Barbara, when I hear this, and it really started with Leon Panetta talking about this doctor who helped in that raid, what's going on? I mean, is this intentional? I'm just not understanding it, or is this literally making a mistake in a nationally televised chat or interview?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, I think, Soledad, that's a question everybody's asking themselves. It's like that old game of Clue. You may know that the butler did it, but you don't really talk about it, you know?

It's remarkable. The president openly admitting that they are conducting these lethal strikes killing militants, the U.S., inside Pakistan. Those strikes are conducted by the CIA.

That is not something you talk about. And what he has done, whether it's a mistake, inadvertent, whether he's trying to pressure the Pakistanis. In fact, he's back in Pakistan into a corner right now because they, of course, do not openly acknowledge that they permit these strikes, that they have allowed these strikes to continue. They publicly in Pakistan are against the move, the government there. But now, the president really leaves them no operating room to deny that these strikes are happening.

So it's going to be very tough from here on out. And especially because it comes on top of what Panetta said just a couple of days ago, acknowledging that a Pakistani doctor had worked with the U.S. intelligence community on the bin Laden raid and acknowledging that he believes Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.

So, we got a lot of loose lips around here. And the question is, is it just loose lips, or is there something else at work in this very sensitive intelligence game?

O'BRIEN: And all of that as they're pressuring the Pakistanis to release that doctor. It just seems like very strange timing.

All right. Barbara Starr for us -- nice to see you, Barbara. Thanks.

STARR: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, airlines forced to advertise your full flight fare, taxes and all. But now, there's some pushback on that. Could this be the government taking advantage of flyers? Flyers taken advantage of? What? Breaking news.

Also, Florida voters at the polls right now. We'll tell you how it is looking for the two lead candidates, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney this morning.

And Florida Republican congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, why the housing crisis in that state could decide the winner. We'll talk about the economy with her, straight ahead this morning.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I'm really featured finally. I got a little do's on my show. Congressman, last week, I could not buy a friend on this show. This week, I can get all my songs on.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Having your name on the top of the show doesn't do a whole lot here.

O'BRIEN: Nothing. Means zero. Call me, we'll talk about it later.

Welcome back, everybody. Lots to talk about, of course, because today is the day. It's Florida's GOP primary day. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, I'm sorry, has been campaigning, and I've known her for literally years and years and years. Campaigning in her home state --

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, (R), FLORIDA, FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR, ROMNEY 2012 PRES. CAMPAIGN: I have the hardest name.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's a little challenging.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Don't worry about it.

O'BRIEN: It's a little challenging.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'll go to, hey, you.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: You know with a name like Soledad, sometimes, I go to, hey, you, also. She is also, I should mention, the most senior Republican woman in the entire House. She has high hopes for getting back --

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm an old bag, yes. An old broad.

O'BRIEN: That is so not what I said at all. I just saw you minutes ago on CNN --

ROS-LEHTINEN: I know what you were meaning to say. I heard between the lines.

O'BRIEN: Nonsense. Nonsense. I said the vibrant and experienced Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joining us this morning.

ROS-LEHTINEN: We are kind of excited today.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, OK, why? Why? Talk to me about the economy. Every time we talk, hang on -- every time we talk, we talk often about immigration and Latinos in the state of Florida, which I don't think is inappropriate. But every single time I get checked by the congresswoman who says, we want to talk about the economy.

So, let's talk about the economy. You assume, I believe, Mitt Romney, who you're supporting, is going to win this primary race like most of the polls are showing. Why do you think he's strong on the economy? What's the message?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that he's got this message of private sector experience. I know that that's being attacked. I don't think that that's -- really resonates with the voters, that kind of an attack. He didn't inherit the wealth he's worked for it. And, he's got a good, strong economic package that resonates with the voters in Florida, especially South Florida where we have been hard hit with this recession. Our unemployment numbers are way higher than the national average. Also, the tourism has slowed down. They're going to see Mickey Mouse in Orlando, but they're not making that last trek down to the beaches of South Florida. So, we've been really hit. We were in a real estate and construction boom here, and those industries have screeched to a halt.

So, the voters here in South Florida, especially, are wanting to hear a message of lower taxes, less regulation, certainty for the small business owner so that he doesn't have more mandates from Washington but let him be alone and be able to grow his business. That's the Mitt Romney economic message, and that's why he's doing so well in a distressed economy like Florida.

TOM DAVIS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, REPUBLICAN MAIN STREET PARTNERSHIP: Ileana, Tom Davis, how are you?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Hey, Tom, my colleague.

DAVIS: Yes. Let me ask you, South Florida last time, 500,000 vote lead for Obama in Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade Counties? How do you see this coming Romney is the nominee come November, of it change economic circumstances, Romney at the head of the ticket?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that Obama has to own this economic climate. He said if we passed the stimulus bill, which was such a horrid disaster, we would -- our unemployment rate would not go above eight percent. We've had 36 straight months of terrible non-growth in terms of jobs.

O'BRIEN: But isn't it improved? Let me stop you there. If it's improved -- Forgive me for interrupting you, but if it's improved, right, because earlier, the congressman and I were talking about, it's really going to be a snapshot of where is it going? And it is improving slowly.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I want it to improve.

O'BRIEN: So, if it improves, doesn't that help the president?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm not saying, oh boy, I hope it gets worse.

O'BRIEN: No, of course.

ROS-LEHTINEN: You know, even if it helps the president, I want it to improve. We want people to have jobs, but what we've seen is that he's doubling down on this failed economic policy. We heard his "State of the Union" speech. How many new federal programs was he creating during that speech at the same time that he's saying that we've got to quit spending money we don't have?

And that's the Republican message. And, maybe he'll catch on to that, maybe he'll change his tune, but the programs that he's putting out are going to increase our debt, increase our deficit, and not put certainty for small business owners, so we won't be able to create jobs. That's why Mitt Romney's economic message is going to resonate throughout the country, because President Obama said, if I don't approve this economic situation in three years, then this is going to be a one-term proposition. Well, we're going to hold him accountable for his words.

O'BRIEN: We'll se how it goes in the state of Florida today. As you can see, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is a very strong Romney supporter, obviously. Thanks for your time. Appreciate it, congresswoman.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT --

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: -- you bet. CNN exclusive, we're talking to Marco Rubio. Would the GOP have a better chance to the White House if he said yes to being a VP? New polls on that.

Also, the fight over airline fares. There are some new rules and now force the airlines to disclose the entire cost of ticket including the taxes and the fees. Some lawmakers, though, want it overturned. Congressman, we're going to talk about that. You're watching STARTING POINT straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. OK, people. We're on TV. Keep it down a little. Trying to get to today's human factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to a man who's helping other people realize that food can be medicine. It's a story about a guy who's a chef, but it's got a twist. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hans Rueffert is a chef without a stomach or much of an esophagus.

HANS RUEFFERT, CHEF/CANCER SURVIVOR: I've had 11 surgeries in the last six years.

GUPTA: You see, Rueffert was diagnosed with gastric cancer just weeks after appearing in the 2005 season of the next food network star.

RUEFFERT: There was a tumor sitting right at the junction of the stomach and esophagus.

GUPTA: His treatment was painful. Rueffert had half of his stomach and most of his esophagus removed immediately after his diagnosis. And then, there were more operations, chemo, radiation, but eventually, he was cancer-free. That's when the headaches began.

RUEFFERT: They saw 10 to 12 lesions and was told, this is it. You got, you know -- you're on your way out.

GUPTA: It wasn't cancer, but it was a serious brain infection caused by his newly constructed digestive system.

RUEFFERT: I ended up springing a leak at that junction where the esophagus and stomach were connected, and that leak actually almost killed me.

GUPTA: Antibiotics got rid of the infection, but a year later, a second one, worse than the first. Both infections were so serious that doctors didn't want to risk him getting yet another one. So, in March, the rest of Rueffert's stomach was removed.

Even though his stomach is gone, he eats six healthy small meals every day, which now go directly into his intestines.

RUEFFERT: The expression, you are what you eat, is so -- you know, it's cliche as can be. And it's cliche because it's true. And for me, that really is amplified.

GUPTA: He wrote a cookbook while in the hospital after his first operation. And for the last five years, he's been teaching fellow survivors how to incorporate healthy, cancer fighting foods into their diets.

RUEFFERT: It's power and it's energy and it's energy that our bodies can readily assimilate, even for a guy without a stomach.

GUPTA: Rueffert says the six years have been difficult, but being open about his cancer and surrounding himself with family and friends has helped him overcome every challenge so far.

RUEFFERT: Somehow, you just kind of find a little more strength just to keep going, keep going, keep going. You know, here we are. I just had my six-year checkup, and we're six years cancer-free.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: And ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a big day in Florida, the primary. So, who's going to come out on top and why no endorsements from some key people, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida? We're going to talk to him straight ahead.

And TSA workers suspended for sleeping on the job and stealing. We'll tell you what happened. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after the short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Where's the champagne? I feel like we haven't left the club?

O'BRIEN: We have rolled out of the club straight into the studio. That's from Maria's iPod. Before we get to the next round of interviews, I want to talk to Tom Davis a little bit about your experience in Congress. Give us your perspective on how the race is going and really the run for independents, is it?

TOM DAVIS, (R) FORMER VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: It's all about independence. It's not going to be immobilization. And 40 percent of the electorate are self-identified independents. In '10 they came back for the Republicans. They're very, I would say, unsatisfied voters right now. They don't like what they're seeing out of Washington, out of their political leaders. They're up for grabs. They're certainly gettable for the Republicans but they're not there yet.

O'BRIEN: Are they more gettable by Romney or Gingrich?

DAVIS: Well, I think the conventional wisdom is more gettable by Romney. He has less baggage. Probably be more acceptable.

O'BRIEN: When you look at the polls, they sort of look at the flip flopping issue. Something like 63 percent of the people polled said that one of their concerns was the changeability on the issues. Isn't that going to be a big problem for independents?

DAVIS: Flip-flopping hurts a little bit. But it's worse to be an ideologue, that you're not willing to flip-flop and change.

CAIN: Interesting.

O'BRIEN: That's an interesting spin. Really?

CAIN: Interesting.

O'BRIEN: I don't know.

DAVIS: If you're on the wrong side of the issue, it's right. There's a certain malleability to governing. You have to compromise and the like. At the end of the day it's going to be competing visions for the country. Do they like what they see? I think they're willing to give Romney and the Republicans a look at this time. You need to make a sale. And independents will be critical.

O'BRIEN: What did you get out of Congress?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, I left undefeated and unindicted.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Congratulations, sir, very proud of you.

DAVIS: Thank you. I was termed out as a committee chairman. You get on with life. I didn't have the --

O'BRIEN: Do you miss it?

DAVIS: No. Do you miss high school? O'BRIEN: Yes, a little bit sometimes, occasionally.

DAVIS: I don't miss it.

CAIN: You moved beyond?

DAVIS: I've moved beyond it. I still love the guys up there. I keep up with them. Good luck to them.

O'BRIEN: But doesn't this say it all? OK. We're going to keep talking about that. There's a lot going on there.

We have to get to some headlines this morning. Christine Romans has that for us. Tood morning

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR. Good morning to you, Soledad. That's right, Syria blaming armed terrorists for blowing up a gas pipeline and knocking two electric plants offline. Clashes between government forces and demonstrators have escalated in the past couple of days, with some reports putting the death toll at over 100 yesterday.

Violence in Syria has been mounting largely since the Arab League monitors pulled out. Today Syria expects China and Russia to block a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The deadline has come and gone for Occupy Washington demonstrators to pack up their camping gear and leave two encampments near the White House. They were supposed to get out by noon yesterday.

The Pentagon temporarily suspending high speed to flight and ground operations of more than 15 F-35 fighter jets. There's a problem with improperly packed parachutes behind the pilot's ejector seat. The grounding comes as the problem plagues the $382 billion, billion with a "b," that F-35 program braces for a third restructuring in just three years.

Today House Republicans will propose legislation calling for $260 billion in spending on transportation infrastructure spending over the next five years. Additional measures could be added to the bill this, including a plan to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline despite opposition from the White House.

At least six TSA workers have reportedly been suspended at Newark Liberty Airport. "The New York Post" reports they were doing everything from stealing from passengers to sleeping on the job. The TSA confirmed to us that workers were removed but would not tell us exactly why.

And a new rule that forces airlines to include taxes and fees in their advertised prices coming under fire. One congressman from Georgia is even promising to introduce a bill to overturn it. He's concerned under the new guidelines airlines can jack up fees and hide them from customers. And the Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin channeling Michael Jordan last night. Look at this monster jam. The dunk lit up twitter. Even the king, LeBron James tweeted. He tweeted "Dunk of the year. I guess I'm number two now."

"Minding your Business," developments in Europe set to give U.S. stocks a modest boost perhaps today. EU leaders agreed on a deal to establish a permanent bailout fund which also comes with rules aimed at preventing European governments from running up huge debts in the first place.

And bankrupt American Airlines is meeting with its unions this week to discuss cutting costs. Layoffs and pension cuts are likely on the table. American has more than 80,000 workers. When it filed for bankruptcy back in November it blamed high labor costs.

(WEATHER BREAK)

ROMANS: Back to you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you very much. Florida, as we've been discussing all morning, is a big battleground state. In some ways it's kind of like a mini-America. You have the panhandle that represents and resembles parts of the Deep South on the gulf side, and south Florida with the large Hispanic population. So who's going to be able to capture the most support and win today's primary.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida joins us. He's in Washington, D.C. Thanks for being with us this morning, appreciate it. Handicap the race for me. What happens tonight? Mitt Romney by how much?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Well, I'm not going to speculate as to who's going to win. Here's what I'm comfortable saying, though. I think the winner of Florida is in all likelihood going to be the nominee of our party, and rightfully so. Florida is, as you said, is a mini America. Virtually every issue we want them to be conversant on and convincing on is a discussion we've had in Florida. So I don't know what the results are going to be. But we don't have an Election Day in Florida, we have an election week. People have been voting in Florida for more than a week with absentee ballots.

O'BRIEN: And it feels like a year having been down there a little bit. Let me ask you, you have not decided to endorse anybody. Jeb Bush, former governor, has decided not to endorse anybody. The current governor Rick Scott has decided not to endorse anybody. Why not?

RUBIO: From my perspective, I can't speak for other people, and I have known Speaker Gingrich for quite a while. He was helpful to me when I was actually in the Florida legislature. And I did a book he helped us with called "100 Ideas for Florida's Future." And then Later on when I was running for the Senate Governor Romney came to Florida and campaigned on my behalf.

O'BRIEN: So I think I get the answer there. RUBIO: So the bottom line is I have relationships. The other thing is I try to stay out of the endorsement game most of the time. I think especially for president voters don't need you to tell them who to vote for, especially here in Florida.

O'BRIEN: So you know there are some theories that go along with this, right? There's a theory that says you're just not passionate about either of the two candidates and that's why you don't throw your support behind one or the other. There's another theory that kind of goes with that that says you have your eyes on a run in 2016 so that's why you prefer not to endorse anybody. Any truth to either of those?

RUBIO: That's just speculation. None of them are true. The reality of it is what I just said. I have relationships with two of the four candidates. I know them well, didn't want to get involved in the endorsement game. None of it will matter at the end of the day, quite frankly. My endorsement won't impact the outcome of the race. Voters when it comes to voting for president will make up their own minds.

O'BRIEN: Before I continue on with you, sir, I want to talk to our panelists for a minute, which is saying what he knows. He is being considered for a VP position. Smart?

DAVIS: I think he'd be a great candidate for vice president.

O'BRIEN: You're saying that because he's listening in on this interview?

DAVIS: No.

O'BRIEN: Why?

DAVIS: First of all, I think being Hispanic is helpful. Being from Florida which is a key state is very critical for Republican chances. He's generationally right reaching out to younger people. Has great access to party base in the party. You get four in one.

O'BRIEN: Agree?

CAIN: I do agree. So you going to accept it, Senator Rubio?

RUBIO: That's great. I'm flattered. Thank you, guys.

DAVIS: We're just speculating.

O'BRIEN: I'm not speculating. I'm asking.

RUBIO: Well, look, my answer hasn't changed on that. I've answered it repeatedly. I have I'm focused on my job in the Senate. I don't think I'm going to be asked in terms of getting elected. I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee but I'm flattered by your words on the panel. We're going to TiVo that to my mom.

O'BRIEN: Moms love me. That's my demographic. Last week we were talking about some comments that you had made where you said you were very disappointed in the negative tone. You wish had you spoke up earlier about the negative tenor of the conversation. Let me play you a little sampling of negativity from the candidates first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal ridden agency that helped create the crisis.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I offered advice. My advice as a historian --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A historian, really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of man would mislead, distort, and deceive just to win an election? This man would, Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Those voices, the people that do the voice-over work, they scare me. "What man will do" -- -

DAVIS: You'll never see their face.

O'BRIEN: That's scary. So as you get closer and closer to today really it's gotten even more negative. Do you see a break coming from that or no?

RUBIO: Well, look, I think that's been a part of every campaign. Unfortunately, it's only gotten worse. No candidate in American history has ever run more negative ads than Barack Obama. I don't think that will change in 2012.

Unfortunately people have to get used to it. But I think voters see through that. This election is so important. Those ads are interesting I suppose for people like us that cover and live in politics. But for the real world what they care about is I'm out of a job. I've lost my job or I'm making half as much as I used to make and working twice as hard. My kids can't go to college. My son just graduated from college and can't find a job. My home is upside down. These are the real concerns of real people around the world.

And at the end of the day the candidate that will win is the candidate that speaks to those aspirations and to those worries. I hope that'll be the Republican nominee. And I'll do everything I can and the rest of us around here will, I think, to make sure that that happens.

O'BRIEN: I see why they want you to be the VP. We have to take a commercial break. I'm going to ask you to stick around and we'll talk to you on the other side of that commercial break in just a moment. We've got Senator Marco Rubio joining us from the state of Florida. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

And we are back with Florida Senator Marco Rubio joining us. I want to ask you a question about this debate about English as the official language. Let me first play for you --

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- what both leading candidates have said on this front. Both leading candidates I should say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: English is the language of this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Ok. So isn't there something contradictory when both are saying English should be the official language of this nation but at the same time they're running ads in Spanish in the state that you're in hoping to court, you know, people who really are much more comfortable in Spanish? Isn't that contradictory and maybe hypocritical?

RUBIO: Right. Well I don't know anyone -- no well, I don't think so. I think this issue is always analyzed the wrong way. No one is talking about banning Spanish. On the contrary, I think people should speak as many languages as they can learn. That's an advantage economically and culturally, et cetera but there has to be one language that everybody in America speaks --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: But there doesn't -- I mean why does there have to be? Because we haven't.

RUBIO: Well but there has to be -- but in terms of government -- no but there has to be a unifying language. I mean, you can't have a nation where you speak 50 different languages. I mean and I think it makes sense. The vast majority of Americans, our heritage as that of English speaking nation all of our governmental documents are in English, the founding documents of this nation, the laws --

O'BRIEN: But you know the reality of this would be, right, that you wouldn't have a ballots that would have English and Spanish you'd only have ballots in English and other things like that.

RUBIO: Well you know.

O'BRIEN: And other things like that, so the actual practical implications --

RUBIO: Well, you know, that doesn't bother me as much. The ballots don't bother me as much. And I don't think anyone is talking about prohibiting that. My name is spelled the same way in English and Spanish for example. So I don't think that's as big an issue. You can confront that at the state level. I don't think they should ban Spanish ballots. Certainly voting is a fundamental right.

But what we're talking about here, is there going to be an official unifying language of our country? Yes. It should be the English language, it's the official language of Florida and the world hasn't ended there.

O'BRIEN: And we haven't had an official language and the world hasn't ended there either.

Right, let's move on. Because I want to ask you a question about this poll that says that -- can we throw that up on the screen? It's from ABC News Univision Latino Decisions poll. And it says, people are more or less likely to vote Republican if you are on the ticket. And they say more, 42 percent we're talking about Republicans in the state of Florida if you're on the ticket. No effect, 31 percent and less -- less at 20 percent.

So when you see a poll like that, what kind of calculations are you doing in your head?

RUBIO: It's irrelevant because I'm not going to do it. -- I certainly have never made decisions based on polls. I mean, have you seen the number of polls that come out? They all show different things --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: God, yes. I live with the polls.

RUBIO: Yes and you know these polls -- I know but these polls change literally overnight because something happens. Number two, I'm not thinking about the vice presidency or anything of that nature.

At the end of the day, you know these campaigns are undecided in theory, they're going to be decided by people, hopefully a nominee on the Republican side that's going to go out and say, look, this gentleman who's now the President of the United States has been in office for three and a half years.

Yes, he inherited a difficult economy, yes, he inherited high unemployment. But he got everything he wanted the first two years he was president. And it only made things worse. And now he's asking for a four-year contract extension. Does he deserve it? Because if doesn't deserve it, it's time to try something different and someone different. That's the case.

O'BRIEN: You sound like a guy who would say yes if he were asked to be Vice President. I've got to tell you, would you?

RUBIO: Well, I know, I appreciate you thinking that. No. I'm telling you I'm focused on the United States Senate. And by the way these issues that we're talking about are relevant here in the United States Senate where we're starting to debate and hopefully we're going to start debating some of these job creation issues.

And look, Washington is a frustrating place. I filed a bill late last year with Senator Coons the Democrat from Delaware. This bill basically had in it everything that Republicans and Democrats agree on. We can't get the bill to move around here. These are the things we agree on.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You know it's interesting. Tom Davis is here and he is nodding his head yes. You know that of course he has left Congress. And he's sort of your nodding your head yes. They can't get it done, did it feel like that in Congress for you just --

(CROSSTALK)

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Yes, it was getting that way. It was getting worse. But I'll just say Senator Rubio may be a freshman, but he's no rookie. He's doing a great job and trying to work bipartisan. The problem is leadership and both parties don't want these things to move. They just get stymied. I know it's frustrating for the members.

O'BRIEN: All right, we've got Senator Marco Rubio joining us. Thank you. We appreciate your time, sir.

DAVIS: Thank you.

RUBIO: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Let me know if you change your mind on the VP thing. We'd like to talk about it. He's like -- no, no.

DAVIS: I think there's a little space there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you think? You think, you know what's interesting? So with that frustration, when you talk about the leadership is the problem, how do you fix that? Because I think as an outsider, just as a member of the electorate that makes us mad.

DAVIS: Well, the caucuses, Republican and Democrat are pretty right and pretty left. The leaders are elected by their caucuses. And that's the way it works. But the folks in the middle --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Or doesn't work.

DAVIS: And the other is just note, most members now, their major race is their primary election, not the general. You don't get rewarded by your primary voters for compromising and working with the other side.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But don't you think that's gotten since the election of all of the Tea Party folks and I think a lot of the polls show that Americans think that it was the Tea Party and the Republicans who were being obstructionists.

DAVIS: Well, I think it has anything to do with the Tea Party. I think what has to do with the fact that you have media models now that are very polarizing. The way campaigns are financed now the money has moved away from the parties out to these interest groups between Citizens United and Campaign Finance Reform, which I'm proud to say I voted against.

Just it's all adding to the polarization and there's the way these districts are drawn now, they're one-party districts.

O'BRIEN: Right.

DAVIS: So people -- and all of that has contributed to the polarization.

O'BRIEN: All right, we've got much more to talk about ahead on STARTING POINT. Four-man race for the Republican nomination or could there be five? We're talking about this third party. What do we think? We're going to reveal who that could be.

You're watching STARTING POINT. Straight ahead we're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Ok, people. You heard it here first on STARTING POINT. In today's "Reveal" there is evidence that Donald Trump is considering entering the race for the Republican nomination.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Geez. Geez.

O'BRIEN: I know, no need to change your channel or check it. Yes, this is again, a back again. Here's a first clue. Listen to the Donald he was on "Face the Nation" this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Since Republican against Republican and yet the level of hatred I guess you could say. I mean, there's no other word for it. It's unbelievable. And the question is are they hurting themselves? Are they hurting the party? Are they hurting the Republicans? And are they hurting their chances of winning an election against Barack Obama? And probably the answer is, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So if you need any more clues, you can just look to Trump advisor Michael Cohen who confirms he's been meeting with high level political operatives in the past two weeks, among them campaign managers and finance directors.

Cohen told ABC News, quote, "Until the time Mr. Trump decides to either endorse a candidate or run himself, I am exploring on his behalf the possibilities of ensuring Mr. Trump appears on the ballot in all states and to develop a team of professionals who could ensure a potential victory."

You know what's really interesting, I think, is in one of these articles they talk about the fact that it also has to do with the ending of "Apprentice", like the timing of "Apprentice" has played a role in his presidential aspirations because the planning calendar, I guess, is very, very critical.

CARDONA: All about timing.

CAIN: Let's be clear. During your little sound there of Donald Trump, Maria Cardona went like this, "yes".

CARDONA: Absolutely.

CAIN: Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CARDONA: Yes. Another reason that Obama will win this election.

O'BRIEN: All right. Leave it there for the moment. We have "End Point" next. I bet that's going to be your "End Point".

CARDONA: I think it's going to be.

O'BRIEN: We're back in a moment. You're so predictable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This is Maria's iPod because the song is called "Maria, Shut Up and Kiss Me."

CAIN: Willie Nelson. Yes, I do like that.

O'BRIEN: One of Willie Nelson's. And you know what; at the end of the show I don't mind a little Willie Nelson. It's just a way to try to wake people up. Yes, I'll buy that.

Let's get right to our "End Point" this morning. Congressman, this is how it goes. Will Cain will give you the 30 second version of what we need to hear. Sum it up for us Will Cain.

CAIN: In the show you interviewed Michael Reagan. Reagan's legacy resonates with Republicans but largely old people. That's why it works in Florida. Reagans' legacy -- I'm going to be honest with you will have diminishing returns with younger voters, younger Republicans. We have to face it. It was 25 years ago.

CARDONA: Well, these candidates trip over each other to claim Reagan, Reagan gave amnesty, raised taxes 11 times. He would have been booted out of today's Republican Party.

O'BRIEN: Your "End Point", sir, as you wrap up your guest appearance with us, which we appreciate, by the way.

DAVIS: Well, thank you. Reagan was the father of the modern Republican Party. He took the old Rockefeller eastern wing, defeated them after Ford. Put together a new coalition. And it still stands.

O'BRIEN: My "End Point" is a question to our panel which is we heard, I think it was Senator Rubio who said that Florida will pick the GOP nominee. Do you think that's true? Where do we go from here?

CAIN: I do think it's true.

CARDONA: If Romney wins I actually do think he's going to be the nominee.

DAVIS: It's going to be very tough. If Rubio --

O'BRIEN: Are you punting? At the last final moments of our final -- what?

CAIN: He's just drawing it out. He's saying --

DAVIS: No. I think it's important to note, Florida loses half its delegates by going early. Under party rules we expect Romney to win the thing. Gingrich has to live off the land for a month before he can get to Super Tuesday and they'll try to change the dialogue. It's going to be very tough.

O'BRIEN: All right. So that was a "yes, it's Romney", I think is what you say.

CARDONA: When you do 13,000 ads against 200 ads for Gingrich it's easy to win.

O'BRIEN: Yes, the negative ad thing has been very interesting to watch.

I thank you all for joining us. STARTING POINT will be back here at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. And of course, tonight we've got complete --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- yes. We'll know a lot more tomorrow. Complete coverage of tonight's big Florida primary is this evening. Be sure to catch that.

Right now it's time for "CNN NEWSROOM". Kyra Phillips has got that. Good morning, Kyra.