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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Interview with Florida Congressman Connie Mack; Interview With Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart; Facebook Prepares for IPO; Interview with Senator Mike Lee; Senate to Consider Insider Trading Bill; Celebrating Black History Month
Aired February 1, 2012 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome to STARTING POINT.
Our STARTING POINT this morning is this burst of momentum for Mitt Romney. The campaign now moving west after a very tough battle in the state of Florida. Earlier this morning, Mr. Romney told me that all the negative campaigning is just practice for what lies ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think in some way of having no negative ads launched against you even by the Democrats, the argument might make sense. But, frankly, I know if I'm the nominee, Barack Obama is going to spend almost $1 billion attacking me. So, you might as well get it out there now. I've learned how to respond and make sure that we're able to get back to the real issue people care about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: There was no phone call. There was no tweet from Newt Gingrich after the campaign. In fact, what he did do is relaunch his campaign and promised a fight to the finish.
We're going to talk about the implications of that.
Plus, Iran willing to cross the line and have a terrorist attack on the U.S. There is new warning from the intel chief. We're going to take you live to the Pentagon for that morning.
Then, this story about a cancer charity and Planned Parenthood. They're in a bitter dispute and women who are in need are kind of stuck in the middle today.
We'll have all those stories and much more as STARTING POINT begins right now.
O'BRIEN: We are rocking out this morning on STARTING POINT.
My guest in a little bit is Congressman Connie Mack. And this is Lynyrd Skynyrd, "God and Guns."
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One of those bitter guys clinging to their guns and religions. That's what they must see.
O'BRIEN: If he were here, he would slap you up side the head.
BROWNSTEIN: That's a very specific reference.
O'BRIEN: I know. I know. That's a good song. I vote for that.
All right. We want to remind everybody if you want music played that's not the music that I don't dislike, you can tweet me at @Soledad_OBrien. Hey, it's my show. I get to pick a few things or @StartingPtCNN.
Welcome back, everybody.
Back to our panel, Ron Brownstein is with us. Former Congressman Tom Davis is joining us as well. We've got Will Cain who's with us.
Let's have a conversation about some of what we've been talking about. We're going to talk to Connie Mack on the other side in just a moment.
Interesting to hear from Mitt Romney, a little chunk of what he said in our interview in the last hour. We talked about his victory. We talked about his strategy ahead as the whole race moves west.
But we also talked about who he's trying to represent. Here's what he said about poor people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: You just said I'm not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?
ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I'm not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.
O'BRIEN: Got it. OK.
ROMNEY: The challenge right now -- we will hear for the Democrat Party the plight of the poor and there's no question it's not good being poor. And we have a safety net to help those that are very poor, but my campaign is focused on middle income Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: OK. He went on to say, I'm not focused on the very rich, I'm not focused on very poor, I'm focused on the middle incomes. Is this a misstep, Will Cain?
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Let me say this, many of the pundits will tell you, they'll tell you correctly that Mitt Romney's been very good at telling you why you should not vote for Newt Gingrich or why you should not vote for President Obama. But he has not sold you on why you should vote for him.
O'BRIEN: Why is that a mistake?
CAIN: Hold on. Let me say this. I don't know how representative I am but I've begun to feel like I can champion Mitt Romney as a symbol, as a symbol of capitalism, as this argument over inequality. But it forces me to peer into him. It forces me to guess.
When he says statements like this, now I see him not defending us as Rick Santorum does, as a group of Americans as a whole, but divide us and pander to the middle class.
I know Ron will say he does that all the time.
BROWNSTEIN: If it's a misstep, it's one he does every day. It's at the core of his argument. And it is really at the core of what conservative populism has been all about for five or six decades. The argument the government takes money from people who are working hard and gives it to people who don't deserve it.
I believe that is the animating force. Opposition transfer -- as you go around and go to these events, opposition to transfer payments is the core I think of the energy in the Tea Party movement. There's a clear distinction people make between Social Security and Medicare which they believe they had paid for and transfer payments.
What Romney is doing is kind of making that argument, making it more visible than it usually is.
O'BRIEN: Does it matter?
TOM DAVIS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: You want to bring the poor to the middle class. You want to give them a rung on that ladder of opportunity, not a handout. I think that's what -- that ought to be the message in here. Not that they're poor, we're going to take care of them if they need more --
BROWNSTEIN: But it's fine.
DAVIS: So I think it's a mistake and I think it's a mistake to the base.
We've got Congressman Connie Mack joining us now.
Sir, nice to have you. We were rocking out just a moment ago to your Lynyrd Skynyrd. We appreciate you being with us. And we like your musical choices.
All right. Let's get to the results, 46 to 32. What's your takeaway?
REP. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think first of all it's a huge victory for Mitt Romney here in the state of Florida. And as I traveled around the state this last week, you know, the big issues that people were talking about were the economy and housing. You know, you had Mitt Romney who was addressing those issues, who was talking to the people. He had a stellar debate performance on the first debate and the second debate.
This was a huge victory for Mitt Romney, and I think the people of the state of Florida got to see somebody who they could believe in, who can beat Barack Obama, and who can turn this country off the road to Greece that we're on right now and back to the road of prosperity.
O'BRIEN: So, my panelists all want to hop in. Here's Ron Brownstein.
BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, Congressman. Good morning.
MACK: Good morning.
BROWNSTEIN: In addition to housing and economy, one other big issue in Florida was illegal immigration discussed a lot. In the exit poll, 64 percent of Republican primary voters said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. either being put on a pathway to citizenship or given temporary worker cards. Only 31 percent wanted to deport them.
What did you think of that result and how does it, do you think, play out in a general election given that all of the Republican potential nominees are moving much more toward a harder position?
MACK: Well, let me say this. I believe that you'll see Mitt Romney here shortly put out a plan on immigration that he's been working on. And I think that'll answer a lot of those questions.
But I've got to tell you, as I traveled around the state, either with Mitt Romney or without him, I have heard people even in the Hispanic communities, they're not talking about immigration, they're talking about jobs. They're talking about the economy. You know, they want to be able to make sure their roof is going to stay over their head.
O'BRIEN: Yes, there's no question that everybody --
MACK: Those are the issues that they have been talking about.
O'BRIEN: Yes, and I think there's no question that everybody is talking about jobs. I mean, consistently polls number one.
You wanted to ask a question.
Connie, Tom Davis. I know you have a Senate race coming up. Good luck in the primary. I think things look good.
But let me ask you, going into November, Mitt Romney at the head of the ticket versus Newt Gingrich, what does that difference make for somebody running down a ticket in a state like Florida?
MACK: Well, again, I think Mitt Romney can beat President Obama and he can win big in Florida. And, obviously, that helps all of us down the ticket. So having Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket gives us a chance to win back the Senate, take majority in the Senate, so we can begin to balance the budget, reduce regulations, create an environment where risk takers can go out and create jobs.
Mitt Romney is the guy that gives us the opportunity to do that.
CAIN: Congressman Mack, Will Cain. I wanted to ask you real quick, you described going around your state without Mitt Romney. I want to ask you about when you go to see Newt Gingrich? You've been going to his campaign events, standing in the front row. You've described him as erratic and unpredictable.
But are you not there to provoke him? What's going on there? This is at least unusual, right?
O'BRIEN: Yes. I can answer that part. Yes.
MACK: Actually, it's -- well, it's not unusual. Every campaign, if they have the ability to do so and have people who are willing to do so, bracket everybody else's races. And I didn't stand in the front row. I stood quietly in the back row.
But I did give -- I was able to give perspective to the press when Newt Gingrich would make comments. And one of the big issues here in Florida is housing. So many people have lost their homes or they're underwater, and the relationship with Newt Gingrich and Freddie Mac is very troublesome.
I think a big part of the reason that Newt slid so much in the polls and on election day is he never came out and answered the question about what his relationship was with Freddie Mac. I think that was a big problem. No one bought that he was a historian for Freddie Mac.
O'BRIEN: I've got to ask you a question. You tweeted in the wake of the whole Keystone pipeline thing, you tweeted this. "Obama to nation: take your jobs and shove them. I'm going to Disney World."
And I wonder if you think that Twitter is helping make the tone of discourse in politics in this nation worse? I mean, that, sir, with all due respect, that is a snarky tweet, right?
MACK: Absolutely, but it's the truth. We have an opportunity with the Keystone XL pipeline to create jobs immediately here in the United States.
Let me give you this other fact. Right now, if we were to pass and move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline when it's completed, we could stop buying oil from Hugo Chavez. The refineries in Houston are the type that can take that heavy crude that we're getting from Hugo Chavez. Now, wouldn't Americans rather get oil from Canada, an ally and a friend, than buying it from Hugo Chavez?
I think this is a huge issue. The fact that I sat with Secretary Clinton and she told me that they support the Keystone XL pipeline. And so, now to play politics on such a big issue on energy independence and jobs, to me it's appalling.
The president should be -- frankly, he should come forward and apologize and move and sign this permit so we can get going on the Keystone XL pipeline.
O'BRIEN: Connie Mack with us, congressman from the state of Florida -- thanks for being with us.
MACK: Thank you very much.
O'BRIEN: Got to get to headlines. Christine Romans has those for us.
Hey, Christine. Good morning again.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.
Attorney General Eric Holder will be on the firing line when he testifies at a House hearing tomorrow on the Fast and Furious gun- walking program. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is threatening to charge Holder with contempt if the A.G. doesn't turn over documents related to the botched program that allowed weapons to reach Mexican drug cartels. Issa claims the Justice Department is, quote, "actively engaged in a cover up." Democrats found that federal agents, not Justice Department officials, were responsible.
The family of a Minnesota couple still missing in the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster are planning a memorial service. Gerald and Barbara Heil, they're among more than a dozen people unaccounted for since the cruise liner aground off the coast of Italy.
Authorities have now called off their search because of the danger to rescue workers.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a London courtroom this morning. It's the first of two days of hearings at England's supreme court, to determine if Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault allegations. The high court has ruled for the extradition. But Assange's lawyers have vowed to take the fight all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
And the nation's leading breast cancer charity is cutting funds to Planned Parenthood. The Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress. Planned Parenthood says it is, quote, "alarmed and saddened by the decision blaming political pressure" -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: All right. Christine, thank you.
Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: Facebook IPO frenzy. Why it could lead to a new tech explosion and whether or not you can get on it.
Also, a new crackdown on insider trading in Congress in the works. And, yes, apparently insider trading in Congress is not illegal. But we have a former congressman who's going to walk us through all of this, straight ahead.
Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. There is a new warning to tell you about about Iran. It might be looking to launch terror attacks on U.S. soil. Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us this morning. Obviously, this sounds absolutely terrifying, Barbara. What's going on?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, yesterday on Capitol Hill, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, spoke about all of this saying really in public for the first time that Iran, in his words, has changed its calculus and now is more willing, indeed, to conduct terrorist attacks on U.S. soil or against U.S. interests abroad.
Continuing to get a lot of attention on that early this morning because Iran, of course, is suffering from the U.S. and allied sanctions against its oil exports, against it's economy to try and pressure it to not develop a nuclear weapon. As Iran feels that pressure, will they lash out? That is one of the key questions now that the U.S. intelligence community is looking at.
O'BRIEN: Well, that's terrifying. All right. Thanks. Appreciate the update for us. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
All right. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Republican senator, Mike Lee, is going to join us. He says President Obama is a tyrannical executive. We'll chat with him about that.
Plus, what women need to know about -- you hear the story about the Komen Foundation now is no longer to be funding Planned Parenthood. It has sent, at least, on Twitter an absolute war of words. We're going to update that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds like Congress.
(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: And then we have Will Cain's playlist.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Back with me.
O'BRIEN: John Mellencamp. You know, I think he did a song with India Arie, which was -- not that I don't love your song, OK? You've redeemed yourself very well.
CAIN: "I Saw You First."
O'BRIEN: Anyone who does anything with --
O'BRIEN: I love --
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's like cultural smackdown.
O'BRIEN: It kind of is. You know, a little bit. And yes, you know, if you can't start your morning with Kanye West, amazing, it is just not going to be a good morning. Welcome back, everybody. Finally, I have a little pull on my own show.
BROWNSTEIN: On the radio you mean.
O'BRIEN: On your iPod. Yes. Yes. Yes.
BROWNSTEIN: Just clarify that.
O'BRIEN: So, yes. OK. Let's talk about exit polling. The exit polls from yesterday's race really show us some interesting numbers, especially if you break down the Latino vote. Fifty-four percent of Latino vote went to Mitt Romney. We know that there are some interesting issues when it comes to immigration with Mitt Romney as a candidate and also the DREAM Act, etc., etc.
We've got Representative Mario Diaz-Balart who is with us this morning. He is in -- I think you're in the rotunda if I see behind you. Nice to have you, sir. Thank you for being with us.
REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART, (R) FLORIDA: Good to be here.
O'BRIEN: You know, I just mentioned that 54 percent of the Latino vote went To Mitt Romney, and you are a Romney supporter, but, really, state of Florida, there's a lot of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, and not very many Mexicans, so in that way, Florida is not as representative of the United States, right?
Because, really, the overwhelming population of Latinos in this country is a growing number of Mexican-Americans. Do you see a challenge there for Mitt Romney?
DIAZ-BALART: You know, you're right about the demographics, however, on the issue of immigration, the Hispanics in Florida feel the same way as the rest of the Hispanics. So, why do they support Governor Romney in such incredible numbers? Well, I think it's, you know, borrowing a phrase from Bill Clinton.
It's the economy, stupid. Connie Mack was right when he just said a little while ago. The Americans are concerned about the economy. Obviously, that's the number one issue. Imagine, Hispanics in Florida, it's almost 14 percent unemployment. So, as much as non- Hispanics are concerned about not being able to create jobs, about the disaster that Obama has been, the Hispanics in the country are suffering much more for The failed policies of obamanomics, so which is why you're seeing this huge support for Governor Romney.
O'BRIEN: Obamanomics. I think you just coined a word. Obanomics. All right. I know -- no, I'm wrong Cain. Will says I'm wrong. No question that's a talking point. All right.
BROWNSTEIN: Congressman, can I jump in? Ron Brownstein.
DIAZ-BALART: With all due respect, it is not a time for (ph) Hispanics. We can think on our own.
DIAZ-BALART: So, with all due respect, that's my term.
O'BRIEN: Listen, listen, listen.
DIAZ-BALART: You can use it whenever you want.
BROWNSTEIN: Congressman, good morning. Ron Brownstein. Quick question. You're right that Hispanics in Florida, Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans, feel the same way about immigration, but it's not as pressing an issue, obviously, because for different reasons, are subject illegal immigration is not an actual direct issue in the community.
Cuban-Americans with the wet-foot, dry-foot policy. Puerto Ricans, of course, are citizens. So, let me ask you to amplify what Soledad was asking. Marco Rubio, last Friday, at the Hispanic Leadership Network, a conservative Hispanic group said two things. He said it was unrealistic to deport 11 million illegal immigrants.
And he said the DREAM Act, while he did not support the DREAM Act, we need an accommodation not only for young people in the military but young people who are pursuing higher education. Both very different from your candidate, Mitt Romney. What do you make of Marco Rubio moving in a different direction on those issues?
DIAZ-BALART: Well, you see, I've always been on that side of the equation. I've always supported the DREAM Act. I'm a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. So, there, obviously, Governor Romney has a much more of hard-lined stance than I do. But I think what you're going to see -- obviously is it a challenge? And if the rhetoric gets really nasty, it becomes problematic.
However, I still think that issue number one, when I'm out there speaking to the people and I don't care where in the country it is, issue number one is the economy, stupid, as Clinton would say. So, as long as the rhetoric doesn't get crazy, and I don't think it will, because I think Governor Romney understands it. He's a sensible man. He's a reasonable man.
But I think what people are looking for, they're looking for a turnaround artist, an expert who can turn this economy around. Look, it's really sad. You know, I'm sure you all reported on it. Even illegals are not coming into the United States now because they can't find jobs. It's how desperate the job situation is in the United States.
Until we fix that, everything else, education, which is hugely important to Hispanics and everybody else, national security hugely important for Hispanics and everybody else. Until we fix the economy, none of the rest is possible.
O'BRIEN: We don't have a lot of time.
TOM DAVIS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, REPUBLICAN MAIN STREET PARTNERSHIP: Tom Davis. So, we carried the -- so, the governor carried the vote in the Republican primary by over half the Hispanics in Florida are registered Democrat, independent. What's his prospect there? How much will immigration be an issue vis-a-vis the economy as you look at the general election in Florida?
DIAZ-BALART: Immigration is a sensitive topic. Here's the problem that the president is also going to have. Remember, he promised multiple times in the first 12 months that he would present and have passed when he controlled the House and the Senate global immigration reform. He hasn't done so. He only remembers that Hispanics exist election time.
So, on one side, you have Mitt Romney who has, you know, a very hard line on immigration, on illegal immigration, not on legal immigration. And on the other hand, you have a president who speaks a good game but who, frankly, has been a huge disappointment for Hispanics, because they don't trust him about what he says anymore.
So, I think there's a great opportunity for Mitt Romney to get a huge portion of the Hispanics because, again, I think they basically neutralize each other, and the issue is going to be jobs, jobs, jobs.
O'BRIEN: That's interesting. You're saying it is going to be a battle in that state. All right. Nice to see you, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.
DIAZ-BALART: Good to see you.
O'BRIEN: Reminding us that Hispanics can think on their own.
(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: He just gave me a hard time with that. I recognize that, Congressman. I know what you're saying there. You cannot get under my skin this morning. Moving on.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you so much.
O'BRIEN: Nice to have you.
Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Utah senator, Mike Lee, is going to join us. He's a freshman member, and he's been going toe-to- toe with the president over -- with the White House, really, over presidential appointments. We'll talk to him this morning.
Plus, it's the mother of all job references, I guess. President Obama following through on our promise to help a woman from Texas help her husband find a job. We'll hear it from her straight ahead.
Plus, Pakistan helping the Taliban. There's disturbing information in a new report that's out. We'll tell you about that all ahead on STARTING POINT.
O'BRIEN: I like it. I like it. I like it. People are shooting for it. That would be Republican senator from Utah Mike Lee's playlist. That's Jimmy Eat World, "The Middle." We like his music. Good, people should try a little harder than some of the music we've had on.
WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Tom Davis is a cooler guy than you thought.
O'BRIEN: He's going to join us in a few minutes not to talk about music but some other stuff as well. First we've got to get to some headlines. Christine Romans has those for us. good morning, again.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm going to go broke buying all of these songs on iTunes. I keep adding to my list. Thanks, Soledad.
Another night of bloodshed in Syria. Government forces clashing with armed demonstrators in the city of Homs. At least 20 people were killed. Meanwhile, Russia is blocking a U.N. resolution calling for Syrian President Assad to step down. Earlier on STARTING POINT former assistant secretary of state Jamie Rubin explained why he thinks Moscow is siding with the Syrians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Syria is one of the last places that Russia can remember what it's like to be a great power, where it has an ally who has a naval base that it can use, who buys weapons from it, who has close personal relations between the two leaders. So that gives them that sense of we're a world player and we have to go along.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Pakistan is denying a leaked NATO report that says Pakistan is directly assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The BBC obtained the report, which it says is based on 27,000 interrogations with captured Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.
Pfizer is recalling one million packets of birth control pills this morning. They've discovered a packaging error which could leave women with a less than adequate dose and increase their risk of accidental pregnancy.
And President Obama following through on his promise to a Texas woman to help her husband find a job. On Monday Jennifer Wedel told the president her husband is an engineer who hasn't worked full time for three years. This morning on early start Jennifer told us she got a call yesterday from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIFER WEDEL, PRESIDENT OBAMA HELPING HUSBAND FIND JOB: She said that the Obama personally that morning made it a point to get my husband's resume out to several DFW contacts. So we are very grateful for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Jennifer is a Republican but she says she's not impressed with the GOP field, hasn't ruled out voting for the president come November. Soledad?
O'BRIEN: She hasn't ruled in or out anybody. I thought that was an interesting thing she said. She said I'm underwhelmed on all fronts. I've found that has mirrored the country.
TOM DAVIS, (R) FORMER VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: I bet her if her husband gets a job --
O'BRIEN: She said even if your husband gets a job, we're not the only people out of work. It's going to depend on policy.
CAIN: In polling you ask which party can better revive the economy, about a quarter of Americans consistently have said neither.
O'BRIEN: But what you could do is go ahead and just buy all the Facebook stock.
CAIN: Good luck with that.
O'BRIEN: Then retire. IPO from Facebook. We're told literally it could be any day now. IPO stands for initial public offering. What's the valuation? What will this go for? ROMANS: It looks like maybe $5 billion is what people are targeting. We don't know yet. That's why we're waiting for the filing and the process that will unfold over the next few months. But $5 billion would make it the biggest tech stock. This is the first real look under the hood of Facebook, an eight-year-old company that rules the world. It's the first look under the hood.
O'BRIEN: How realistic is it that somebody, say you or me, could get in and actually get in on an IPO for Facebook?
ROMANS: You know, I don't have multi-millions invested at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley.
O'BRIEN: Is it expensive, or we don't have access?
ROMANS: We don't have access in the first place, and then you'll have to say -- you look at the big investors, they'll get the first shot at it. The pension funds, endowments, people who have accounts and ties with the big investment banks who will be on the road pushing, trying to sell this. They'll be on a road show trying to sell this initial public offering to these big investors.
The way we get in on it is later on, even maybe the next day or two, I don't know, when you buy the stock in your account or if your mutual fund company has bought it and now has put it in some mutual funds in your 401(k).
O'BRIEN: In other words, I have to come to work tomorrow.
ROMANS: Yes, we both have to work tomorrow.
O'BRIEN: OK, thanks, appreciate it.
Campaign heating up. Of course, president and political background in Washington D.C. getting hotter too. A committee hearing talking about president Obama's recent appointments. There was one senator who's been fighting back against those appointments. That senator would be our next guest. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah joins us. Nice to have you, sir. We like your music. Already we're off to a good start on that front. We appreciate you joining us.
SEN. MIKE LEE, (R) UTAH: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Let's not get to that first. Let's talk about the race first and the victory and look at some of the exit poll numbers. We will get to Obama's appointments in a minute. Tea Party, strongly support the Tea Party went for Newt Gingrich in the state of Florida. Mitt Romney came in only at 33 percent. I'm wondering if your take is, listen, this could be a problem for Mitt Romney, or is it down the road anybody versus President Obama is going to get the support of those strong Tea Partiers? Which is it?
LEE: I would go more toward the latter of the statements. Any Republican who gets the nomination is going to have the enthusiastic support of all Republicans, I believe most Americans, and the overwhelming majority of Tea Party supporters. It's interesting that two-thirds of those who voted in Florida's presidential primary identified themselves as those who support the Tea Party. And Mitt Romney still won by a margin of about 15 points. But, look, regardless, the Tea Party is all about limited government. It's all about the fact that the federal government's too big and too expensive. Mitt Romney supports those principles and the Tea Party will get behind him if and when he becomes the nominee, which is looking increasingly likely.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Senator, good morning. Ron Brownstein. Republicans are concerned about the president's recess appointments, in particular Richard Cordray to run the consumer finance bureau. But the Republican position was that they would not confirm any appointee to that bureau unless the president agreed to substantive changes in the underlying law. Can you name a precedent in American history where the Senate took a position that they would not confirm someone for a legally created position unless the law itself was changed? Has that ever been done before?
LEE: You know, I'm not sure that I can name a precedent where that has happened. I also cannot name a precedent where the Senate has been asked to confirm someone to a position that wields this kind of power. The CFPB holds power that is unprecedented. This is someone that would act without any oversight by Congress or the president, doesn't serve subject to the pleasure of the president, and would have unprecedented power over our financial services industry. And so this is concerning to many Republicans and it's concerning to many Americans.
O'BRIEN: So here's what you said last week. I want to play a little chunk of that and we'll talk on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Given this president's blatant and egregious disregard for both constitutional procedures and for the Senate's unquestioned role in such appointments, I find myself duty bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations until the president takes steps to remedy the situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: OK, so am I wrong in hearing you say when you say "I find myself duty bound to resist the consideration, I will not do anything until this is fixed in a way that I'm satisfied"? Is that what you're saying?
LEE: No, I'm not saying I won't do anything, but what I said is I'm going to resist them. I didn't indicate exactly how I'll be doing that. Generally I don't show my cards in advance of exactly what play I'm going to make, but what I'm saying is I've cooperated with this administration up to this point. I've voted for scores of presidential nominees with whom I had some significant philosophical difference. Now the president has taken power that doesn't belong to him. O'BRIEN: But some people read this as you saying I'm going to be an obstructionist. Here in Congress I'm going to be an obstructionist moving forward. I'll play a little chunk of what president Obama said and then we'll talk on the other side.
LEE: No, that's really not what I'm saying.
O'BRIEN: Hold on one second. I hear you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And they deserve better than gridlock and games. One senator gumming up the whole works for the entire country is certainly not what our founding fathers envisioned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: OK. So sorry to cut you off there but I wanted to play what the president's takeaway from what you said was. You said that's not what you meant. Explain that.
LEE: That's not what I said. The president was eager to make that characterization. That's not what I said.
Look, my point is this, this discussion. This discussion about the Constitution. It's about the fact that ours is not a government of one. I've talked to people throughout my state and across the country who are concerned. They feel somewhat powerless because the president has taken power and exercised power that doesn't belong to him. It belongs to the people. And it's authorized to be exercised by people who are duly elected to the United States Senate.
He's made recess appointment at a time when the Senate was not in recess for purposes relevant to the recess appointments clause, and that is a problem. Because we don't have a government of one, we have a Senate that makes sure that presidential nominations of a certain level have to be confirmed, and he didn't follow that process here. I'm going to hold him accountable for that.
O'BRIEN: Go ahead.
DAVIS: Senator, what about going to the courts on something? Recess appointments have been defined. You could adjourn one evening and he could appoint between the evening and the next day under this definition. What's the answer? How is the Senate going to react to this?
LEE: Thank you for raising that point. That's part of the concern here is that under the president's own logic, taken to its logical conclusion it could suggest he could do exactly that, that we could adjourn for the weekend or perhaps even for the evening and he could say, OK, I'm making a recess appointment.
O'BRIEN: OK, before I let you go, I hear you and I get what you're saying. But I want to ask you this final question, which is in a way he's making you, and you're becoming the poster child for a Congress that stands in the way of something getting done. Isn't that kind of the bigger problem? The people hear this and they say, god, again, Congress, 11 percent approval. Can you people not get to work and get something done please?
LEE: We are getting to work and we're doing our best to get something done. We are at the same time duty bound to that Constitution to which we've all taken an oath. And our job is to get something done and to do it within the procedures that have been outlined in our law of laws, the U.S. constitution. And we can't simply overlook that just because the president wants to have his way and he wants to have his way right now. The constitution isn't always efficient, but it is the law. We are duty bound to uphold it. The American people deserve better than to have that document overlooked.
O'BRIEN: Senator Mike Lee joining us. He's a Republican from the state of Utah. He was joining us from the Russell Rotunda, hard time seeing those pictures. We appreciate it.
LEE: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT. The Senate is considering a blow that would ban insider trading for members of Congress. Really? Shouldn't that have been written in somewhere already? Coming up we're going to talk to a lawmaker who says they engage in that practice more than you might think.
You're watching STARTING POINT. We've got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.
O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT.
This week the Senate voted to begin debate on the Stock Act, to Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act; That's what STOCK stands for. The bill would make insider trading illegal for members of Congress. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has been urging his colleagues to act fast on this. Here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Members of Congress have to live by the same lines as everybody else. And members of Congress have access to all kinds of sensitive information and it has to be clear that we're using that information to serve and do what we do best for the American people, not to make a personal profit. And that's a big distinction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Peter Schweizer is author of "Throw Them All Out." He says insider trading as a bigger problem than you might think and he joins us this morning. Nice to have you. So there are 435 members in the House, so a total of 535 people in Congress overall. How many of them are making money this way off this really this stock scheme?
PETER SCHWEIZER, AUTHOR, "THROW THEM ALL OUT": It's really hard to know, Soledad, because basically what you look at is you look at the fact that members of Congress often trade stocks in areas where they have responsibility. You have senators who are on the Senate Banking Committee, for example, who are trading bank stock.
What information that's secretive do they use in those trades? We don't really know. What we do know is that academic studies have been done that show that their investment picks are quite good, that they actually outperform hedge funds.
O'BRIEN: Stunning. Stunning.
SCHWEIZER: Substantially, yes.
O'BRIEN: If I did that, that would be illegal, right? I mean, clearly? If I had insider information and I used it to go ahead and pick the stock that would be illegal. How come it's not illegal for members of Congress?
SCHWEIZER: Well, it's for a couple of reasons. First of all, the way that the laws are interpreted, the case law on insider trading, people that get in trouble with this in the private sector are fiduciaries. In other words, they're employees of a company. They have a fiduciary responsibility to keep information secret. Members of Congress are not fiduciaries to anyone so they're free to do this.
The second problem though I think is even larger. And that is that there is really no mention of this whatsoever in the House or Senate ethics manuals. The senate ethics manual, Soledad, has six paragraphs on the improper use of senate stationery. But it doesn't mention once the misuse of information for stock trading.
O'BRIEN: Well, you know the former Congressman, Tom Davis is with us. So he's going to be our official congressional insider here. So tell me a little bit about this. I mean, is this something that every single Congress person knows and just says listen --
TOM DAVIS, FORMER VIRGINIA CONGRESSMAN: No. but there -- but there are people on committees that are offered insiders on real estate stock, stocks, friends and family. Just look how many members make a lot of money being congressmen. You shouldn't make a lot of money being a congressman. You're paid $174,000. That has been frozen for four years but you shouldn't get rich on that.
And as he said, the investments outperform. Look, this is a long-needed law. And I think Congress ought to pass it. If you want to get rich, my advice is retire from Congress or -- or don't run. O'BRIEN: So 92-3 was -- sorry, 93-2, excuse me, was the vote to begin debate on the bill. And Senator Coburn was one of the two who voted against it. And he said this. Let me play a little chunk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: And the assumption that the Senate is undertaking now is that some of our colleagues are doing insider trading on the stock market. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real insider trading is the horse trading that goes on in this body that's not always in the best interests of the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: What would you say to Senator Coburn on that, sir? Peter.
SCHWEIZER: Oh yes, what I would say is that I'm not quite sure. I'm sure there is horse trading that goes on. There are all sorts of problems to be addressed, but there's no question. I mean, if you are a member of the Senate or the House and you're on a committee that, say, oversees health care, you have conversations with Medicare and Medicaid officials and you find out whether certain drugs are going to be reimbursed or not reimbursed. That can affect stock valuations by 20 percent, 25 percent.
And if you are free to trade on that information and you only have to disclose once a year stock transactions, it's very tempting and they often do trade on that kind of information. And I think it's better to just make it very clear in the legal code that this is not allowed to take place.
BROWNSTEIN: Peter, Ron Brownstein. I think you've clearly identified an important problem and it's remarkable at the speed at which people are responding. On the other hand, do you think it is fair to say that most people are going into Congress because they're hoping to get rich? I mean, there are a lot of problems with Congress but it would seem that there are better ways if your goal is to pile up a lot of money than to go into the House or Senate.
O'BRIEN: Play the lottery would be one.
SCHWEIZER: Well, I think what's happened is over the last 40 years or so it used to be you had to make a choice. But if you look at a lot of people that have come into Congress and have left after 15, 20 years, they did good but they also did very well.
So you're increasingly not have -- having to make that choice. There's academic studies that show that members of Congress accumulate wealth 150 percent faster than equivalent Americans in the private sector. So there's just no question that it's going on.
I'm not saying it's certainly everybody, but I think there are substantial number of cases of people who come in of relatively modest means and after 15 years they're leaving worth $5 million or $6 million. And they didn't win the lottery and they didn't have a rich uncle that died.
O'BRIEN: Peter Schweizer wrote "Throw Them All Out." Thanks for being with us this morning, I appreciate it. It's interesting how he says those statistics are really at the end of the day what people look at and say what was going on there.
All right, ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, first day of Black History Month today. And we are celebrating. We're going to reveal African-Americans who left their mark on history with their inventions. Straight ahead. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. It is February and that means it is the start -- February 1st is the start of Black History month. I'm not even going to mention that it is the shortest month of the year. I'm just going to bypass that altogether. And talk a little bit about our celebrations which will get underway today.
And I thought what we would do here is highlight some of the remarkable work of people you've never heard of, who came up with pretty incredible inventions.
So we begin with Thomas Jennings. He was the very first African- American to receive a patent. The year was 1821. He invented a dry cleaning process. And he used the proceeds of the dry cleaning process that he invented to buy his relatives out of slavery.
C.B. Brooks invented the street sweeper back in 1896. So today when your car has a dent in it in New York City because of the street sweeper you can blame him.
Alfred Crowley I think is how you pronounce his name. He patented the first ice cream scoop a year after that. Yes it does modern day inventors.
Charles Drew created the very first large scale blood bank.
George Caruthers invented the ultraviolet electrographic camera which was used in the 1972 Apollo mission.
Lonnie Johnson (ph) was doing space craft system design for NASA when he invented the super soaker. And take a guess at which made him richer. That or the super soaker, ding, ding, ding. It was the super soaker.
And finally in all this, I should mention, comes to us courtesy of biography.com this morning. Dr. George Franklin Grant. He patented the world's first golf tee. Where is Roland Martin when you need him? He patented the world first golf tee. He did not market it instead he gave it away to his friends.
So those are some African-American inventors you have never heard of but you should be grateful to this morning. We'll keep updating you all through February about black history month.
"End Point" with our panel is up next. Stay with us.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Ledisi.
O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes. Yes.
CAIN: And I have no idea who that was.
O'BRIEN: If I could get a little portion of --
BROWNSTEIN: Extra for the host.
O'BRIEN: If I could get a little portion of America to love Ledisi as I do, it would be a very good thing. But I really would like Bravo. For some reason we can't play it. I don't think we have the rights to it. To Ledisi, tweet me. Can we have the rights to Bravo as my theme song?
Ok. "End Point". I know -- look what I have to do. Look what I have to do, Congressman, to get a little progress here.
O'BRIEN: You're going to start for me Ron Brownstein.
BROWNSTEIN: "End Point" going all the way back to the beginning with Rick Tyler. What is the bridge for Newt Gingrich? When he gets to March and April, he has states that are more demographically and ideologically suited for him. He has it long, dark in February where he might not win a race. Will he still be viable when he comes out the other end?
O'BRIEN: He says 46 to go.
DAVIS: Mitt Romney's already pivoting toward general election. We heard from Connie Mack, he's going to come out with his own immigration proposal.
O'BRIEN: That was interesting, right?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right. News.
O'BRIEN: Wonder what it's going to say.
CAIN: Today, the day after Florida, where millions and millions of dollars have been spent on advertising, there will be a tendency to pretend like this was all bad. Advertising even negative advertisings can have a positive in it. They inform people. They're not determinative. Put them in context.
As George Will famously says, we spend as much on our presidential election as we do yearly on yogurt. It's an important thing to know. And it comes, by the way, when you look into it --
CAIN: -- and understand it's the cost of political free speech. One of our most sacred things.
O'BRIEN: I feel like we should be running music.
What happened with your accent today? You sound like a Texan today?
O'BRIEN: What's going on with that? Yes.
CAIN: Must have been Ledisi, which I promise you I did not read in the prompter. I just knew it.
O'BRIEN: You know, celebrating this Black History Month, I'm going to have you love Ledisi by the end of the month. All right.
That is it for us today. We've got "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips beginning right now and I'll see you back here for STARTING POINT tomorrow morning, 7:00 a.m. Eastern time right here on CNN.
Hey Kyra, good morning.