Return to Transcripts main page


Defense Secretary Suggest Israel may Attack Iran; Mitt Romney Continues to Explain Comment About Very Poor; Interview With Governor Pat Quinn; Hope on the Horizon?; Jobs Jump Start; American Tourists Kidnapped In Egypt; New Protests In Egypt; Romney Well Ahead In Nevada Caucuses; Waiting For The Big January Jobs Report; Romney: "Misspoke" On The Poor; Soledad to Join Sanjay Gupta in Triathlon; Joplin Offers Tornado Tourism to Rebuild

Aired February 3, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. It's only bad if I mangled the name. Welcome.

Our top story this morning, the ayatollah promising retaliation after Leon Panetta said that Israel, quote, "could strike Iran this spring." We're talking this morning about whether Israel's war is actually America's war.

And the countdown to the high stakes January jobs report is just about 90 minutes away. Will the slow heal continue? What will those numbers show? We'll analyze those.

And a cancer charity cutting of Planned Parenthood, The founder is now denying that they're playing politics with women's lives, but it's up for discussion today.

STARTING POINT begins right now.



O'BRIEN: That's right. That's right.


O'BRIEN: Chris, do you know about this? (INAUDIBLE) is joining us this morning. It's nice to have you, by the way. Reuters Thompson -- Thompson Reuters? Thompson Reuters. It's our name day.


O'BRIEN: We all call it just Reuters, lovingly. Baratunde is also with us this morning. Nice to see you. Thank you. And I hear you've got a great book which is called "How To Be Black" which no one really gets, it's satire, but I love the book. It's awesome.

Will Cain is back as well. I have to explain to our new panelists that we have an all request musical day, which means if you want something played, you have to e-mail our producer who will then eventually get on the air probably by 8:45, five minutes before 9:00. Welcome, everybody. That was Stevie Wonder, "Superstition." You knew that, though.


O'BRIEN: He lives it, yes, he does.

We begin this morning in Iran, development news about Iran Israel. The defense secretary Leon Panetta says there is a growing likelihood, that's a quote, that Israel will attack Iran this spring and try to destroy its suspected nuclear program. The Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak issued a new warning. He said this, "Iran must be prevent from becoming nuclear and no option should be taken off the table.

Let's get right to Barbara Starr this morning at the Pentagon. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. A lot of chatter around here about what Panetta said about all of this. It was first reported in the "Washington Post" by the very respected journalist David Ignatius and confirmed to us by a Pentagon official. Panetta now believes there is a growing likelihood Israel will strike Iran sometime this spring, that Israel believes Iran has moved ahead. Made the decision to go for a nuclear weapon is increasingly capable of making that happen and that they have to stop it.

But is this rhetoric? Is this Panetta ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran, possibly putting Israel at risk? Is this a revelation of key intelligence? That's what we don't know. What's what the dilemma is right now and there are a lot of people who are concerned that all of this rhetoric on all three sides painting a lot of dangerous -- a lot of danger here that a lot of folks are being painted into a corner, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Christi I'm going to start with you because, of course, when they're talking about Iran and Israel, the sort of unspoken name is America and sort of the correlation between if Israel, in fact, does attack Iran and now we're hearing maybe the spring, what's America's role in that?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: Exactly. And I'm very interested in coordination is there right now between America and Israel and the impact of what's happening in Syria right now because Syria is such an important player in the region. It's incredibly volatile, too.

O'BRIEN: The overall timetable, there's a sense that if, in fact, Iran gets their nuclear weapons to a certain stage, then it becomes impossible to do a strike, which, I believe, Barbara, is this April deadline. Is that correct?

STARR: That's what Israel beliefs. You know, that's really important right now. Why are we talking about it? Israel believes by this spring Iran will be so far down the road that its weapons wouldn't be able to get to Iran's nuclear facilities, that they would have to rely on the U.S. to do it. Look, the U.S. position is they are still hope that sanctions will work.

O'BRIEN: Let he read to you what the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said. He is Iran's supreme leader. He says this, "Threatening Iran and attacking Iran will harm America. Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course. In response to threats of oil embargo and war, we have our own threats to impose at the right time." That's not even a shrouded threat. That's an out and out threat.

BARATUNDE THURSTON, AUTHOR, "HOW TO BE BLACK": Temperatures are rising. I think you have to look at also the history of war that's already been happening. The shutdown of their nuclear facilities with this virus a while back was sort of an act of war. You have assassinations going on constantly, very aggressive behavior. As the temperature rises we get a little more nervous about all that. But it's not that we are approaching more, in a state of some tension in what could be called war already.

O'BRIEN: Well, no, except there's a big difference. I mean, there's a big difference between this kind of jaw-jaw state that we're in and war-war. And, you know, things have been tense with Iran for a while. So I do think that, you know, there's a line. I don't think it's been crossed. I think that now is probably a more dangerous situation now.

FREELAND: By the way we see the line and we're happy to cross it is the way I read that.

CAIN: That's Iran's statement. That is the whole process, where is the line? Both sides trying to figure out where is the line? Is it these cyber-attacks, shutting down the Straits of Hormuz, bombing the facilities, would that be crossing the line? I think there is an implied statement here that Israel and the United States are one in the same.

O'BRIEN: Let me go back to Barbara Starr because Will and I were talking yesterday. Every day this week, I think, it's fair to say we said, did Leon Panetta mean to say that and the next day, did Leon Panetta mean to say that?

CAIN: Every day Barbara's been on we have new statement.

O'BRIEN: Give me the background. Why this now that he is not backing away from it? It cannot be a stumble.

STARR: You know, this is the question right now. You know, I made a little list, what has Leon Panetta been saying lately? Well, he's been talking about this. He's been talking about the bin Laden raid. He talked a couple weeks ago that he had an idea publicly about who was killing the Iranian scientists, talking about getting out of Afghanistan. It's throwing people for a loop.

His closest aides that we talk to are, you know, trying to spin it and say, well, we're told he's just being open and honest. But the question is, is h throwing the White House for a loop? You know, just this whole business the other day of him talking about getting out of combat in information, one key aid said to me, look, he handed Romney an attack point on a platter. Why would he do that? Why would he put Israel in this position of being vulnerable to Iran?


O'BRIEN: Sorry for jumping in, Barbara.

STARR: No, I was just -- we don't know the answer.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. And every single day we have had a conversation where she sort of ends her report with "We don't really quite know what the answer is about." We're going to continue, of course, and talk about Iran and Israel this morning. Got other headlines to get to, though, first. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for cure this morning defending its decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. It says it will no financially support any group under investigation. Congress is currently investigating whether Planned Parenthood used federal money to fund abortions. Critics say Komen is playing politics with women's lives. The founder disagrees.


NANCY BRINKER, FOUNDER, SUSAN G. KOMEN FOR THE CURE: We will never bow to political pressure. We will stand firm on our goal to end breast cancer forever. We will never turn our backs to women who need us the most.


ROMANS: Some say Komen is caving to pressure to from prolife groups.

Mitt Romney is heading to Nevada, but he's still being dogged by what he said on this show after winning the Florida primary.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.

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. You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans.


ROMANS: Romney now says he misspoke.


ROMNEY: America, the hope of the earth. Thanks you guys. Great to be with you. Thank you.

The statement, I misspoke. I said something that is similar to that but quite acceptable for a long time. You know when you do I don't know how many thousands of interviews, now and then you may get it wrong. And I misspoke. What I said was that my focus, my primary focus is on helping people get in the middle class and grow the middle class.


O'BRIEN: Today President Obama announces a new $5 billion jobs plan to help put thousands of unemployed veterans back to work. The administration is expected to propose a training program designed to help veterans who want to start their own small business.

Hundreds of flights, many of them scheduled for this morning, has been canceled at Denver International Airport. A major snowstorm is moving into Colorado. There are 300 pieces of equipment, 500 employees on hand to try to keep the runways clear.

And check out this musician sing for his supper at a Sonic drive- thru in Connecticut. The video has gone viral. Giorgio Ferrara has half a million hits on YouTube and counting.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what kind of drink?



ROMANS: The Sonic cost about $34. He said it's money well spent to get publicity for his band, Here Comes the Interstate Life.

O'BRIEN: I love it. He's got a nice voice.

ROMANS: He does.

O'BRIEN: When is his album coming out? What's his name? Giorgio Ferrara.

ROMANS: Interstate Life is the band.

CAIN You can add him to the music mix this morning.

O'BRIEN: Here's how it works. We have to beg. It takes about 48 hours. So, yes, by Tuesday, for sure. We're going to have Interstate Life. Giorgio, call me. Christine, before I let you go, a couple other things. I know you will have the jobs report out in 90 minutes. ROMANS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Tell me about that.

ROMANS: OK, we're looking for two big numbers, the number of jobs added in the month of January, and we're expecting about 130,000 jobs added in an eight-and-a-half percent unemployment rate. So you can see this is the year Soledad. Remember we were talking about double-dip recession. Clearly we avoid it. This is not going to be enough to absorb people entering into the workforce. Not enough to show robust labor market.

So I wanted to give you this Soledad. This goes all the way back to the end of the Bush administration and to when the president took office. Brad can come in here and show you how horrible was right here. You get these two competing views. One is that this is the Obama jobs market. The other is Obama inherited it. They both presided over a horrible time over the labor market. What is important now is where we have been going and where the trend has been. The trend has been slow but steady with some pullbacks, 130k, you like to see a lot more than that, but it is going in the right direction, you guys.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you. We're going to look forward to that number coming out in a little bit, or 90 minutes or so.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Chrysler jump- starting a state's struggling economy. Can the rest of the country learn a lesson? We're going to talk to the governor of Illinois Pat Quinn straight ahead.

Plans to turn over Gitmo detainees to the Taliban. Critics say that is crossing a dangerous line.

And we play this sound full, please? Yes.


O'BRIEN: Bravo. I've been begging for this song. This is my personal theme song and I'm willing to share it. Let's listen for a moment as we go to commercial break.



O'BRIEN: That's Jason Aldean who is watching us this morning with "Dirt Road Anthem."

CAIN: Jason's watching? That is country rap, Soledad. He's going to hit some rap in a second, right after the chorus.

O'BRIEN: I love it. I like that. That's nice. It's a little slow for the morning, don't you think? Maybe if we had --

CAIN: I like it. FREELAND: Maybe on a Friday morning, though, a little bit of -- more gentle.

CAIN: A little easy into the weekend.


CAIN: Slow it down a little bit?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Cool things that we're watching this morning are our job numbers coming out that Christine was just telling us about. And I'm curious to know what you think about politically what that's going to mean.

If we see this slow decrease in joblessness, does that mean that President Obama has a much easier path to re-election or does that mean that the Republicans need to change their tune in how they're going to sort of aim for the White House?

CAIN: Obviously it's headed in the right direction. You have to be a partisan hack if you suggest this isn't headed in the right direction.

O'BRIEN: We have those on.

CAIN: It's better to be adding jobs than to be losing jobs. But what I would say is don't get too caught up in what can sometimes be superficial numbers. There are undercurrents that are much deeper. The United States still has high levels of debt. When I'm talking about debt I'm talking about private debt, still high levels of debt.

Europe poses a big problem to the world economy. And China is slowing down. These things could come to fruition before November and change this whole picture.

FREELAND: To me --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Chrystia.

FREELAND: No. I was just going to say my big worry is what you started the show with, which is Iran, you know. And if you look at those jobs numbers, the big thing that knocked the U.S. economy off course, some external events. It wasn't internal ones.

It was Japan -- it was Japanese tsunami which actually hurt supply chains a lot more than people thought. And it was the beginning of the European sovereign debt crisis. I agree with Will, Europe could be a big problem. And Iran could be a big problem. And not just in terms of foreign policy, but I think the economy is going to play a huge role in the election.

CAIN: Absolutely.

THURSTON: You know, unpredictable events are what being president is all about. And sometimes you get one that help you and sometimes you get one that really damage and hurt you. I think from the political perspective, the Republicans have established and wrapped themselves around America is failing. And so if the charts keep looking a little better, it's harder to hold that message and have it feel true.

O'BRIEN: And how much of that is really -- no matter what the charts look like if you know people who have lost their jobs, if you feel like your personal situation is sliding from middle class into less middle class, more poor, a chart that's going upward is not going to make you feel any better.

THURSTON: I think it undermines the argument some. What is actually happening in your life is absolutely more important, but those charts do affect real people's lives and more people affected --

CAIN: You know, Soledad, your point is well taken because --

O'BRIEN: I love when you say that. Go on, Will Cain, have more time this morning. Yes.

THURSTON: Oh, now we see how the show is going. Just flatter more.

CAIN: The focus on -- now the contrarian. The focus on unemployment and jobs I think has been overdone. And this is not going to turn into an economy show this morning, but it has been called a balance sheet recession that's because so many people are in debt.

Mainly in their homes, they're underwater in their homes. This is why people feel poor. They look at their neighbors. They look at themselves and, like, I don't spend what I used to. I don't have what I used to. The truth is that 90 percent of us are employed, but that doesn't make us feel any better.

O'BRIEN: So who does that hurt -- who does that help?

FREELAND: Well, I -- I agree obviously about the household debt being a huge, huge issue. But I think that jobs matter. Obviously they matter. And if the jobs numbers are better, you're going to know fewer people who are out of work. Now that means that your friends -- that means that your friends are actually getting jobs and it also means which I think is something that has really been weighing on the economy since the recession started. Even if you have a job you're really anxious.

O'BRIEN: Right. You're not going to be secured in your job.

FREELAND: You shouldn't be secure, right?


O'BRIEN: Right, right, right. All right. We're going to talk to hopefully the governor of the State of Illinois about what they're doing on the jobs front bringing manufacturing into that state, but at what cost. It's not sort of just a clear cut thing that they're doing there. We're going to talk about that.

Also ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, some breaking news, two Americans kidnapped in Egypt. We've got developments on that story straight ahead.

And a new name in the presidential race, here's a hint. She once got a lot of heat for screeching and speeding her way to the national anthem.

CAIN: Seriously, who is this?

O'BRIEN: Seriously, that's a tease and you've got to wait. Hello? It's called the deep tease to get us through the commercials. I'm going to teach you how TV works, Will Cain.

CAIN: Thank you. Thank you. I mean it.

O'BRIEN: Also, here's an interesting point. Cashing in on tornado tourism, trying to get people to visit Joplin, Missouri, so they could, you know, see the devastation there has some people feeling very offended and angry. We're going to take a look at that right ahead on our "Get Real." Back in a moment.


FREELAND: It's Will Cain's.

CAIN: (INAUDIBLE). I got so much grief for this chart (ph). I didn't ask for a second play. I did not ask for a second play. You set me up.


THURSTON: I feel terrible inside right now.

CAIN: They set me up.


FREELAND: Why did you get grief for this?

CAIN: It's so slow, Chrystia. That is --

FREELAND: It's so slow?

CAIN: Yes.

THURSTON: I'm going to think about my --


O'BRIEN: This song is a beautiful song. This is Willie Nelson.

THURSTON: Willie Nelson is a beautiful man.

FREELAND: It's a classic. CAIN: Thank you, Chrystia. That's so nice to hear.

O'BRIEN: "Blue Eyes -- "

THURSTON: "-- Crying in the Rain."

O'BRIEN: Beautiful song. But like everybody who was about to get out of bed to watch our show just went back to bed.


FREELAND: This is a Friday morning. I'm --

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. Don't defend your little friend, Will Cain.

FREELAND: I'm on -- I'm on the country music side.

O'BRIEN: Moving on. Moving on.

All right, as we await the January jobs report this morning, one state already has some good news on the jobs front. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced that Chrysler is going to bring 1,800 new manufacturing jobs to its plant in Belvedere, Illinois.

And the news couldn't come at a better time for the struggling state. Illinois' unemployment rate, 9.8 percent. It's the seventh highest in the country nationwide. You'll remember, that rate is 8.5 percent.

So Governor Pat Quinn joins us from Chicago this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time.

When you look at the -- the sort of the progress you've made in adding jobs, the state's added almost 100,000 jobs since January of last year. Twelve thousand, though, only 12,000, have been in manufacturing. I'm going to assume that many of those jobs that have been added in food service.

What's the strategy for more? More manufacturing jobs?

GOV. PAT QUINN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, actually 20 -- yes, 20,000 jobs are in manufacturing since January of 2010, and 1,800 yesterday with the great news from Chrysler. They're going to build a new Dodge Dart, the 21st century Dodge Dart.

You know, when I got sworn in three years ago, Chrysler had 200 workers in Belvedere. This summer, they're going to have 4,200, and they're all United Auto Workers. A great union. And we had the CEO from Chrysler with us yesterday, Sergio Marchionne, and we really look forward to a great car.

It's family car. It's roomy. It's safe.


O'BRIEN: You're already doing ads for the car, sir. I -- I want one. Suddenly I want to go -- suddenly I want to go buy one.

Listen, let me ask you, seriously, there is a cost to these 1,800 jobs. You're -- you're giving tax credits over 10 years, and I think it's just over $53 million in tax credits, training funds, grants, incentives, things like that. How do you calculate if that cost is -- is worth it? It's like $60 million over 10 years for 1,800 jobs.

QUINN: Well, it's a great investment that pays tremendous dividends. Chrysler alone invested $700 million in refurbishing the plant. There was 700,000 hours of construction activity for our tradesmen.

And then, there's all these suppliers. We have many, many auto suppliers in Illinois, not only for Chrysler but also we have a huge Ford plant. When I became governor, there was one shift at Ford, now there's three shifts at Ford. There'll be three shifts in Chrysler, and Mitsubishi is also in our state and we're a great auto making state.

And that's part of America. That's what our president did. He rescued the auto industry, and now we're roaring back.

FREELAND: Governor, I'm Chrystia Freeland from Reuters. What does --


FREELAND: You've just been talking now about the big auto rescue, which was controversial at the time. Mitt Romney was publicly opposed to it. Are you saying now that you think that was a good idea and that sort of big government intervention in the economy has been proven to work?

QUINN: It was a rescue operation by President Barack Obama from the state of Illinois, and he understands how important it is to have a job.

I looked in the faces of all those auto workers last -- yesterday, when I was there. They're hardworking men and women. They believe in hard work and they deserve a decent chance. And they're tremendously skilled.

In talking to the CEO of Chrysler, he said one of the reasons they picked Illinois and our Belvedere plant is because of the skill of the workers, and I think it's important not to lose track of the fact that it's made in America, made in Illinois. Those are my favorite words.

THURSTON: Good morning, Governor. This is Baratunde Thurston, "Jack & Jill Politics."

And I wanted to know what the plan to sustain this job growth and to make sure that the jobs actually stay around? Auto can be such a cyclical sort of industry, with furloughs and back on time and then back off time. And what's -- what is your plan and what is your hope at least to make sure that this keeps going in the right direction?

And -- and congratulations on having that direction so far.

QUINN: Well, thank you. But I think basically we have to understand that 70 percent of the American economy is consumer demand, and we need to make sure that folks have the income in their pockets to buy cars. A lot of folks, their cars may be five or six years old, and buying a new Dodge Dart, a family car that's safe and sound, and really is a good place -- it has 40 miles a gallon and --

CAIN: Chief Marketing Officer --


QUINN: I told him yesterday, we're going to -- we're going to sell three million of these vehicles --


O'BRIEN: And you've already sold a bunch of them.

Governor, we are out of time, so I'm going to have to stop you there before you get to that answer (ph). We're going to keep talking, though, about manufacturing and we would love to have you back. Obviously, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you, sir.

QUINN: If you're a manufacturer, come to Illinois.

O'BRIEN: And buy the Dodge Dart, is what he's saying.

THURSTON: I see him on that street corner, with a clipboard, spinning around (ph) --


O'BRIEN: Forty miles per gallon is what he's saying.

FREELAND: You have -- you have to love that selling, right? Like he's saying Chrysler came here. I'm going to help sell their cars.

O'BRIEN: He's got to do it.

All right, we've got to take a short break. But, up next, we're going to talk about this breaking news. Two Americans kidnapped in Egypt, according to the U.S. embassy in Cairo. We'll bring you live from Cairo with the latest developments in the story.

Plus, who could forget -- especially not me -- Mitt Romney's comments about the poor? Listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.


O'BRIEN: Well, now he's saying he misspoke. We're going to chat with our panel about that.

Plus, Iran is reportedly turning loose al Qaeda detainees and that there -- there are some fears that two major players in terror are teaming up. We're going to talk about those stories and much more as STARTING POINT continues. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. We've got updated information on those two American tourists who are believed to have been kidnapped in Egypt. Let's get right to Christine Romans who has some headlines for us on that. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. That's right, Soledad. We begin with that breaking news at of Egypt. A group of armed gunmen kidnapped two American female tourists and their Egyptian tour guide in the Sinai Peninsula.

Again, we're just getting word of that. A tour guide and two women seized by masked gunmen and we're following this closely. Our Ivan Watson is on the story. We'll have him a little bit later on in the program.

All right, also in Egypt. Thousands of people gathering in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square this morning in protests against police. Looking at live pictures here right now. Protesters are angry about the lack of response from riot police during a soccer stampede that killed 79 people.

U.S. officials are expressing concern about a link between Iran and al Qaeda. They say Tehran recently freed as many as five top al Qaeda operatives who had been under house arrests including members of Bin Laden's inner circle. Officials also say Iran may have provided material aid to that terror group.

The Obama administration said to be considering the release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay as a way of promoting peace talks in Afghanistan. It comes after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested U.S. troops would end their combat role in Afghanistan by the middle of next year rather than in 2014.

Mitt Romney stomping in Nevada on the eve of the state's caucuses. Romney is trying to move forward while backpedalling on those comments he made on this show regarding the country's poor. Polls give Romney a comfortable lead in Nevada. He was just endorsed by Donald Trump.

Actress and comedian, Roseanne Barr says it's no joke, she is running for the Green Party's presidential nomination. Roseanne says she's a long-time Green Party supporter. The party's nominee will be chosen at a convention in Baltimore in July. "Minding Your Business" this morning, U.S. stock futures point to a higher open right now. Everyone is waiting for the big jobs report this morning. Economists surveyed by CNN Money are forecasting 130,000 jobs were added to the economy in January.

The CNN Money survey shows that the unemployment rate probably ticked up a bit, maybe to 8.6 percent. Stay tuned. We're going to get you those numbers as soon as they're available next hour.

Right now though, a quick check on the weather. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins us. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. I've been tracking this blizzard that is heading east of Denver. Major snowstorm from Denver with nine inches of snow and counting there, but the visibility has dropped and just now shutdown parts of I-70 from about the airport eastward, about 60 mile stretch.

Blizzard warnings are up for eastern Colorado, western parts of Nebraska and Kansas. How much snow do we expect? Well, we could see over a foot in Denver, which doesn't sound like a lot, but in the month of December or February that is a fair amount so it's a major snowstorm for these folks.

Heading into Nebraska, some of these darker colors we could see in some spots, up to 20 inches of snow. Elsewhere not too shabby. East coast, 46 degrees in New York City, 53 in D.C., but if you are traveling to either Dallas or Denver, those are going to be problem spots at the airports. Christine, back up to you.

ROMANS: I know hundreds of flights are canceled in Denver. Thanks so much -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's move on. Talk some more politics this morning. Late last night, Mitt Romney started backing down from the comments that he made here on STARTING POINT the other day about the poor. That was after he repeated his stance twice actually on our show. I want to play that for you.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans.


O'BRIEN: Then he changed his mind and now he's saying this.


ROMNEY: John, it was a misstatement. I misspoke. If people are going to go after me when I make a mistake, when I slip up on a word I say even though I say I got it wrong, sorry, that's not what I meant. That's going to be part of the political process. I understand it and I accept the consequences.


O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein is the editorial director of "National Journal." The new issue, by the way, is on the newsstands today. There I am pitching "National Journal." Yes and I'm getting a Dodge Dart later this morning.


O'BRIEN: Yes. Good morning to you.

BROWNSTEIN: Good, good morning.

O'BRIEN: I thought it was really interesting to hear what I just said, you know, when I slip up on a word. Do you think -- what do you make of this strategy of characterizing what was a big giant brouhaha for his campaign when they should have been doing their victory lap after the win in Florida to a slip up on a word?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, if he slipped up on a word he slipped up 75, 100, 125 times? Look, this is something that some version of which he has said repeatedly on the stump in debates. You know, that the phrasing of it was particularly explosive on the show Wednesday morning.

But the basic sentiment, the basic argument, that in essence in this downturn, the very poor are sheltered by a safety net. The very rich are taking care of themselves and middle class is left out and getting the shaft has been a central argument he's made all of the way through.

And in fact, as I said yesterday, the core of his argument against President Obama is that he is turning us into what Obama calls an entitlement society, a European style social state that we are sort of coddling American's independency.

This is not -- the phrasing may have been a mistake, but the sentiment is something he has said many times before and he really can't say that that was somehow a misstatement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron, do you think -- when you talk about poor. Mitt Romney has been so often accused of nothing having one. And kind of going with the wind to suit whatever audience he was speaking to. Was this an example of him actually articulating his more honestly than he has before?

BROWNSTEIN: I think, as I said yesterday, there is a political argument here that Republicans and conservatives have made for many years that is reflected in this language. I mean, I think a core of conservative populism and of the conservative argument against government has been opposition to transfer payments.

The idea that the government takes money from people who are working hard and gives it to people who don't deserve it. That was I think significantly removed from our politics in the 1990s with welfare reform signed by Bill Clinton and helped to be designed by Newt Gingrich.

But it's really re-emerged in this recession. We've had 15 million more Americans in poverty today than when Bill Clinton left office. There are a lot of people, in fact, receiving government benefits, whether it's food stamps or Medicaid or unemployment insurance.

Some would argue that's exactly how this safety net is supposed to function when people are basically thrown on their own resources by the economy. But the Republicans are arguing this is a dangerous level of dependency.

This is going to be a big argument. Just to be clear, I think the core point is, when Mitt Romney said to Soledad I'm going fix is safety net if there are holes in it.

The essence of his agenda on these issues has been to retrench spending and to retrench the federal role on these issues, whether it's Medicaid --

O'BRIEN: It looked contradictory to what we know -- Will Cain is dying to get in here. Go ahead.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Ron and I have had this debate several times about what the core message of the Republican Party is. I'm not going to deny, Ron, opposition to transfer payments is part of that, but I think you're leaving out part of Mitt Romney's message, which was obviously inarticulately put across here.

Newt Gingrich did a much better job. Newt Gingrich and actually Rick Santorum are guys that have voiced this ideology much better and that is you provide opportunities. There is a tenor in our conversation that if you care about the poor, if you're concerned about it, you give to them.

You give more, you give more. History doesn't suggest that's true. From the '60s to the '90s, we had one of the most robust welfare and it failed. Since we've had reform, it's gotten better. Mitt Romney was speaking to that message as well.

O'BRIEN: I think there are kind of two different categories. One is just from a PR stance you should never say I don't care about fill in the blank. It's just a bad thing to be quoted because people will take that chunk no matter what the context is and run it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. More dangerous than you might mean it.

O'BRIEN: And you might mean it. We're talking politicians willing to even say who knows what anybody really means. But on the other side of this, you also have to say, what it really Mitt Romney stance on certain issues?

So when we talks about I'm going to repair that safety net. In fact, Ron Brownstein, I mean, walk me through. Where does he stand on the things that we consider the safety net? I think we have a graphic of this.

That's unemployment insurance. That's Medicaid, that's food stamps, that's housing vouchers, that's welfare. If you are talking about people -- poverty is, what, $22,000 a year for a family of four? What is Mitt Romney's position on repairing that safety net?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all. Will is right. Certainly the welfare reform in 1996 did in fact expand an opportunity for low- income people by moving them into a labor force at the time when it was expanding.

But, if you're looking at what Mitt Romney is talking about here, the core of his agenda is reducing the federal commitment to a lot of he's anti-poverty programs. The most important one is Medicaid, which is now an entitlement that provides health care for the poor including seniors.

He wants to convert that into a block brand. He wants to reduce the growth of federal spending on it to about half the level it is now, about $100 billion a year. Unless states find significant efficiencies that are eluded them before. Inexorably, that means fewer people are being eligible and reduce benefits.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to stop you there. At a time when the number of people in poverty is increasing, I think we have from 2007, 37 million up to 46 million in poverty today, an increase of just under 25 percent. Chrystia, want to jump in on this?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: I wanted to say, Ron, first of all, I totally agree with you on the misspeaking point. I think it's quite essential to point out that this was maybe for the Romney campaign an unfortunate way of phrasing it.

But it actually spoke to a core point that they've been trying to make. I wanted to ask you about something a little bit different about how this is playing. What I wonder is, we've seen quite a few times that Mitt Romney has a hard time talking about money.

O'BRIEN: Why is that?

FREELAND: In ways that are comfortable for everybody else. This has caught fire so much because it reminds us that we talked about money --

O'BRIEN: His gaffes are always around money. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like to fire people.

FREELAND: I think it's because he's very rich and he lives in a different world from the rest of us.

O'BRIEN: Ross Perot was even richer. Ross Perot was really, really, really rich and he didn't. So there are a lot of people who have been rich who do not make these gaffes. I find this very curious. Ron, do you have a theory on this?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I think that is a really good point. I think there are two aspects of it. First, the most dangerous thing in politics is to play into a pre-existing story line, right? So when Dan Quayle misspelled potato it was a much better deal than if Al Gore had misspelled potato.

For Romney, there is kind of accumulation that's going on here because he has made so many awkward comments relating to money, I'm unemployed, too, I like firing people. You know, each one might be misconstrued and certainly some of them have been stretched.

But there is more sensitivity to it. I think the second thing is kind of, you know, I think he's kind of internalized a kind of unease about this. I mean, I think, you know, the fact that Republicans, as well as Democrats, have been going after him on his financial background.

I think it has made him somewhat unsteady in this terrain. I think he probably doesn't feel as secure as he does on some other areas. So I think the combination of more sensitivity and kind of the audience and probably more sensitivity on the part of the performer explains part of what we're seeing.

O'BRIEN: All right, Ron Brownstein, always nice to have you. We love having you in person though. You might want to move to New York. Do it, do it, Ron. Did I mention, the "National Journal" is out now on newsstands?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they have ads for Chrysler products in the magazine?

O'BRIEN: The dodge dart, which I'll be purchasing later? Good thinking there. All right, got a lot to get to this morning.

Susan G. Komen, a cancer charity. We've been talking about that. Now they are literally mid-crisis after cutting off cash, payments, to Planned Parenthood. We'll examine whether this is policy or politics or maybe both.

Also, cashing in on tornado tourism. A plan to get people to visiting Joplin, Missouri, to see the damage. A lot of people are angry. We'll tell you why we say get real to that this morning.


O'BRIEN: This is a great song. This is a great song.


I heard this -- I was going off to college when this song first came out. Dancing on the (INAUDIBLE).


O'BRIEN: In the dorm room. Come on. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to sing this one.


O'BRIEN: Yes? Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was very tired.


I have a much deeper --


O'BRIEN: New Edition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- I think, hopefully, sexier voice now.


O'BRIEN: God, go away.

You will have to tweet about that, don't you?


MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: -- we think this was a sexy voice.

O'BRIEN: That was a plea. That was a little bit of a pathetic plea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm trying to get my governor of Illinois on.


O'BRIEN: Dodge Dart --


O'BRIEN: 40 miles to the gallon.

Welcome back, everybody. I want to talk about "Fit Nation," which Sanjay does every single year. A little while ago, he and I talked about whether or not I should be part of this training in this triathlon. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that once-in-a-blue- moon I get on the treadmill and train for it.


Sanjay Gupta, though, is a maniac when it comes to training. He joins us from Atlanta.

Hey, Sanjay, good morning.


O'BRIEN: Today is the challenge, right? You're kicking it off officially?

GUPTA: Yes, we're kicking it off. We're thinking of you, because we're delighted that --

O'BRIEN: You lie.


GUPTA: -- you're going to be able to join us for this triathlon. You're going to be doing a classic distance triathlon. I told you a little bit about this. We'll take you to Malibu in September. It's about a half-mile swim, 18-mile bike ride, four-mile run. Got some training between now and then, but not nearly as bad as you think.

It's funny, Soledad, because I was sort of kicked, I think, in some ways, dragging and screaming into this whole process as well. I remember I was on the plane and my producer called me, and literally I was on the phone, flight attendant telling me to turn the phone off. The producer said, will you agree to do this triathlon, I said, yes, sure, click.


And that was two years ago. And it's completely changed my life.


O'BRIEN: Has it really? How has it changed your life? How do you fit in this training? I know it's only a four-mile run but you really have to run six miles to do a four-mile run after the bike and swim.

GUPTA: The run is the last part of the event so, even if you're a runner, it's often the most challenging. For me, change, obviously just health wise, it's been significant. I think counter intuitively, my time management skills have improved because I knew I had to fit this in every day. As a result, I became much more efficient at other things I had to get done. It's one of these things. Everyone responds to it differently.

But you and I have been talking about these "Fit Nation" events for years now. For the last two years, we've had people who have never done triathlons.


O'BRIEN: You've got seven new people, right?

GUPTA: Yes. They all completed these triathlons. We swam in the Hudson River last year. You see one of our participants there. Her name is Adrian. And that's Denise. She was a softball player. Lost a leg. Had to be amputated as a result of an injury she had. We have people who are trying to quit smoking. We have a truck driver who's a minister, Jeff Dahler. He's a D.J. at an Atlanta radio station --


O'BRIEN: Yes, they're all -- you know what I'm thinking as I see their pictures? They're all going to beat me in this triathlon.


Sanjay, I am so excited and happy that you've invited me to join you.


GUPTA: This is what you get to wear, by the way.

O'BRIEN: I get to wear that?

GUPTA: Your viewers, all the Soledad O'Brien viewers.


O'BRIEN: Yes, you know what, I'll be bringing up the rear in the triathlon. Yes, yes, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're all going to be winners.

O'BRIEN: We're all winners at the end.

Sanjay, I'm excited. You can follow us at nation. You can follow our progress for both me and Sanjay at, and also on Twitter because I tell everyone one, every time I have to work out, I complain about it and tweet about it.

Also, this morning --


CARDONA: I like that. It encourages me.

O'BRIEN: It does?


O'BRIEN: Yes, join us.

CARDONA: Yes. Join us.

O'BRIEN: We are following two big breaking news stories this morning. The first, two Americans who have reportedly been kidnapped in Cairo. We have the very latest coming to you from Egypt straight ahead.

Also developing overnight, Iran's supreme leader has a warning for the United States. This is as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns that Israel could strike Iran by spring. We're looking at all of these stories right after this commercial break.


O'BRIEN: Our take away this morning is that our viewers have better musical taste than most of our panelists.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to accept that. I'm not going to accept that.

O'BRIEN: Outsourcing works. Outsourcing works.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I put in some really good stuff.

O'BRIEN: You did?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's some bias in the system.

O'BRIEN: Yes, late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all bias --


O'BRIEN: I remember at 7:05 you were here writing them down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allegedly, writing them down.

O'BRIEN: Allegedly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a writer. I'm a tapper. I'm a typer. I live in the modern world.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my god. I feel like you're --




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I use my hand to sign things.

CARDONA: But don't forget the sexy voice, Soledad.


O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to get real this morning. Eight months after one of the deadliest tornadoes in history, the city of Joplin, Missouri, is talking about an idea to raise money to try to get back on its feet. It's called Tornado Tourism. Joplin's Visitors Bureau was talking about a plan that would offer guided bus tours of the streets that were leveled by the twisters that killed 161 people back in May. The tour is complete, believe it or not, with a Smartphone app. Some people who lost loved ones in that disaster say it is an insult. The bureau says it's not the busted up homes. They're trying to promote the recovery. And the city is recovering. Debris has been cleared. Hundreds of construction permits have been issued, but the question remains are disaster tours unseemly.

I'm going to say this. I think they're a good idea.


O'BRIEN: Here's why. Because as a reporter, right, the job is to get in and highlight what has happened. I thought it was a good idea in New Orleans. It was also controversial. Do you do a Katrina tour? Isn't that inappropriate? No. Bring people in to see the devastation and to see the recovery. By the way, they can spend money and they can also sort of, you know, feel connected to a city that they'll root for and continue to follow. I say think about it, Joplin, because it might actually be a good idea.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Remember, we had this debate post- September 11th. How long do you show the pictures of the Twin Towers falling? It's always a debate. Where do you cross the line from exploitation and protecting people from emotional responses to reminding them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to take it to a different part of the world. I've visited tourism in Rio and in --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- in Mumbai and Bombay. In those cases, it wasn't the tourism. I don't know what other programs they had around. They knew people were going to be visiting. Their goal was to show people a different side of the city that you knew you would miss and help fund educational programs, entrepreneurial opportunities.

O'BRIEN: I tell you, it's not a bad idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that's a part of it, then that's really cool. Otherwise, it's so on the border of exploitation.


CARDONA: Can I be a conservative person?

O'BRIEN: You can't, because we have to go to commercial break.


CAIN: Ouch.

O'BRIEN: But we're going to say, she says no.

(LAUGHTER) CARDONA: Bad idea. Don't do it.


O'BRIEN: All right, still ahead this morning, we're talking about these two American tourists that have been reportedly kidnapped in Egypt. We'll bring you to Cairo with some of the details and the developments in the story.

Then, policy or just politics? Susan G. Komen Foundation cuts funding for Planned Parenthood. And now some people are crying foul. And you should look at their Wikipedia page this morning.

Plus, what commercial will you be talking about come Monday? The Super Bowl is really all about the commercials.


Maybe, it'll be this one.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That's my confidence.



O'BRIEN: We're going to take a sneak peek at the Super Bowl ads straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.