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Interview with Congressman Bill Flores; Violence in Syria Continues; New York Giants Win Super Bowl; U.S. Looks to Rally "Friends of Syria"; Rapper M.I.A.'s Halftime "Salute"; Norovirus Hits Two Cruise Ships; Deadly Cold Snap In Europe; Obama: U.S. Working With Israel On Iran; Three GOP Contests Tomorrow; SNL Sends Gingrich To The Moon; "I Deserve A Second Term"; Romney: Real Unemployment Rate Over 15 Percent; Can Romney Extend Winning Streak?; Komen Reversal On Planned Parenthood; People Calling for Karen Handel to Resign; $3.5 Million Paid for a 30-Second Super Bowl Advertisement

Aired February 6, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. Our "STARTING POINT" this morning is President Obama. He doesn't just want another four years. He says he's earned another four years.

In a Super Bowl sit-down, the president says the economy is moving in the right direction.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I deserve a second term, but we're not done. We created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months. We've created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990. But we're not finished.


O'BRIEN: And speaking of the Super Bowl, the Giants take home the trophy. Yay. But that's not what has people talking today.

Madonna has had some mixed reviews of her performance which, by the way, I thought rocked. I thought it was really good. Staging was amazing.

And then, M.I.A. I didn't -- I was watching the game, I didn't see what she did but she had the sort of vulgar thing during the show. We'll tell you about that.


O'BRIEN: Yes, but that wasn't the vulgar performance thing.


O'BRIEN: Also ahead this morning, we're talking Syria. There is no let-up in the Syrian government cracking down on protesters, and it's become a deadly fight. Russia and China could now be in the way of peace. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice will join us live this morning. All those story, much more ahead. STARTING POINT begins right now.

Whose iPod is that?

VICKI WARD, "VANITY FAIR": I don't know.

O'BRIEN: Susan, it's yours?


O'BRIEN: Welcome. Welcome as we put you on the spot right away. It's nice to have you. Good morning. Will Cain is on your right, my left. Nice to see you Will Cain. We spent the weekend together, as I did with Roland Martin.


O'BRIEN: Doing election coverage this weekend. Nice to have you guys, appreciate it.

President Obama's reelection hopes rests heavily on whether the voters agree the economy has improved. The president said even though it's still on the mend he has earned another four years in office. This is what he told NBC's Matt Lauer in a sit-down that aired right before the Super Bowl.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I deserve a second term but we're not done. We created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months. We've created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990. But we're not finished. And the key right now is just make sure that we don't start turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.


O'BRIEN: Congressman Bill Flores is a Republican from Texas. He is live in Washington, D.C. this morning. He is a member of the Budget Committee. Nice to have you, sir. Appreciate it.

REP. BILL FLORES, (R) TEXAS: Good morning. Soledad. It's great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: I'm going go out on a limb and say you disagree with the president when he say he deserves another four years?

FLORES: I think that's understated. He had trotted about his happy face about the last employment numbers but the American people wholeheartedly disagree.

O'BRIEN: OK, so then let's talk a little bit about how the economy is doing. Many things that the president said in his interview with Matt Lauer all focused on the slow recovery of the economy. He came into office for the first full month, that number was 8.3 percent unemployment, went as high as 10 percent unemployment in October of 2009, now coming back -- 8.3. Does he have a fair argument for something I'm doing is working?

FLORES: Well, actually, let's look at the real facts. The real unemployment number was 7.8 percent. So we still have millions more unemployed today than we had at the point in time when he was sworn into office.

The question here is a choice of policies. We can either go the policy package that President Roosevelt tried back in the great depression or we can try what Ronald Reagan did. If we had followed the Ronald Reagan recovery model we would have almost 17 million more Americans working today than we do and almost 5,700 more dollars per capita for every man, woman, and child in this country in terms of higher GDP.

O'BRIEN: With all due respect, those are very, very big ifs. If you look at the trend, September, 9.1 percent unemployment, October, 9 percent unemployment, November, 8.6 percent unemployment, January, 8.3 percent unemployment. If you were in the White House, you see this chart, you're like, this is a good chart to campaign on. If you're a Republican trying to take the White House you say, this chart not so great to campaign on. What are the big challenges for the Republicans trying to gain the White House?

FLORES: Really, we can take a lot of credit for the turnaround in employment. We've got two policies coming out of Washington today. On one hand, you've got the House Republicans that are pushing the Reagan type agenda where we had explosive growth following a deep recession. On the other hand, you've got Harry Reid and the president pushing the break on the private sector so that it is having trouble getting going.

So I don't think that it really gives the president anything to crow about. There hasn't been a president that's been reelected when unemployment has been higher than seven percent since the recession. Excuse me, since the Great Depression. I don't see any reason for that to change today.

O'BRIEN: So the CBO is projecting the unemployment rate could go up to 8.8 percent in the third credit of this year. You're saying 8.3 percent, the president doesn't get credit for that. But if it goes to 8.8 percent, are you willing to say, listen, Congress gets credit for that increase two if that happens. That is our fault?

FLORES: Again, listen to what I said before. You've got the House Republicans pushing the pedal to the medal on a Reagan type of agenda that we know worked. And you've got the president and Harry Reid who are trying to push a very big government type of agenda.

Unfortunately we're out numbered because they've got two parts of the elected branches of government and we've only got one part. So we have done our part to help turn things around. But at the same time we don't have full control. If we did, I can guarantee you we would have much better recovery than what we see today.

The president's policies have failed. They have caused more unemployment than we had when he was elected. And we have also got a situation where he's retarding the level of growth that we could have.

O'BRIEN: So when you look at these numbers in the poll that says how Congress is doing its job, what you're telling me apparently is not getting out to the rest of the world because people think Congress is doing a terrible, terrible job 86 percent disapprove, only 11 percent approve. What are you going to do to keep that number from getting to 8.8 percent?

FLORES: What I'd like to do is continue a private sector, free market Main Street types of policies. And those include less regulation. They include a fairer, flatter tax system. They include all the above American energy solutions. Basically America -- I mean, the GOP has a jobs package we put on the table.

O'BRIEN: What are you holding up? I can't -- my eyes are so bad. I'm looking at a prompter that's two-and-a-half miles away.

FLORES: I can hold it closer for you.

O'BRIEN: What's it called? What is that?

FLORES: It's called the GOP jobs plan for America. And we've been working on this all of last year and this year. And several of these bills are waiting on Harry Reid's desk to be considered by the Senate. There are 30 bills that we passed that would make -- are Main Street solutions towards improving the economy, but 27 of them haven't had any action by Senate.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Flores, thanks for seeing us. Can you pop that in the mail to us? Or somebody in your office shoot it to PDF in our office.

FLORES: Go to And also it's great to celebrate Ronald Reagan's 101st anniversary of his birthday with you today.

MARTIN: Congressman, I'm ashamed you didn't give Texas A&M a shout-out.


O'BRIEN: We're covering a lot of ground -- celebrating Reagan. OK, thank you, sir.

This was Vicki -- worth the entire interview.


WARD: I just want to say, because I read this Congressional Budget Report.

MARTIN: Riveting, huh?

WARD: It's so riveting. It gets to the end and it says, as you pointed out, you know, jobless figures could get much worse following statistics needs to happen. By the way, ignore all of the above if Europe implodes, which is not impossible, or if any of the bills that we just said are going to pass, don't pass. And I felt like saying, or if an asteroid hits the earth. I mean, like, really, it's all a bit meaningless.

O'BRIEN: A big guess.

MARTIN: What I thought was hilarious about the conversation again is that you hear on one hand the president can do nothing to create jobs, the private sector creates jobs. But then, oh, we're going to blame the president for not creating jobs. But then he says Congress, we've done our part. When the Democrats control the house they complain about the exact same thing. The Senate isn't getting any bills passed because they say Republicans are blocking it. This is what you see back and forth when you're trying to assess blame but then take credit.

O'BRIEN: Let's move off of blame, which it's unusual for me because I often enjoy blame.


O'BRIEN: I do. I like figuring out who is responsible for mucking things up. However, what does it's mean for an election year? If it goes from 8.3 -- that chart, really the downward motion is what everybody is going to look at. If it goes up again, does it mean that President Obama struggles to get in office or does not get in, does not get elected, whoever the GOP nominee is?

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: If unemployment goes up, that will make it very, very difficult on President Obama. The problem with conversation with the congressman, the conversation we're having. We too often treat turn employment statistic -- we treat -- you and I have talked about this.

O'BRIEN: We have.

CAIN: Too often treat the unemployment statistic as though it's a scoreboard for the economy and, therefore, the scoreboard for how the election should go. There are so many things involved in how the economy is doing, debt, foreign affairs. If all boils down to how you feel as a consumer and, therefore, how you feel as a voter.

O'BRIEN: It's got to play a role in how you feel. You see a chart that goes like this, unemployment going down, has to play a role.

WARD: Last night, Super Bowl halftime, I think that's how America feels regardless of these figures. We're at halftime. If that's not improved --

MARTIN: How you feel matters, but also how the stock market performed. All of that is factored in. Of course, it's all a part of it.

O'BRIEN: We have other headlines to get to. I can see how this morning is going to go. I have panelists chitchatting and I'm trying to toss to the news. It's going to be a long, long morning. Christine, I'm trying my hardest to get to you this morning. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. And to Roland's point, the stock market is at a four-year high for the DOW and S&P. There you go.

All right, other news this morning, the State Department says it is deeply concerned about Egypt's plan to put 19 American on trial. Among that group, Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. transportation secretary, ray LaHood. They are all accused of illegally accepting foreign financing in Egypt's crackdown on non-government organizations. Jill Dougherty live in Washington with the latest on this. Good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine. This is escalating very, very fast. You've already had warnings from President Obama, from Hillary Clinton, and from members of Congress that this really has to stop. But one of the problems is, for the Egyptians, if it does not stop, the pressure is building right now on Capitol Hill to stop giving aid to Egypt. And that is about $1.5 billion that is at stake.

Now, the Egyptians say that these groups, democracy support groups, are getting out-funding. They get funding from the State Department, of course, and others in the government and they are trying to foam unrest. But the groups are saying they're trying to register. They are trying to do the right thing. So it's a very, very decision right now and no sign that anything is going to be resolved. These people could go to court.

ROMANS: Jill Dougherty, thank you so much, Jill.

Also making headlines this morning, 30 more deaths reported overnight in the Syrian city of Homs. Government forces showing the city after China and Russia blocked a U.N. resolution calling for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to be removed. In just a few moments we'll talk about the next step tort U.S. on this Syrian congress when were joined by Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Authorities in Washington State say Josh Powell blew up his home and killed himself and his two young sons yesterday. It happened just days after he was denied custody of his children. Powell was a person of interest in the 2010 disappearance of his wife, Susan.

New information about the Komen's foundation last week to stop funding breast cancer screenings. Komen has since restored that funding after an outcry. "The Huffington Post" reports it saw e-mails that prove Komen's vice president for public policy Karen Handel, she was behind the original decision. Several online petitions are already circulating calling for her removal.

"Minding your Business" this morning, concerns about Greece's debt problems pushing markets lower this morning overseas. U.S. stock futures are pointing to a lower open right now after a very nice rally on Friday following a strong jobs report.

And for the second time in four years, New York City will be honoring the New York Giants with a ticker tape parade. The Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17 to win Super Bowl xlvi last night. It'ts their second Super Bowl championship in four years.

The other big talk from the game, Madonna's halftime show, close call for the material girl when she slipped and nearly fell at one point during the performance. She had a little trouble regrouping for a moment but carried on. The mash-up of her songs getting mixed reviews this morning. Soledad, you liked it, didn't you?

O'BRIEN: I did. Mixed reviews, what are you talking about?

ROMANS: I know. She had a sore ankle, too.

O'BRIEN: Six-inch heels with a sprained ankle. What does she have to do, like levitate?

MARTIN: I say work it.

O'BRIEN: You didn't like it?

WARD: I hated it.


WARD: Cleopatra? Really?

O'BRIEN: I liked it.

WARD: Really?


O'BRIEN: My son, when the guy was on the high wire and flipping and flipped, my seven-year-old was like, wow.

ROMANS: I know. My kid fell asleep to Madonna, but he's three.

O'BRIEN: That was awesome. I thought it was great.

MARTIN: The last Super Bowl halftime entertainment that blew your mind away was Prince. That was just hot.

WARD: I liked Bono. I like U2.

O'BRIEN: Everybody has their favorites.

Speaking of Super Bowl, the one thing we're not talking about, did you see this? MIA was sort of like the sidekick performer.

CAIN: She was like a child. Pay attention to me -- me, me, me.

O'BRIEN: Guess what, we're paying attention to her this morning. She's going to be in our get real because what she did draw a little attention.

Also the crisis in Syria, why Russia and China's involvement could be stumbling blocks to try to get peace there. Ambassador Susan Rice is going to join us from the White House coming up next. You're watching STARTING POINT. Short break. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: The U.S. calling on friends of Syria to unite and do what the United Nations could not do. This weekend, China and Russia vetoed a resolution which would have isolated President Bashar al- Assad.

A strange sight in Damascus to tell you about. Hundreds of Assad's supporters were thanking Russia and thanking China, waving flags and painting faces.

But this is how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted yesterday.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What happened yesterday at the United Nations was a travesty. Those countries that refused to support the Arab League plan bear full responsibility for protecting the brutal regime in Damascus.


O'BRIEN: Ambassador Susan Rice had some tough words of her own for Russia and China, calling it disgusting. She joins us live from the White House Briefing Room this morning. Nice to see you, Ms. Ambassador. Thank for being with us.

When you look at some of the aftermath of what happened this weekend, an activist in Homs says that he's counted 30 bodies in a hospital there following a rocket attack. Security Forces opposition is reporting, kill 43 people. In the short term, what can the United Nations do in Syria now?

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, Soledad, what happened on Saturday when Russia and China chose to veto a resolution that most importantly would have given political backing to an Arab League plan to begin a negotiated transition, was that they put a stake in the heart of efforts to resolve this conflict peacefully.

The resolution on the table would have done nothing more than have encouraged the Arab League in their efforts to bring the two sides to a negotiated settlement and a transition to democracy. So they have, by their actions, by their veto, dramatically increased the risk of greater violence and we've seen the manifestations of that and indeed increase the risk of civil conflict.

The United Nations will continue on this issue. We, the United States and 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council are united in seeking a peaceful resolution of this. We'll step up our economic pressure. We'll coordinate with our Arab partners ever more closely to increase the pressure on Assad and isolate him. And Russia and China will eventually, I think, come to regret this decision which has aligned them with a dying dictator, whose days are numbers -

O'BRIEN: Were you -

RICE: -- put them at odds with the Syrian people and indeed the entire region.

O'BRIEN: Were you surprised? It seemed to me and a lot of other people I think that Moscow had been signaling that they were going to do this very thing for quite a while, scuttle any kind of U.N. resolution.

RICE: Well, frankly, Soledad, they sent mixed signals along the way. I think toward the end when - when we came to a vote, we knew what the outcome was going to be.

But we thought it absolutely essential that we not fall for further Russian delaying tactics. They wanted to put off the vote until middle or end of next week and continue negotiations on the basis of wrecking amendments. And the rest of the council said no.

The council owes the Syrian people an answer. Russia and China have to be held accountable for their actions, for their cuddling and support of the - of the Syrian dictator. They have been.

The tragedy, of course, is that the people of Syria will remain in the crosshairs. We, the United States, stand with the people of Syria. Russia and China are obviously with Assad.

O'BRIEN: So do you see a formal group of nations forming sort of like the contact group in Libya that would help coordinate assistance to the Syrian opposition?

RICE: Well, Soledad, we're looking at a wide range of next steps. I think many of our partners in the Arab World are discussing and considering options and including this. They will be meeting on February 11th for another set of decisions.

We are actively and aggressively consulting with them and partners in Europe and Turkey and around the region. I think, frankly, a whole range of steps, diplomatic, economic, and otherwise are at our disposal and we will be working together to determine the most appropriate steps.

O'BRIEN: And does otherwise mean military options or many people?

RICE: Soledad, I think clearly we and the entire region have an interest in resolving this crisis peacefully, and that remains our objective.

O'BRIEN: And does that mean that military options are off the table or military options certainly are still on the table? RICE: Soledad, I don't want to get into speculation. But I do think that our aim has been throughout to use diplomacy, sanctions and economic pressure to make it absolutely clear to Assad that his days are numbers, which indeed they are, and that there needs to be a transition to representative democratic government in Syria.

O'BRIEN: Ambassador Susan Rice is the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us, Ms. Ambassador.

RICE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I never like when they wouldn't really say yes or no to the military option thing instead of, well, everything -

WARD: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Peace is always what we're thinking about.

CAIN: Conversation is reminiscent of the one we had a year ago regarding Libya.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly.

CAIN: Very reminiscent. And you have to wonder how much of this stems from that exact moment a year ago. We had a resolution to go into Libya for humanitarian purposes. By most accounts, we outlived it for regime change and Russia and China are not happy about what happened in Libya.

O'BRIEN: When Ambassador talks about she thinks that Russia is going to regret it. What do you think she means specifically?

WARD: I think it's just talk. Russia has a Naval Base in Syria. I don't think they're regretting anything. And I think to your point, well, the difference between Libya and Syria is that actually America backed Britain and France -

CAIN: Right.

WARD: -- and I, in fact, recently interviewed Bernard-Henri Levy, the philosopher who thinks he single handedly, you know, brought down Gadhafi -

CAIN: Gadhafi.

WARD: Yes. But led the French and led the British, but the Americans paid for it and took no credit. They didn't - they want to distance themselves from going into countries militarily. And I think it was - they're waiting for someone else.

CAIN: So basically you're saying the difference is nobody wants to go to Syria this year. Nobody wants to take the lead.

WARD: I think that's the big difference. Well, I think they will do eventually because Syria is very close to Iran and that is dangerous. O'BRIEN: Interesting.

All right, ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, it wasn't a wardrobe malfunction but M.I.A. - first, you're like M.I.A.? Was she even at the Super Bowl? Yes, she was. And there she is in a performance with Madonna. Now, she's kind of stealing the show because of what we're talking about this morning.


O'BRIEN: We'll tell you "Get Real." Yes, it is.

Also, remember Newt Gingrich's plans to colonize the moon. Did you see SNL? SNL did a very funny stand-up on that last night - the other night, I should say, Saturday night.

And we're going to leave you with a little Credence Clearwater?

CAIN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: I like this. I like this.

CAIN: A little CCR.

O'BRIEN: I like this. This is Will Cain's iPod.


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

Ever since Janet Jackson's slip-up eight years ago, it has become every Super Bowl performance's worst fear, or major promotional opportunity, not that I'm a cynic, a wardrobe malfunction. This year's halftime headliner was no different, although Madonna met the issue head-on last week. Here's what she said.


MADONNA, ENTERTAINER: Great attention to detail has been paged in my wardrobe. There will be no wardrobe malfunctions. Promise.


O'BRIEN: Madonna's 12 and a half minute halftime extravaganza was an amazing production. That was an amazing production. Oh, my God. It was incredible. It was all about promoting her new album, I get that, but that was "Material Girl." And she also treated her fans to a medley of her greatest hits, which I appreciated, also her new song.

Joined on stage by a bevy of musical stars, including one who now a day later may have stolen the show a little bit. The rapper M.I.A. decided she gave the finger basically to a worldwide audience. I couldn't see that, like -

CAIN: I saw the blur. It was quick. O'BRIEN: Yes.

WARD: I didn't see it at all.

O'BRIEN: I was watching it. There she is. We blurred it out a little bit, but you really couldn't tell. It was blurred by NBC reacting a smidge too late to the gesture. The network and the NFL have both apologized, but they've also kind of like apologized and then blamed each other for it.

You know, I think the real regret might be - welcome back, Roland. He's back again. Come join.


O'BRIEN: The real - the real problem might be, though, is that the conversation today now is all about M.I.A. and less about Madonna's halftime show.

CAIN: Here's my question. Do you think Madonna walked off stage in that thing and balled M.I.A. out? You are not talking about Madonna's album, her performance, we're talking about M.I.A. Did she - is she in trouble -

O'BRIEN: Not so much on how about Madonna danced in high heels with a sprained ankle.

WARD: It's terrible music. Who is going to buy that album?

O'BRIEN: No, it wasn't.

MARTIN: Come on.


MARTIN: No, no. I'd be wrong. What I'm saying is with the Super Bowl, every halftime show will get criticized because people will say, I like it, I don't like it. It happened with The Who. It happened with a bunch of people.

O'BRIEN: That staging - there is Vicky, there is nothing you can say about that staging. That staging was amazing. They put it up in eight minutes.

MARTIN: Even Elton John likely liked that halftime show.

WARD: Yes. How did you know?

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, yes.

WARD: It's in the papers today. Have you talked to Elton?

MARTIN: No, we want - hey, Vicky, that was point of the joke. Him and Madonna not liking each other. Vicky, go with the bit. Go with the bit.


O'BRIEN: OK. Commercial break, people.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, three states up for grabs tomorrow. Newt Gingrich has a new strategy. We'll see if his strategy is going to work. One he says he's still in the race. Number two, he says -

MARTIN: I hate Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: He really did.

WARD: Is that a newsbreak?

O'BRIEN: President Obama warning Iran, he says no option is off the table. We've got details on that coming up.

And did you se the Super Bowl - oh, this is so funny. The Little Doritos baby slinging himself to grab some chips? So cute. I like this. I like that one.

MARTIN: That's funny. That was funny.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk about the hits. Oh, God. You're just a downer today, Will Cain. Hits and misses straight ahead on STARTING POINT. It is a rough morning for me.

MARTIN: You need coffee or an energy drink or something.

O'BRIEN: Wow, wow.

CAIN: I'm saying, was it?

WARD: He's just going to be our contrarian today.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. Let's get right to Christine. She has a look at our headlines. Good morning again.

ROMANS: Good morning to you, Soledad.

Two Florida-based Princess cruise ships are clean and heading back out to sea after 500 people came down with norovirus. The weekend outbreaks were aboard the Ruby Princess and Crown Princess ships. The Centers for Disease Control is trying to determine the cause of that virus.

Extreme cold and heavy snow have buried parts of Europe and caused hundreds of death. Eastern Europe has been hit especially hard. Authorities in Ukraine report more than 130 deaths during a week long cold snap with temperatures well below freezing.

President Obama says the U.S. is working in lock step with Israel to solve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. This as reports have come out that Israel may attack Iran in the spring. The president says diplomacy is the preferred solution.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do. I think they, like us, believe that Iran has to stand out on its nuclear weapons program.

And we have mobilized the international community in a way that is unprecedented. And they are feeling the pinch. They are feeling the pressure.

But they have not taken the step that they need to diplomatically, which is to say we will pursue peaceful nuclear power. We will not pursue a nuclear weapon.


ROMANS: Israel fears Iran is approaching a point where a limited military strike won't be enough to head off an Iranian bomb.

The Republican presidential candidates spanning out across Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri to campaign today. Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses tomorrow. Missouri voters go to the polls in a non-binding primary, no, delegates at stake there.

And remember when Newt Gingrich unveiled his idea of building a lunar colony at one of the recent GOP debate? Well, "Saturday Night Live" delivered on that idea.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, Moon President Gingrich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you do, little girl?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when you're not at school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work as a janitor at the school per your moon decree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, on earth they thought the idea of student janitors was crazy. I guess that's why they didn't want me to be their president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people of South Carolina wanted you to be president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not all of America is as forward thinking as South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A good moon to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And may divorce be with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Moon President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice Admiral Herman Cain.



O'BRIEN: Very funny.


O'BRIEN: Yes, that was a good one. All right, Christine, thanks.

Some good news about jobs. Unemployment is now at 8.3 percent. It's the lowest number since President Obama's first full month in office.

Last night, the president said the improvement in the economy proves that he has earned another term. Here's what he told Matt Lauer.


OBAMA: I deserve a second term, but we're not done. We created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months. We've created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990. But we're not finished and the key right now is just to make sure that we don't start turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.


O'BRIEN: Those new numbers have Mitt Romney adjusting his attacks on the president. Here's what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This week he's been trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President. This is the 36th straight month with unemployment above the red line. Your own administration drew. And if you take into account all the people who are struggling for work or have just stopped looking, the real unemployment rate is over 15 percent.


O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein is the editorial director at the "National Journal" and he is joining our panel this morning for 2012 Decode. It's nice to see you. Good morning to you.


O'BRIEN: How do you think this unemployment drop or -- drop is such a -- it's more like a slide downward, is going to affect the election in November? Is it really just too early to say?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's obviously good news with a big caveat if it's sustained. I mean, the evidence historically is the trajectory matters more than level that the absolute level of unemployment is probably less important than the direction that it's heading.

President Obama has had several good months and you're seeing that reflected and it was probably the most single most important number that we're seeing in the economic public opinion, which is the share of people who think the economy is getting better, is improving that's critical for him.

The question though, Soledad, is can it be sustained. There are some, you know, forecasts including the Congressional Budget Office that are much more pessimistic about the second half of the year. But there's no question if he keeps going in this direction.

And it is good news to the president and there's one point within the numbers I just want to underscore. Part of the challenge Obama faced in 2012, and Roland I think can testify to this, is that the groups at the core of his coalition, whether it's Hispanic, African-Americans or young people, have been especially hard hit by this recession.

What you're seeing in these latest numbers is some signs that recovery is beginning to reach them. They're about 1.5 million more Hispanics working than a year ago, about 700,000 more African- Americans working than a year ago. Those numbers haven't gotten a lot of attention but they can be felt, I think, in the community.

O'BRIEN: Isn't there an issue, Roland, starting with me on this. If you are sitting here saying 8.3, the president says good news and going to go out and start campaigning on it and then it goes back up to 8.8 as the CBO is projecting.

And with a lot of caveats, everything has to go a certain way, which many ifs. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. If unemployment going down is a really great thing for your campaign, suddenly it changes, which we all know it could, big problem.

MARTIN: Yes, absolutely. We've seen this over the last three years and that is when it goes down the White House comes out. They feel great.

In the next month then it goes back up. OK, what do we now say and so I've always said to will's point earlier that you can't get caught up in this game of hyping it right now and then it might change later.

What they -- what you hear the White House continue to say is, how many consecutive months have we seen private sector job growth? That's the key. You hear that a lot. It's something around 21, 24 months.


MARTIN: Sixteen consecutive months of overall job growth. That's what they're focusing on.

O'BRIEN: All right, back to Ron Brownstein. Here is what Newt Gingrich said on the Sunday talk shows talking about the poverty and the poor.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Romney's description that he doesn't worry about the poor because they have a safety net, I think, conservatives, in fact, do worry about helping every American pursue happiness.


O'BRIEN: One thing we saw after the Nevada caucuses, two things that Newt Gingrich said. One, I'm in the race and number two, really start to highlight the differences between him and Mitt Romney. If he's really in the race, what kind of damage can he cause, focused on poverty here?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, I think the broader point is right. I mean, Gingrich clearly sees that if he has a chance of recovery, which is not guaranteed because once you start losing a presidential primary, the history of losing against losing is the voters consider you to be less viable.

But if he does have a chance, it's sharpening the ideological divide. I think the centerpiece of that is going to be taxes and argue he's a much more aggressive tax cutter than Mitt Romney. But interestingly, he is kind of reaching back to Jack Kemp who is cited specifically in the 1980s and 1990s where I covered a quite a bit.

And of course, the early stages of George Bush's compassion and conservatism to argue that conservatives are more focused in helping the poor escape poverty than liberals have been and that Romney doesn't understand that because he's talking about a safety net rather than a trampoline or whatever metaphor you want to use.

Now the problem Republicans have is that as part of this, all of them are talking about significantly retrenching the actual amount of federal money that is spent on these programs particularly on Medicaid, housing, food stamps across the board really.

So that's the argument they want to make. The Democrats have a strong argue to the make in a recession there is simply, you know, a sheer megaton age that matters in how much support you're providing people when they are thrown out of the economy or into unemployment.

O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein decoding 2012 for us. I guess, it's 2012 decoded, whatever version of it is. We appreciate you and your time. Thanks.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, new insight into who made the call at Komen that would eventually lead to defunding Planned Parenthood. Now, that person is facing some major backlash. Thousands of people are saying fire her. We'll bring you details up next.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. There are some really interesting new details about this fight between the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood. You'll remember that Komen reversed its decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood and now we're learning who may have been behind that decision in the first place.

"The Huffington Post" is reporting that there are some e- mails prove that Komen's Vice President for Public Policy Karen Handel made the call to stop funding. Several online petitions are now calling for her to be fired.

The One-on-One Credo Action web site has more than 25,000 signatures. Here's what that petition says, "Komen may have apologized, but they still need to clean house, starting with the person who drove this atrocious decision. If Komen wishes to rehabilitate its devastated reputation and gain back trust, Handel needs to be fired."

Laura Bassett is a political reporter from "Huffington Post," easy for me to say, and she spoke to a source talking about those e- mails. It's nice to have you. Tell me a little bit before we talk about the content. Give me the some of the background on the source that you talked to about these e-mails and what the e-mails show.

LAURA BASSETT, POLITICAL REPORTER, "HUFFINGTON POST": I can't say much about the source. I can tell you that the e-mails show that Karen Handel was behind the entire decision to defund Planned Parenthood.

She was behind the strategy to develop the new criteria for who can be funded. And she's been behind the PR effort to clean up what's happened since the decision was announced.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but there's a whole entire board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, right? And this is a decision that really came to the board way before even November. And then in December, I guess is when the trigger was pulled. So it's not like the board wasn't aware of this decision, correct?

BASSETT: The board was aware of it and they did sign off on it. What I understand is that Karen Handel, since she was hired back in April, has been kind of pumping up and magnifying the anti-abortion attacks against Komen and the anti-Planned Parenthood protests and what not and trying to get the board and trying to get Komen leadership on her side as part of this agenda to defund Planned Parenthood. So, while she is the driving force, it is true that the leadership and the board did send up sign off on the criteria.

O'BRIEN: Now, leadership on the board of Komen said many, many times, this is not political when they would talk about this fight between Planned Parenthood and Komen. They would say it's not political. It's not political. It's not political. I thought it was interesting that Karen Handel was posted July 15th, 2010. I think that's when she gave this speech. She said this, "first, let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood. "

Is it just as clear as Komen was lying and Komen executives were lying about this, that it was indeed political?

BASSETT: It's as clear as that. It was a bold-faced lie. Karen Handel had a political agenda against Planned Parenthood. And I know that Komen founder Nancy Brinker went on "Andrea Mitchell" Thursday and said Karen Handel had nothing to do with this. This was not political. That's simply not true. And if you're a cancer charity you have no business lying to the public about what's going on behind closed doors. So, I think people are really upset about this.

O'BRIEN: Well, many people are now calling for Karen Handel's head. They would like to see her resign. Is there any indication that's going to happen? And do you think it does -- what has to happen before Komen can move forward? They apologized but not without a tremendous amount of damage certainly from a pr perspective.

BASSETT: They need to strongly push Karen Handel to resign. And they need to apologize again and come clean about exactly what happened. And going forward they need to have more transparency in the decisions they're making about who gets funded and who doesn't.

O'BRIEN: So, you think the resignation of Karen Handel is more important than the admitted of the lying that it wasn't political or there was no political motivation?

BASSETT: I think they're both equally important. I think they both need to happen in order for people to trust Komen again and to start raising money for Komen again.

O'BRIEN: Laura Bassett is a political reporter for "the Huffington Post." Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it. And I should mention that we did put calls into the Komen foundation for a response and they did not return any of our calls. I'm sure we're in a line of long people who want -- wanting conversations of what's going on here.

I thought it was very interest that they seemed surprised by the backlash. Planned Parenthood is so political. Planned Parenthood knows how to deal with political fights. And it seemed to me a surprise you take on Planned Parenthood and not expect them to come back hard.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's hard to argue, this was not handled - this was well from a public relation standpoint. But you guys know my opinion on this because we talked about it during the break. But I think --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: America missed it, though.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They weren't listening. MALE CNN HOST: There's not a table of agreement on the country on this issue. There's a legitimate debate over pro life and pro choice and when even if this decision was political, even if Komen's decision was political. I'm shocked at the vendetta put against them. I'm shocked that the Wikipedia page was changed to say they hate poor women. I'm shocked they're calling for the resignation of somebody bold it. It's basically boils down to, donate to Planned Parenthood or else.

FEMALE CNN HOST 2: No, Will. You cannot lie.

O'BRIEN: I think that's a misleading. I think it comes down to if you lie about something being political and if there are e-mails as the Huffington Post seems to say, that show -- in fact, it was political, then you're going to have repercussions.

We have to take a short break. We will pick up this conversation. You're shocked. I love it when Will Cain gets shocked so early in the morning. I'm shock.

Still ahead, we're going to talk Super Bowl ads. Which one is everybody talking about? Who cares? We'll tell you the ones we're talking about this morning. We'll tell you about the hits and misses, coming up next.


O'BRIEN: More than 50 commercials during the Super Bowl and on average advertisers paid $3.5 million for a 30-second spot. So imagine if you do one and it's not successful. That's a big bummer. Jim Cooper is the editor in chief of "Ad Week" and joins us to critique them some of those ads tonight. Nice to have you.


O'BRIEN: Thank you. Must be fun to watch the Super Bowl ads for work.

COOPER: It's a lot of fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, you get to watch the game.

COOPER: I have to go back and watch the game.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. See what happened. I won't tell you, but the giants won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your bathroom break is during the game.


O'BRIEN: Let's talk about what we liked. I thought far and away the best one was this Chrysler Clint Eastwood ad. It was beautiful and beautifully done. I want to play it first, and we'll have you comment on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half. It's halftime in America too. People are out of work, and they're hurting. They are all wondering what they're going to do to make a comeback. Detroit is showing us it can be done.


O'BRIEN: I love this ad. It's sort of like they hit it right. But you didn't like the (inaudible)?

CAIN: I know who I'm going to be this morning. I understand that I am the --

O'BRIEN: Mr. Contrarian.

CAIN: I think that I took this ad, beautifully done, Clint Eastwood, awesome, but it basically boiled down to Chrysler saying congratulations, America. You did the right thing. You bailed us out. When Cust Marly (ph) I think it needs to say thank you.

COOPER: You know what? I think last year's Chrysler ad was also strong. What I got from that was Detroit is working hard to come back. It quintessential American City.

O'BRIEN: You are our echo. Will you ignore all this --?


COOPER: I think in a sea of silliness last night, when you heard that Clint Eastwood sandpaper voice came in, I was in a very rowdy place, watching it and the place went silent for the entire time. I think people were really stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the ads that were in the Super Bowl.

O'BRIEN: And it stuck. And don't think good quality - a good ad is a combination of well done but also hits its message and hits its point, whatever the point may be. They deliver.

COOPER: Sort of like the morning in America ad. It had that sort of resonance.

O'BRIEN: And I thought this was very funny Adam. But I played this one. It is this Doritos baby. It's a consumer ad. A friend of mine won this one year. But here in the guy in the coffin Doritos ad --

COOPER: These ads are always great because they are done not by huge agencies, just done by sort of creative's all over the place. And they tend to really do well.

O'BRIEN: Here's the ad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want one? Sorry. Too bad you're down there, and I'm up here. Smells so good.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we know Will hated it. Go ahead, will. We know you hated it.

O'BRIEN: Did you like this ad, Vicky?

WARD: Well, you know, it's ok. My favorite ad, I have to say, did involve children as well. It was about a child wanting to go to the bathroom in a swimming pool.


WARD: And the only problem was I got so mesmerized by narrative and not being able to go to the bathroom and jumping back into the swimming pool going to bathroom in the system

O'BRIEN: You can't remember who it was for.

WARD: But, I had no idea what the commercial was for.

O'BRIEN: What I like about this ad. The baby, the Doritos, it's all good. OK. There was couple we talked about before this involves that the dog/Darth Vader thing. I didn't think it worked pretty well. Did you like that one?

COOPER: I did. There are lots of dogs and babies last night. So those --

O'BRIEN: To add Darth Vader makes it stick out?

COOPER: Right. But they had to pay homage from ad from the previous year. It was such a huge success that they couldn't - they had to sort of draft of that a little bit.

O'BRIEN: How about the Ferris Buhler ad?

COOPER: Great. I loved it. Yes, I mean. I'm from that generation, so.

O'BRIEN: As are all of us at this table except for Will Cain.

COOPER: My issue in that ad is it was leaked too far in advance. And by the time I saw it in the game, I had a little fatigue.

WARD: So, it wasn't a surprise.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, here is an ad that has a little controversy. What's the story without some controversy? This is the Chevy ad. Ford was mad. And let's play this ad and then we'll talk on the other side.


O'BRIEN: So basically the story line is there's been an apocalypse, but if you drive a Chevy you can survive the apocalypse. I thought this was sort of emotionally the exactly opposite of the - I was going to say, morning in America, the Chrysler ad, America at halftime.

COOPER: Yes. I did not like this ad at all. It was pretty popular on twitter last night, but I felt it was dark. And the fact that they equated to being a ford owner to maybe not surviving the apocalypse was in poor taste, I thought.

CAIN: Although, they are attacked another company, sort of like Coke and Pepsi, Ford and Chevy.

O'BRIEN: Apocalypse at a time when we're --

CAIN: Well, I agree with that. But I can get smacking the other company.

WARD: And to this, i70 were late touch on sale to the success of the ad?

COOPER: Well, prior -- there's pre-glow and an afterglow. All of the ads go viral very quickly. So I haven't seen the numbers yet, but I'm sure the comments on the ads were massive last night. The ratings probably will be huge, the biggest TV audience ever.

O'BRIEN: Jim Cooper, thank you very much. We appreciate having you this morning.

COOPER: You are very welcome. Thanks.

CAIN: Have fun watching the game, Jim.

O'BRIEN: The giants won, Jim. Look for Victor Cruz doing his end zone dance at the very beginning.

Still ahead this morning - it' nice to have you.

STARTING POINT, Egypt putting 19 Americans on trial accused of inciting anti-government unrest. Defendants include (INAUDIBLE) secretary Ray LaHood's son.

Also, schools inflating S.A.T. scores, one college student making news for it. Is it more widespread than you might think? Those stories straight ahead on "STARTING POINT." We are back in just a moment.