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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

"I Deserve a Second Term"; Interview With Rep. Ted Poe; Academic Dishonesty; Mitt Romney Leading in GOP Polls; U.S. Closes Embassy in Syria; U.S. Closes Embassy in Syria; Detroit Automakers Come Back; Author Reveals Affair with JFK

Aired February 6, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

President Obama says I deserve a second term. His argument is that the economy is improving, jobs are increasing. Is he right?

Also, Newt Gingrich is vowing to forge ahead. He calls Mitt Romney timid. The former speaker has a new strategy, but is it too late?

And Madonna's Super Bowl halftime show steals the show from the champion Giants. But then, she kind of has her spotlight stolen back. We'll tell you what happened last night.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's good, isn't it?

O'BRIEN: Well, well, well, well.

MARTIN: You've got the hat trick this morning. This is a hat trick, baby.

O'BRIEN: Do you hear that?

(CROSSTALK)

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One, two, three.

MARTIN: Who at this table is a Texan?

O'BRIEN: Who's from long island?

LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Who's from God's country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are!

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: This morning, this morning, you're listening -- oh, man, if I had realized that I had the three Texans. This song is from Texas. "God Bless Texas."

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: He joins our panel. Congressman Poe is a Republican from the great state of Texas. It's nice to have you, sir. Thank you very much.

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Glad to be here.

O'BRIEN: Our STARTING POINT this morning is what President Obama is saying. He says he deserves a second term because the economy is making progress. Here is what he told Matt Lauer in a sit- down right before the Super Bowl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I deserve a second term, because we're not done. We've created 7.3 million jobs in 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 to make sure we don't start turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Republicans insist this is not President Obama's morning in America, even after Friday's better than expected jobs report.

I spoke earlier this morning with Republican Congressman Bill Flores. And he had this to say about the president's policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BILL FLORES (R), TEXAS: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Gosh, it is Texas congressman -- Texas people day. I need to get my producer on the line. We've got to fix this for tomorrow.

So we have, however, a congresswoman from the state of California helping me out here -- Karen Bass is with us.

MARTIN: Her dad is from Texas.

O'BRIEN: Is her daddy from Texas?

MARTIN: Yes, he is.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you in spite of that, ma'am. It's nice to have you.

You just heard what Congressman Flores had to said. He basically -- had to say -- he basically said, listen, this is not -- this number is not President Obama's doing at all. What's your response to that?

REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, my response is that he knows very well when the president took over, we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. And what the president has done with his policies over the last couple of years is stopped the free fall, and we gained over 200,000 jobs in the private sector last month. So, I'm not really sure what my colleague is talking about.

O'BRIEN: One of the things that you have, and I think it might be on your Web site, it's quite remarkable. You visited a labor work force center in your district.

BASS: Right.

O'BRIEN: And I want to play everybody a little chunk of sort of what you shot from there and we'll discuss it on the other side.

BASS: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been unemployed for a year and two months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two and a half years.

UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: I became unemployed because (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was downsized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even with a degree, and experience as a veteran, I'm still struggling to find employment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to say, you get up, you stay positive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look into my eyes. And to see how much I want to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Wow. Watching that, it was just so brutal. And to some degree, you have to think -- isn't that exact thing going to be a problem for President Obama, which is how does it feel to people? Do they feel like they have recovered?

Regardless of what the chart shows, and it definitely shows that unemployment is dropping slightly, isn't that going to be a big problem in his re-election efforts?

BASS: Well, I don't think so, because of the candidates running, I have no doubt that President Obama has a deeper understanding of what unemployment is and what it feels like than in particular Mitt Romney, who has been responsible for tens of thousands of jobs lost. And who characterized himself as being unemployed and having made a little bit of money, $375,000, from his speech.

But let me just tell you that the purpose of those videos was because I'm very concerned that my Republican colleagues want to cut unemployment, cut the amount of time you can be on unemployment, and they want to add requirements to get unemployment that I think are completely unnecessary. Having people have drug tests, having people to see whether or not they have graduated from high school, when 84 percent of the people who are on unemployment have a high school education or further. That was the purpose of that tape.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, one of your Republican colleagues is sitting right here with me.

Congressman Poe, what do you think? I mean, her point about that message could really resonate with viewers -- with voters, rather, when it comes to November.

POE: Well, of course the unemployment numbers are better. That's a good thing. However, there are still 14 million people that don't have jobs. And many of them have become discouraged. They are not even looking anymore.

So they are not factored into that statistic. So, it's very important that we really -- that businesses -- we help businesses create jobs in the private sector and move in that direction than try to continue to pay people not to work.

And that's part of the policy of the administration, is to pay people not to work rather than move toward helping people through the private sector, get jobs.

O'BRIEN: Some people would argue it's not just paying people not to work. It's also giving them a lifeline until they are able to sort of make it to find a job. Is that something that's going to be very hard to -- if the Republican candidates are going across the country campaigning on that at a time when unemployment is still high, isn't that a losing argument?

POE: Well, the argument is focus on creating jobs through the private sector as opposed to having more government intervention. Even the president has said the private sector is the area that creates jobs, such as the Keystone pipeline, create at least 20,000 jobs, up to 100,000.

O'BRIEN: Some would argue with you on that figure.

POE: Well, you come down to my district, you know? And you can make statistics really --

O'BRIEN: Creative math is creative math.

POE: You add more numbers, and then it's confusing. But the job numbers are down. That is a good thing.

O'BRIEN: Karen Bass, let's get back to you, Congresswoman.

BASS: Well, thank you very much. Let me just tell you that is exactly the point. The view that people are paid not to work, being on unemployment barely feeds people and keeps them in shelters. And frankly, an unemployment check is economic stimulus because that is money that goes directly into the community.

But it's exactly that mindset that was the purpose of the tape. And we can get jobs. We can pass the American Jobs Act. There was the ability to have private sector jobs.

So, we need to move forward with the president's plan by putting the American Jobs Act on the floor in the House.

O'BRIEN: What happens if as the CBO is predicting, which may or may not be true, I think we all agree it's a big if, but unemployment goes up to 8.8 percent?

Congresswoman Bass, why don't you start? Then, we'll open to the panel. Because that sort of kills the trend argument potentially.

BASS: Well, I think that's why we can't look at the jobs numbers and say the problem is solved. Just as my colleague said, there are still far too many people who are out of work.

But that's why Congress has to get busy. We went through the entire year last year with the majority not putting forward any legislation to bring about jobs. And, in fact, many of their policies were going to lead to additional job loss, such as how they were talking about resolving the budget. It was going to really cut into jobs, 700,000 jobs could have been lost by some of their proposals last year.

O'BRIEN: Eleven percent approval rate of Congress. That is not -- that's not a number to be proud of.

POE: I thought it was nine percent, and because of our family. But the House has passed 27 jobs bills and sent those bills over to the siesta Senate, where the graveyard of legislation goes. And the problem with the Senate is, they don't vote that legislation down. They don't vote.

And so, that is part of the problem. The House has passed good legislation. It's just waiting on the Senate to make up its mind.

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman Bass, thank you for being with us. It's nice of you to be with us.

She was nice enough to panel with us when we were in D.C. the other day.

BASS: Thanks for having me on.

O'BRIEN: We welcome anytime.

And, Congressman Poe, thank you for joining our panel.

I got to go to --

MARTIN: Whoop!

CAIN: That's an Aggie thing.

O'BRIEN: Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Note to self, only two Texans at a time on the show.

All right. We have to get to other headlines. Christine has those.

Hey, Christine. You're not a Texan, are you?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I am not from Texas.

MARTIN: But you got to move as fast as you can.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Soledad.

Nineteen Americans could be going on trial in Egypt. They're accused of illegally accepting foreign financing for their nonprofit groups. The State Department says it's deeply concerned by the charges in the Egypt's crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.

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 disappearance of his wife, Susan, two years ago.

Greece's coalition parties are supposed to let the European Union know today whether they accept the terms of a $170 billion bailout deal. The plan calls for massive wage and spending cuts. If they don't accept the deal, the Greeks face possible expulsion from the E.U.

And the longer Greece waits to agree to the terms, the more jittery the markets get. U.S. stock futures for the Dow, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 are all a little bit lower right now, ahead of the opening bell after a very good week last week.

All right. It's Sea World versus PETA in the southern California courtroom today. The animal rights group is suing Sea World, claiming five killer whales are being enslaved and held in involuntary servitude. PETA claims that they are violating the 13th Amendment. Sea World calls the lawsuit a baseless publicity stunt.

The Super Bowl champion New York Giants will be honored tomorrow morning with a ticker tape parade. It will begin in Lower Manhattan at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. It will be the second ticker tape parade in just four years for the champs.

And a close call for Madonna at halftime in last night's Super Bowl. The Material Girl slipped and nearly fell backward at one point during a dance number, but she recovered her balance and went on with the show.

But who stole the show? Rapper M.I.A., she decided to give the finger to a worldwide audience. NBC, a little late to react. The network and the NFL have apologized.

I didn't see that, though.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I missed it, too.

ROMANS: I watched it. I did not see it.

O'BRIEN: I missed it too. I was watching with my kids, I missed it, too. I spent the entire third quarter on the couch with my son who is in tears fearing that the Giants were going to lose. Yes, yes. While his twin watched the game and was like yelling --

MARTIN: He was for the Patriots?

O'BRIEN: No, no, we turned him. He was for the Patriots. He's 7. We put family pressure on, and flipped him.

But he would yell out the score to his twin brother, who was literally crying on the couch about the game. I'm like, it's only the third quarter.

Be strong. Go Giants.

ROMANS: No allowance for you unless you're a Giants fan.

MARTIN: Wow.

O'BRIEN: Something like that. Yes, that's kind of what we indeed. Yes, indeedy.

All right. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, there is more bloodshed to tell you about happened in Syria overnight as Arab League is urging a halt to military escalation. World leaders say it's pushing the country towards civil war. We'll talk about that straight ahead.

And our reveal this morning, a White House intern is breaking her silence. She is a 69-year-old grandmother, and she claims now that she was JFK's teenaged mistress. She's written a tell-all book now. She's a 69-year-old grandmother. We'll tell you all about that straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Syrian security forces continue to pound the city of Homs. Reuters is reporting that the head of the Arab league says the country on the brink of civil war. The U.N. Security Council resolution to isolate Syrian president failed with Russia and China blocking that resolution. Earlier this morning on Starting Point, I spoke to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMB. SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: 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 evermore 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 the dying dictator whose days are numbered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's Ambassador Susan Rice. We have reports that more than two dozen people have been killed overnight as the government pushes back on some of the residents there. Arwa Damon has been covering the story for us. She is in Beirut, Lebanon, and I'm told she has a little bit of a delay. What's the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: Obviously, we're having -- hey, Arwa, I'm going to stop you there, because we're having some audio difficulties. We're going to see if we can straighten them out and bring her back to us with an update on what is happening now in Syria.

You know, it was interesting, talking to Ambassador Rice, because she really would not rule in or rule out military options but also seemed -- had tweeted earlier in the day when the resolution died, the U.N. Security Council, that she was disgusted. It wasn't much of a surprise, was it?

REP. TED POE, (R) TEXAS: It wasn't, but it's good that the United States is taking that position. We're trying to be hard line with Syria. But what we see overall is kind of an ally ship between Russia, China, Iran, and Syria. And those are kind of the four players in that area, especially Syria and Iran.

Assad needs to go. United States needs to be very vocal about that and get Russia and China to sign on with the resolution.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: For our audience, though, they need to understand, we also have a veto on the U.N. Security Council. And we've used that in the past. What you also have here, as you talk about that alliance, also an economic one, because Russia does significant business with Iran.

And so, we see the same thing. North Korea being the axis of evil, but China does significant business with North Korea. And so, when we're dealing with these international issues, another country's economic situation plays a role also in how they make a decision at the United Nations.

O'BRIEN: And how about Libya and what's happening in Libya? What kind of role is that playing?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's the other thing, congressman. I don't know how surprised we can be by this. You know, the handwriting was somewhat on the wall that Russia and China were mad at us about what happened in Libya.

That we outlived our resolution there. It was there to go through humanitarian purposes, and we stayed for regime change. It's almost like we knew this was going to come.

POE: It was just a matter of time before this occurred. But it is an economic issue. That's why countries usually make the decisions they make.

MARTIN: Even us?

POE: Even us. Make it based on economic issues. However, sometimes, we make them based upon humanitarian reasons as well. And Syria happens to be one of those reasons.

O'BRIEN: Speaking of Iran, there are tensions rising between that country and Israel. We spoke about that last week. President Obama now sending a warning to Iran that absolutely nothing is off the table.

And then, schools inflating SAT scores. Is it more widespread than we think? We'll take a look at that straight ahead on STARTING POINT. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That doesn't sound like you to me.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: No, sir. It's not. That's not singing, "I know I can." That would be Steve Perry's pick. Dr. Steve Perry is our next guest. We're talking about this morning colleges pumping up student's SAT scores. College is pumping up student's SAT scores. We talked about it last week, and we were focused on Claremont McKenna College, which is near Los Angeles, busted for inflating scores.

They wanted to climb up the national rankings, because, of course, that would make them look more selective. And apparently, they are not the only college doing this.

Steve Perry is a CNN contributor, educator contributor. He is also the founder of capital Prep Magnet School and the focus of a documentary that we did, "Black in America 2" now many, many years ago. Steve, nice to see you.

Claremont McKenna was ranked number 11 among liberal arts colleges, and the inflating, you know, brought them to number nine, 11 to nine. You know, what does a college get out of a two-point leap like that?

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: A lot. To go -- to become top 10 in the country, they get a lot. As a matter of fact, these colleges are competing for their share of the billions of dollars in tuition and state grants and private contributions. They want to make sure they get your money, so they need to prove that they're the best.

And in many of the private small colleges, they cannot go and create a compelling athletics program that is going to draw attention to their school, so they have to do something. So, they cheated.

O'BRIEN: So, how widespread is it? Because I know a lot of this sort of relies on self reporting, which means it could be rife with cheating. Is it rife with cheating?

PERRY: You know, I don't know, and I don't know if anybody knows. What I do know that the U.S. news and world report college ranking is a joke, because the college that you go to is not going to determine what you do with your life as what you do with your life is going to determine what you do with your life.

And so, too many people focus on the brand name college so that you and I went to Ivory League school and --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: It is what it is.

O'BRIEN: Kidding, mom and dad. Kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: It is what it is. And the only way that some of these small schools can justify charging a gang of money, somewhere in upwards of $50,000 a year, is to tell you that you are somehow going to be a better person and your life is going to be enriched if you go to these schools. And U.S. news and world reports with their college ranking in particular, which I believe to be their least reliable ranking, is a self-reporting nightmare.

O'BRIEN: OK. Here's what they say about that. They say most of the data come from the colleges. And U.S. news takes many steps to insure accuracy. This year, 92 percent of the 1,378 (ph) ranked colleges and university, we survey for best colleges rankings, returned their statistical information. So, number one, only 92 percent returned their information. Number two, they returned their own self-reported information.

PERRY: It's a joke. It's a joke.

O'BRIEN: Do you think parents care? I mean, you chat with all those parents for all the kids. You know, Steve had 100 percent of his graduates go off to four-year college, 100 percent of his kids. So, do you think the parents you're talking to care?

PERRY: Yes, they do.

O'BRIEN: Really?

PERRY: Yes, they do care. And as a matter of fact, every college it seems is on U.S. news and world report's ranking for something like we're the best pharmacy program or the best oceanography program according to U.S. world news and report. They use that very liberally. And U.S news and world report -- listen, capital prep is a U.S. news and world report top high school. It has been for like five years.

I'll tell you, we have the plaques outside to show for it. We use it because it's supposed to be a standard measure of the quality of a school. At the college level, it's not a standard measure because one of the reporting items is what are your thoughts of the other school's reputations. So, tell us how good the schools that compete against you are.

MARTIN: It's pure marketing. There's no different than you're a university and you choose to cheat when it comes to sports. Why? Because you want a top 10 football program that you want to win for the national championship. I mean, it's not shocking.

O'BRIEN: Not shocking, but disappointing. All right. Steve Perry, I thank you for joining us this morning. Nice to have like full -- It's like he's here. It's a little unnerving actually.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: All right, Steve. Nice to see you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a Tea Party leader says that Newt Gingrich is a lost cause for the Tea Party base, but Gingrich says he has a new campaign strategy he announced it over the weekend. We'll take a loot at whether or not it's going to work. We'll join his campaign managers ahead. Also, from girls to boys, why government health experts say boys need the HPV vaccine also. That's interesting. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll take a look at that straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's get right to the headlines. Christine has those for us. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad.

The president says Israel is still considering military strikes against Israel. The president told NBC he hopes to solve the tensions over Iran's nuclear program, though, through diplomacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 down 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Ex-Panama dictator Manuel Noriega goes from prison to the hospital. He is being treated for hypertension and possible stroke this morning. The 77-year-old Noriega is serving time for crimes committed while in office. Noriega returned to Panama late last year, nearly 22 years after U.S. forces forcibly removed him from office.

General Motors says it can make more than $10 billion a year. It may be close to reaching its goal. The "Wall Street Journal" reporting GM is expected to report a net income of $8 billion for 2011. GM received a federal bailout of course in 2009 after filing bankruptcy.

"Minding your Business" now, Concerns about Greece's debt problems pushing markets lower this morning. U.S. stock futures for the DOW, NASDAQ, and Steve Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard," 500 all pointing to a lower open right now after a stellar week last week.

The CDC is now recommending that boys get an HPV vaccine. It's aimed at preventing cervical cancer in women. But since women get infected from women, doctors say it makes sense for them to receive the vaccination as well. The new CDC guidelines call for routine vaccinations for boys 11 and 12 years old, and three-dose vaccinations for young men 13 to 21.

And our own Soledad O'Brien honored by the United Negro College fund Friday at its annual leadership conference. Soledad was awarded the national legacy award for outstanding service to higher education. Soledad, congratulations.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. And Roland is killing my joy by saying, oh, that trophy looks familiar. Didn't I win one of those?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I'm teasing. I'm teasing. Thank you, Christine.

All right, we have some poll numbers to give you, a new national ABC-"Washington Post" poll of Republicans. In that poll, Mitt Romney has a commanding lead, 39 percent, to Newt Gingrich's 23 percent. You can see how the rest of the folks come out under that. This is following Newt Gingrich's loss in Nevada this Saturday. Tea party leader Dick Armey says that Newt Gingrich's time may have come and gone. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK ARMEY, (R) FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: South Carolina was an aberration because Newt Gingrich had what is likely to be in final analysis his best moment in South Carolina. He had just one masterful moment where he transformed himself from perpetrator to victim, attacked the media, which as you know, is always popular with our base, and just sort of took that momentary surge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Tom Lucero is the Colorado campaign chairman for Newt Gingrich. Colorado holds their caucuses there tomorrow. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

As you heard Dick Armey say, and others have said, when the slide starts it's very hard to reverse that slide. Is this a downward trend? And Newt Gingrich made it clear he's not getting out of the race, so what do you do about a downward trend?

TOM LUCERO, COLORADO CAMPAIGN CHAIR FOR NEWT GINGRICH: Well, all I can do is speak to the state of Colorado tomorrow night as caucus night as you mentioned in Colorado. And it begins the first phase in electing delegates that we're going to send to the national convention. And we actually select our delegates April 13 and 14, and we're just receiving tremendous support from grassroots leaders, liberty leaders around the state of Colorado. And we feel tremendously confident that of the 36 delegates that Colorado is going to send to the national convention, the majority of those delegates are going to go on behalf of Newt Gingrich.

But you hit on one point, and tomorrow night we do have a nonbinding presidential straw poll. And chances are Mitt Romney is going to do very well in that presidential straw poll. And it creates a perception that he's doing very well in the state of Colorado. But I can assure you the majority of the delegates for Colorado are going to ultimately go for Newt Gingrich.

O'BRIEN: When you look at the state of Florida, Newt Gingrich did very well among people who identified themselves as very conservative or strong tea partiers. That was South Carolina and Florida. But then when it came to the state of Nevada, actually those same categories all went to Mitt Romney. How do you get them back? I mean, I've got to imagine that's got to be important to the strategy -- any kind of strategy to win.

LUCERO: Well, the one thing I know, and I don't know about Nevada, but I know here in the state of Colorado when you look and you show up at events where it's the grassroots, hard core party -- Republican party activists, Newt Gingrich is doing very well. Mitt Romney's people are not the grassroots leaders in the Republican Party. You see a lot of people from the Republican establishment, and you will see those people show up on caucus night and vote in the nonbinding presidential straw poll for their guy.

But the people who are actually doing the work, who are going to become delegates, who are going to take this all the way to Florida and to the convention, are the Republican grassroots activists. And here in Colorado, those people are solidly behind Newt Gingrich.

MARTIN: Tom, Roland Martin here. How do you keep your candidate on message? He goes to Florida. He is talking about landing on the moon and putting a colony there, possibly making them the 51st state, when the real issue comes down to the economy and jobs. So what about keeping him on message and disciplined?

LUCERO: I think that's a great question, Roland. And that's part of it the reason I love Newt Gingrich is because he has a vision for restoring America's greatness. I served for 12 years, and it was great because I was hearing you guys talk about higher education. I was on the board of regents at the University of Colorado for 12 years. And one of our main focuses in Boulder was on NASA space exploration, because we get it. We understand the role that higher education plays in making America great.

When you talk about innovation that takes place, that innovation takes place and that research and development on college campuses all around this country. You said a vision about exploring space -- that is a public private partnership and critical to that public partnership are America's colleges and universities. You want to talk about an infusion of physicists, of engineers, of the technology that will be developed, you are by the very essence of that defining jobs in the economy as part of that public private partnership between the private sector and government. But it takes a big vision to define that vision for America and to restore America's greatness.

O'BRIEN: Tom, I want to ask a question to Congressman Poe, who is sitting here with us as well. That vision was mocked on "Saturday Night Live" in a very funny piece. Does that have any impact, number one? And number two, are we seeing the signs of the great coalescing, which I think were the words from the "Wall Street Journal," saying that Mitt Romney is gathering up all the pieces now even though some people say no one really likes him?

REP. TED POE, (R) TEXAS: Well, we still have this issue between Romney and Gingrich. That's where the focus is. Most folks in the Republican Party are divided, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum of course at the end. Romney is trying to make sure that this whole issue of who's the presidential nominee does not go to the convention. That he gets enough delegates before the convention so that the convention stays out of the process.

But, yes, there are two different philosophies between Newt Gingrich and --

O'BRIEN: And which side are you on?

POE: Well, of course, I'm a conservative, and I believe more the conservative philosophy. But I have not endorsed anybody. Every time I get on somebody's side, they drop out of the race.

(LAUGHTER)

POE: And I was zero for eight last time. Every time I endorsed someone, they were out of the race.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Tom, we can spare you that. The congressman will not endorse because apparently he is like kryptonite. You don't want his endorsement.

Let me ask you a serious question, though. He is talking about sort of staying -- Mitt Romney not wanting this to be an issue when you get to the convention. Can Newt Gingrich afford to stay in through March, to super Tuesday? Which he's said he's going to, but can he afford to? Michele Bachmann says money is kind of the big issue. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do you think the nomination will be settled?

MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it could be fairly soon. But Ron Paul has said he will go all the way to the convention. Newt has said he will also. Rick Santorum has said he will. But the practicality is money is a big part of it. And it would be up to the candidates what they can pay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Final quick question to you, Tom - money. Can he really stay in until Super Tuesday and beyond?

LUCERO: Well, as long as the grassroots stays energized just like they are here in Colorado, those small dollar donations will keep rolling in to the campaign. And if we can win delegates every state we go, we have a legitimate shot at ending up in Florida at a brokered convention just like the congressman mentioned. And if the other two candidates remain in the race as well, and we see a dilution of the delegate pool, we get to Florida anything is possible. And if the congressman would please throw his endorsement to Mitt Romney, the Newt Gingrich campaign would be absolutely thrilled. (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Tom Lucero is the campaign manager for Newt Gingrich in Colorado. Nice to have you with us. Thanks for being with us.

Still ahead this morning on senator, Ford, GM, is there a feud? The ad war launched during the Super Bowl with this ad here which some people really felt this ad was inappropriate. Me too, kind of. I didn't like this ad.

Plus, there is this new book is out. "The Reveal" this morning, a teenaged mistress said she had an affair with a sitting president. And she goes public 50 years later. You're watching "STARTING POINT. We'll dig into that straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Breaking news from CNN -- this news out of Syria. The United States is closing its embassy in Syria and is pulling out its remaining staff there. This new word coming in right now. You'll recall this comes after a resolution that called for the resignation of the president of Syria, Bashar al Assad, which was rejected by a vote, vetoed by Russia and China. We have Jill Dougherty for us live in D.C. to talk about the impact of this announcement. Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right. CNN just confirming that the embassy has been closed. The staff has been pulled out. That is the American embassy in Damascus. The government, the Syrian government we are told, the State Department saying has refused to address its security concerns.

And one of those major concerns was the possibility of some type of al Qaeda action. They are pointing to a car bomb last month which was apparently carried out by al Qaeda.

So again, 17 members of the staff now out of the Damascus embassy for the United States. And this does not mean they are breaking diplomatic relations, but it's a serious step by the United States government.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting that they are focusing on security concerns and not focusing it on the resolution that was vetoed by China and Russia. But do you think maybe the two are linked?

DOUGHERTY: This has been an ongoing concern that predated that -- that vote. So I think you'd have to say that it's really a worry over precisely and -- and any type of threat by al Qaeda.

Jill Dougherty in D.C. for us, thanks Jill. I appreciate that update.

The big three automakers making a comeback. Things have been looking up for them over the past year from auto sales to earnings and Chrysler's Super Bowl ad was truly one of the most popular of last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's halftime in America too. People are out of work and they're hurting. They're all wondering what they're going to do to make a comeback. And we're all scared because this isn't a game.

The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. And now Motor City is fighting again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Christine Romans joins the panel. She is the author of "Smart is the New Rich" I should say.

ROMANS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: So first of all, the ad I thought was an amazingly touching ad. But it was also interesting it was just one of like 10 zillion car ads last night.

ROMANS: There were nine different car companies advertising last night and then there was another ad that showed just sort of how spunky Detroit is these days. It was a Chevy ad and I think we can show you a little bit of the video of it. A Chevy ad poking fun at Ford. This guy came out of the apocalypse --

O'BRIEN: Oh I hated this ad.

ROMANS: Really?

O'BRIEN: Oh I felt it was so inappropriate.

ROMANS: -- he comes out with all of these guys -- I know my kids were watching with me, and they were like, mommy, what happened to New York?

O'BRIEN: Apocalypse it's bad, bad.

ROMANS: But they come out together and like their friend Dave isn't there because he drove a Ford. And Ford didn't want them to do this.

And what I thought about this ad was like wow this is Detroit, the auto industry, the big three, finally getting feisty again after being on their heels for the past three years.

And quite frankly, sales are up. Profits are up. Front page of the "Wall Street Journal" today, a story about how GM could be gunning for $10 billion in annual profits. I mean and on "USA Today", it's halftime in America and the second half is about to become and that sort of -- you know I mean, Detroit is emblematic and that of course, it took a lot of bailouts to get here, right. Some people thought Chrysler would never be able to come back. O'BRIEN: That's the nod to Will Cain. Can we get a shot of Will Cain? There you go, Will Cain.

ROMANS: It took the bailout -- the taxpayer money to get here, and taxpayers will not be made whole on some of the investments. But this is what the bailouts were all about, right? Hiring people again. GM is hiring 13,000 workers, opening up another plant in Tennessee that have been shuttered so --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Some of these ads, one was like advising people to buy a car that's not coming out until 2015.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right now --

O'BRIEN: I mean, really, I'm organized but not that organized.

MARTIN: That was an act for a commercial and I mean, a great looking car but like three years away. But you know what the Chrysler ad I thought it spoke more beyond the car company. Really the city, the mood, just like last year's. I thought it went way beyond even a car -- a car commercial.

ROMANS: So and Americans too. I mean, they are trying to get us to buy cars. And you know it looks as though people are buying cars again. And you look at the numbers, people are buying cars. Which brings me to sort of the advise, the "Smart is the New Rich" advice which is --

O'BRIEN: You've got to slow down when say that because that's your book, right so you have to be like, brings me to my "Smart is the New Rich," now on shelves --

ROMANS: That's very funny.

Is it time to buy a car? And the interesting thing is that car companies have been so kind of stingy that now people are starting to buy cars again. Used prices are going up. New car prices are going up. A record new car price this year, over $28,000. Smaller incentives right now. They don't need to give incentives. People have been holding on to their used cars for so long that people are now trading up because they have to.

MARTIN: Like duct tape.

ROMANS: I know but it means you're getting better trade-in values. And on the used car front, I want to give you this important advice. Prices are forecast to go up almost two percent this year for used cars, right? Buy earlier in the year, according to the dealers association, because they think later on --

O'BRIEN: Which is now.

ROMANS: Right, because they think later on in the year prices are going to go up even more. And gas price is expected to rise. So choose carefully.

O'BRIEN: I don't need a new car, but I'm going to go buy one anyway. No, I'm kidding.

MARTIN: But you know what though, when automakers say that, they are also thinking what may happen with the economy.

ROMANS: Right.

MARTIN: A lot of times they are ahead of other folks.

O'BRIEN: Well it's interesting. All right, Christine, thank you. I appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still this morning on STARTING POINTS our "Reveal". A White House intern who claims she had an affair with a sitting U.S. president. And we're not talking about Monica Lewinsky. We'll tell you who it is straight ahead on STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Ok next time, we can't sit these two next to each other. Everything single thing Will Cain does, the congressman says, "That's great, son."

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Oh that's Brooks and Dunn and that's off of Will's iPod, "Brand New Man". You know, you --

MARTIN: Well he finally woke up --

O'BRIEN: Fine I'm going to say bringing it.

MARTIN: The old country song got on fire.

O'BRIEN: Bringing it finally God it only took -- three weeks.

Time for our "Reveal" this morning. And this is a strange one. We're going to turn the clock back to the summer of 1962, 19-year-old intern from New Jersey whose name is Mimi Beardsley had just started an internship at the White House press office. That's more than 50 years, that intern is now a 69-year-old grandmother and retired church administrator. Her name is Mimi Alford.

She has an explosive new memoir out called "Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath". The book comes out this week. "The New York Post", got its hands on an early copy. It have some really interesting details.

Alford says she first encountered JFK at the White House swimming pool, four days into her internship. He invited her to attend a White House party, and that's when their 18-month long affair began. She said she and the President used to race rubber duckies in the bathtub. She says that she always called him "Mr. President", never called him by his first name.

And she also says that the President would occasionally fly her from college to the White House. Her -- the affair ended just days before Kennedy was assassinated when she said that she was engaged. Alford also says in the book that Jackie Kennedy was never around, she never met her and she didn't feel guilty about having the affair.

The one thing that I haven't found is why she is saying this now. This is 50 years old. I mean --

MARTIN: It's called a book.

O'BRIEN: Yes but why -- why now? Do you think it's still interesting 50 years later? Interesting details, but --

MARTIN: No.

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: The country is fascinated with the Kennedys. They always will be. Not just back in 1962, about they are still fascinated with all of the Kennedys, especially JFK.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Well, there's a generation thought -- there's a certain generation that's fascinated with it.

O'BRIEN: This goes to the top of the bestseller charts you guess?

MARTIN: You know what? I don't know. I don't think so.

O'BRIEN: I think 50 years is too late.

MARTIN: I don't think so.

O'BRIEN: Ok. "End Point", up next with our panel. We are back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Welcome back. Time for "End Point". Congressman, I'm going to let you go first. Congressman Poe from the great state of Texas.

POE: Well, other than having a conspiracy with three Texans here --

O'BRIEN: That's my "End Point".

POE: We need to be very watchful about the real problem internationally that's Iran. And their mischief that they are causing throughout the Middle East. Israel is getting nervous. The United States should be very supportive of Israel. And we need to make sure down the road there's a regime change in Iran. That's the safest and best hope for the world.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm no New York Giants fan. It is pretty cool to live in New York City and hear the crowds go crazy on the streets below you when they win. I'm going to congratulate my friend Larry Izzo, who won his fourth Super Bowl last night. Three with the Patriots and one as a coach last night.

O'BRIEN: Well, well, well, nice.

MARTIN: "End Point", are folks in Nevada still counting the GOP caucus?

O'BRIEN: Yes, they are.

MARTIN: Seriously, get a real primary. It makes no sense you're still counting ballots and it's Monday.

O'BRIEN: I love that. Tuesday is the ticker tape parade to celebrate the Giants win. Which, you know, I might go.

MARTIN: I'll be in Atlanta. Perfect.

O'BRIEN: Negativity will buy you nothing. And I want to say this ad, which of course is the Chrysler ad, I know, roll your eyes all you want, Will Cain, I liked that. It was optimistic, it was hopeful. It was about a vision of America. Wouldn't it be nice if that tone would bleed into the political process?

POE: By both parties.

O'BRIEN: Of course. That is a bipartisan comment, I think.

MARTIN: Let me know when you wake up.

O'BRIEN: All right. That's it for STARTING POINT. I'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning starting at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time.

Kyra Phillips has "CNN NEWSROOM" right. Hi Kyra, good morning.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Good morning. Soledad O'Brien for president -- that's what I say. The positive agenda.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I'm set. I'm set.

PHILLIPS: That's right. She's stumping for everything positive.

Soledad, thanks.