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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Santorum Sweeps Three States; Interview with Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia; 911 Tapes Released In Powell Case; Violence Continues in Syria; Rick Santorum Wins Three States in GOP Primary Voting; Trump on 2012 GOP Race; Komen VP Resigns

Aired February 8, 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.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is Syria. We're taking a look at Syria as Syrians who are desperate to make an appeal to the international community, asking for help. There's no letup in government attacks in Homs. Dozens of civilians have been killed overnight.

Also, Rick Santorum is back on target and back with a target I guess is a better way to put it -- target on his back since he is now the big winner. He swept the GOP contests in Colorado, in Minnesota, in Missouri. We'll take a look at what we make of the GOP race now.

We asked him in the last hour. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We definitely are the campaign right now with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground. And we feel very good that the delegate count will at least match and maybe even exceed what we received in Colorado and Minnesota.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And Donald Trump is standing by his man in the GOP race, Mitt Romney. But would he accept a cabinet position in a Romney administration? Ashleigh Banfield has a one-on-one interview with the Donald.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: A little shout out to New Orleans. Dr. John. Dr. John.

BILL PRESS, TALK SHOW HOST: I finally made the play list here.

O'BRIEN: It does get very competitive. That's Dr. John, "Right Place, Wrong Time." Off of Bill's play list.

PRESS: But this is the right place and the right time.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. I wasn't reading into that at all.

Bill Press joins us. He is an author of "The Obama Hate Machine" and also talk show host, and the former California Democratic Party chair.

Nice to have you.

PRESS: Thank you. Glad to be here.

O'BRIEN: Farai Chideya is with us. Thank you.

She is a fellow at the IOP, the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She's a journalist and author.

Nice to have you.

FARAI CHIDEYA, FELLOW, INSITUTE OF POLTICS AT HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain is a CNN contributor, columnist for theblaze.com.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you back. Missed you over the last couple of days.

CAIN: Only one day. I'm glad.

O'BRIEN: Today is Wednesday, right?

CAIN: I was here on Monday. One day away, Soledad --

O'BRIEN: One day away and I yearn for Will Cain.

CHIDEYA: That's a compliment.

O'BRIEN: It is. It is. Only a compliment.

Let's get to our STARTING POINT this morning which is Rick Santorum is who we're focusing on -- delivered a stunner last night. He swept three contests yesterday. Missouri, Minnesota, and then pulled off a nail biter in the state of Colorado. It's new momentum that gives Santorum the grounds to argue that it's him, not Newt Gingrich, who is the best conservative to Mitt Romney.

Now, for his part, Newt Gingrich chose to spend the day campaigning in the state of Ohio.

Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of the state of Georgia is live for us in Washington this morning.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for joining us.

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: It's great to be with you all.

O'BRIEN: So, give me a sense of last night. What do you make of the results? And are you worried about when you tally up the numbers for your candidate, Newt Gingrich, we see a slide in terms of, you know, his support?

KINGSTON: Well, actually, we are leaving last night feeling good that this thing is wide open because although Santorum did well, it was an empty victory. He did not get any delegates. Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri don't apportion their delegates. There aren't any to be grabbed. So, Newt's still in solidly second place.

But the big signal out there to the Romney camp is that you have Santorum, you have Gingrich and you have Ron Paul all representing conservative factions within the Republican Party and the conservative candidates, the conservative voters are still looking for their candidates. So, it's wide open --

O'BRIEN: Isn't that very thing a problem because you have those three representing that faction and now you're dividing the vote essentially? And what you're really doing is giving Mitt Romney potentially the solid win ultimately?

KINGSTON: Well, he's still a long way from 1,144, and so this thing is still anybody's race. And what Newt is doing right now is focusing on the Super Tuesday states. We're going back into debate season. We have four debates between now and Super Tuesday, which, as you know, is Newt's home court advantage.

Georgia has the most delegates of any of the states that are up there for grab. I think it's 76 delegates and Newt certainly will do well in his home state.

So, we're feeling good about things. There's still plenty of time to drive the message that we need a Reagan conservative and not a Massachusetts moderate.

O'BRIEN: But plenty of time is often a bad thing when it comes to money and you talk about Super Tuesday, which day is that? That's March 6th.

OK. So, March 6th. That's a long way to go. That's a month. You talk about debates. But the next debate isn't for a couple of weeks. That is where Newt Gingrich often gets a lot of press, but it's a ways away. Isn't time a problem for you at this point?

KINGSTON: Well, not so much. And here's why: because at this point you're not talking about an eight or 10-person race, you're talking about four. And certainly, these four gentlemen have become almost household names, certainly household names among Republican voters who will be making this decision.

So, Newt is well-known and I think actually there's a lot of unearned media that's going -- and earned media, too, that's going to be playing in this. So, no, I don't think money's a factor. Newt will be competitive with money.

Romney certainly does have more money than anyone else. He's got the Wall Street establishment behind him, we realize that. But Newt is still going to be competitive on the money trail. But it's not as important as it was several months ago.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, Mr. Gingrich blamed negative campaigning for his losses in Florida and for the loss in Nevada as well. This time around in these three states, you really didn't see negative ads. It wasn't a factor at all. In fact, the ad spending was way, way down.

So, how does he explain this loss?

KINGSTON: Well, I don't think that you saw as many negative ads, but I think that that stake has been driven in the ground pretty deeply and so Newt's name has been constantly smeared with millions of attack ads since the very first primary. So I think it's just going to be one of these things where he's going to have to build. Rick Santorum has benefitted from the fact that it has been perceived as a two-man race. So, all the attacks have been on Newt.

But, now, if Rick is going to be rising in the polls, I think he's going to start getting negative ads too.

O'BRIEN: From whom?

KINGSTON: That will help Newt.

O'BRIEN: From whom? From just Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as well? I mean, will he see negative attacks from your candidate?

KINGSTON: I think mostly from the Romney folks. I think the super PACs will come in there as well. I don't know that Newt is going to be focused in on Santorum as much as he's going to try to continue to focus on the jobs picture, the economy picture that overreaches the Supreme Court as we saw in California this week.

And I think what probably they all need to do as much as possible right now is just stick with the issues. And I think Newt has been trying to do that the whole time.

O'BRIEN: Congressman --

KINGSTON: The food fight as you know really started in Iowa. And we haven't quite gotten out of it. But I think we're reaching that point.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, I don't know. The food fight -- we might still be talking about food, I've got to tell you. I would not put money on that, sir, is how I will leave that, that the food fight's going to end any time soon.

Congressman Jack Kingston --

KINGSTON: It might get in November.

O'BRIEN: I would put money on that now. There you're talking.

Congressman Jack Kingston joining us this morning. He's Republican from Georgia. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time.

KINGSTON: Thanks a lot.

O'BRIEN: Panelists, he didn't say -- do you think Rick Santorum has a target on his back and that those hits are going to come from Mitt Romney? I would say almost definitely, but Newt Gingrich as well?

PRESS: Sure. Oh, sure. You know, and what I like about this, this is finally Rick Santorum's time at the top. Everybody else had their turn, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul --

O'BRIEN: It was weird when he had won Iowa, we've all moved on. So, he didn't really get time at the top.

PRESS: Right. But now, he's got his time. You know they'll come after him.

But I got to make this point. What Rick Santorum represents to me, I believe, is the social conservative, and those are the issues that are going to dominate. We talked about this just a little bit yesterday with the same-sex marriage, with this Komen thing, with the contraception we talked about --

O'BRIEN: It was like issue Tuesday, social issues Tuesday.

PRESS: Right now, the social -- not the economic issues, which I think Republicans want to run on, the social issues are dominating. I'm not sure that's good for the party in November.

CAIN: Interestingly, Newt's strategy has kind of been called the Southern strategy, right? But once the election gets to the states in the South, that Newt will perform strongly. Although he wasn't on the ballot last night in Missouri, I think Santorum's win, although Newt wasn't on the ballot in Missouri, I think Santorum's win in Missouri is very interesting. I mean, it was a landslide win.

Does that mean that his support is representative of something that can bleed across the South? So, therefore, Newt and Santorum have a big fight ahead of them. Newt can't count on boy when it gets to the South, I'm in business.

O'BRIEN: What state are you looking at then?

CAIN: I think it bleeds right over into all of them -- Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.

O'BRIEN: Start looking at his numbers there. Very interesting.

All right. We've got to get to some headlines this morning. There are more deadly attacks in Syria to tell you about. Christine Romans has a look at those stories and other stories as well.

Hey. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Syrian forces escalating their assault on the city of Homs overnight. Anti-government activists there reporting more than 50 people were killed, including three whole families wiped out in raids on their homes. The Pentagon is now exploring military options in Syria should President Obama ask for them.

A 20-year-old Atlanta man is set to speak out this morning after being brutally beaten over the weekend for wearing skinny jeans and being gay. The victim's name is Bandon White. It's hard to watch this video. This is posted online. He was assaulted outside of an Atlanta market. The FBI, local police, they're looking right now, Soledad, for his attackers.

Possible cracks inside the wings of the planes. That's a concern over the Airbus A380. European safety officials are ordering all airlines operating the super jumbo jet to get checked immediately. There are 68 380s currently in service. Inspections have uncovered cracks in the wing brackets in most of the 20 planes they've examined over the past few weeks.

The Federal Air Marshal Agency gone wild. A new government paints an unflattering picture of what happens on the job. Air marshals repeatedly portrait their supervisors vindictive, aggressive and guilty of favoritism. Thirty-three percent of female employees say they have been discriminated against.

Despite the behavior claims, this report found that the agency's mission to protect you while you're flying on a plane, that mission has not been compromised.

Quite a scare for a 6-year-old boy from Texas who was attacked by a mountain lion in Big Bend National Park. Listen to River Hobbs and his dad Jason reliving how it all unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIVERS HOBBS, ATTACKED BY LION: It sneaked up on me.

JASON HOBBS, SAVED SON FROM MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK: The cat was clamped on his face, reached down and got my pocketknife out and stabbed the cat in the chest, and it let go at that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Several trails in Big Bend National Park have been closed now. Dog teams have been called in to search for the wounded cat. No luck yet, but that's one lucky little boy.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my God. That's like father of the year.

Wow! I love those stories. I really love those stories. A pocket knife?

CAIN: That's awesome.

O'BRIEN: That is awesome. That is very Texan for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't get any manlier than that.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that is so, so true.

All right. Christine, thank you.

So, I want to play for you Jimmy Fallon last night, Michelle Obama, starring role. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: We're going to start with a stair race. You ready to do this?

JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: I was born ready.

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, Michelle Obama -- look at this, and her Secret Service.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: She's been doing her move on advertisements, if you will. Let's Move On -- Let's Move, rather, which is trying to get kids and everybody -- oh, gosh, it's so funny.

But, you know, it's really, I think, playing off of her much higher approval ratings than her husband. First ladies always enjoy that and they're going to leverage it to the hilt as head toward November. She's going to be everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's, you know, I remember when Sarah Palin basically called her out for taking the donuts out of the mouths of American children. I think most people realized that was crazy. This woman is a fitness role model. She's a role model in many ways.

O'BRIEN: Those arms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I aspire, you know?

O'BRIEN: Don't we all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

PRESS: She is in great shape. You know, she's taller than you think when you're alongside of her. And she's so -- in such great shape. The craziest thing that Jimmy Fallon ever did was to think he could challenge her.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: He's so funny. It was cute. Very, very cute.

PRESS: Oh, there's Bo watching.

O'BRIEN: Yes, very cute. They did a good job with that.

So, ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: we're going to this terrible, oh, my God, murder/suicide. Those two little boys. It's awful story -- father kills -- hits the kids with a hatchet and then sets the home on fire, explodes the home. We're going to hear the 911 calls from the caseworker who couldn't get into the home after she dropped the boys off.

Also this morning, Donald Trump, you know, he says he just does not get Rick Santorum's success. And then Rick Santorum goes on to sweep last night. So, he really isn't getting it.

We're going to hear from the Donald, straight ahead.

And then we're going to play from my playlist finally. Chaka Kahn.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. There are new 911 tapes released in that murder/suicide of two little boys who were killed by their father. Josh Powell was under investigation in the disappearance and potential killing of their mother, and you can hear the call from a terrified caseworker who had just dropped the little boys off, five-year-old Brayden and seven-year-old Charlie.

And then, he slams the door on her, doesn't let her into the house. So, she calls 911 because she's afraid that Powell was going to hurt the boys in some way, shape, or form, which obviously, he did. Christine Romans has been following the story. Hey, Christine, this is so horrific.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is. And it's really horrific when you listen to the voice of this social worker who the boys ran out of her car going in to see their dad. He locks the door, won't let her in, and she smells gas. She tells the dispatcher that she could hear one of the little boys crying, and that she can't get in. And she doesn't quite know what to do. Listen to one of her first calls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. How long will it be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, ma'am. They have to respond to emergency life threatening situations first. The first available deputy --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, this could be life threatening. He went to court on Wednesday, and he -- he didn't get his kids back. This is really -- I'm afraid for their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And of course, she was absolutely right. And when you listen to another part of this call, another call after the house actually blew up, you can hear just how frantic she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Do you know the exact address of the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's 8119, 189 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. OK. Stay on the line. Do you know if anyone's in the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. There was a man and two children. I just dropped off the children, and he wouldn't let me in the door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Stay on the line for the fire department, OK? I'm going to get them on the line, do not hang up. Hold on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Soledad, there are several calls that authorities released that we've listened to. One of them is from Josh Powell, the father. It's from his sister where she calls authorities and she says, "I think something terrible has happened." And they said, "Are you afraid to go there to confront your brother?"

And she basically said, "I'm afraid of what I'm going to find. I'm not afraid for my own safety, I'm afraid of what I'm going to find. Also his boss and some others, his attorney also received e- mails from Josh Powell saying goodbye, I'm sorry

And finally, ABC News, Soledad, has heard a voicemail from -- obtained a voicemail from Josh Powell where he said, "I'm not able to live without my sons and I'm not able to go on anymore. I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Goodbye." That sentiment from Josh Powell, obviously, explains his own suicide. It doesn't explain why he killed his kids.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my God. It's so awful. Apparently, he hit them with a hatchet.

ROMANS: It's horrible.

O'BRIEN: And they found the boys, I think, died of smoke inhalation.

ROMANS: And the boys will be -- there will be a funeral on Saturday for the two little boys. Not very far, actually, in the town not very far from where they died.

O'BRIEN: The chaos in the 911 calls, too, is, you know, it takes a long time for them to realize -- she could tell her frustration, because part of this, they just keep sending her, like, well, hang on. We have to only deal with emergency. I mean, it was very strange to read that full transcript. It was crazy. Christine, thank you for that update.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, it is now damage control mode for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The vice president at the center of this controversy with Planned Parenthood has now resigned. We'll talk about what happens next for them. We're going to speak to the reporter who broke some of the e-mails behind the funding controversy.

And also, our reveal this morning, it is Black History Month and we're going to talk about famous Black writers or maybe some Black writers you never heard of to celebrate. And, we're listening to "Green Day." "American Idiot." You know, guys, nothing from you today, Will.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I have some Green Day as well.

O'BRIEN: You have some Green Day?

CAIN: I like Green Day.

O'BRIEN: He's going to share this with Bill.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL PRESS, AUTHOR, "THE OBAMA HATE MACHINE": This is the theme song for my radio show.

O'BRIEN: Oh, is this?

PRESS: Yes. I like it.

O'BRIEN: I love it. I love it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And welcome back, everybody. This is from Farai's playlist, Mahalia Jackson. "How I Got Over."

FARAI CHIDEYA, FELLOW AT THE IOP, INSTITUTE OF HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT. Yes. One of my favorite songs in the world.

O'BRIEN: And it's a good way to segue into our weekly celebration of Black history month, which I remind everybody is the shortest month of the year, February.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Will is like, ugh, again with you.

Anyway, oh, come on!

I want to take a look at famous Black writers that you should know and read and get your kids to read. We're going to start kind of at the very beginning. Lucy Terry, the author of the oldest known work of literature by an American-African. Her work of "Bars Fight" was written in 1746 but wasn't published until more than 100 years later.

Then, of course, Bill Sweetly, the first Africa-American to publish her writing. 1776, her poems made her famous in England and the 13 colonies. That's three years before America was fighting for its independence. Victor Sejour from New Orleans, he wrote the first known work of fiction by an African-American. It's called "The Milado."

And then, there's William Wills Brown who wrote was considered to be the first novel by an African-American and that was in 1853. Modern day, renaissance writers, you should know, the poet, Langston Hughes.

Of course, Zora Neale Hurston. Of course, her works disappeared for awhile, and then, it was the writer, Alice Walker, who brought her back to life. Alice Walker's own book in search of our mother's gardens was given to me by my mother. Don't forget, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nicki Giovani, Ralph Ellison, he won the National Book Award in 1953 for "Invisible Man."

And then, never, ever completed another novel in his lifetime. More recent reads, Ishmael Reed, Jamaica Kincaid. August Wilson won two Pulitzers for his plays, and (INAUDIBLE), Susan Lori Parks, Maya Angelou was poet laureate under President Clinton, and Edward P. Jones who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I think that was in 2004. And for -- I forget --

(CROSSTALK)

CHIDEYA: And I will point out it's the 75th anniversary of "Their Eyes Were Watching God," Zora Neale Hurston's masterpiece.

O'BRIEN: Yes, great (ph) for that. Actually, everyone should just run out and buy.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: That's a really good book. We celebrate Black History Month here every week.

Be sure to join us on Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern, because we are re-airing our "Black in America 4: The New Promised Land, Silicon Valley." Our documentary about African-Americans trying to make their way in the high tech fields.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Rick Santorum has that three-state trifecta, but he is celebrating this morning. We hear from his about his big win and what could be an uphill financial fight as well. Plus, Kid Rock has got a clothing line made in Detroit, but it turns out apparently not -- except that it's not.

And, we're all familiar with tebowing. This is so funny. This is ridiculous. Now, there's a new trend, it's called Brady-ing. That's a little awkward. Brady-ing. I think it's kind of stopping and praying with your legs straight out in front of you. We're going to show you straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody, to STARTING POINT. The crisis in Syria is in our focus this morning. And it's growing. Let's get to Christine Romans. She has that story and the rest of the headlines.

ROMANS: Good morning, thank you, Soledad. Syrian forces escalating their assault on the citizens of the city of Homs overnight. Anti-government activists say nearly 50 more people were killed, civilians killed. The Pentagon now exploring its military options to deal with this escalating crisis. Ivan Watson joining us live from Istanbul, Turkey. What's the latest, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, the killing continues in this city of Homs with the Syrian military continuing its artillery assault on a neighborhood which is described as an opposition stronghold. The video that these courageous citizen- journalist and activists have been uploading to the internet showing what appears to be indiscriminate shelling of this densely populated community.

And what we can see is residents cowering in basements hiding from the mortar and tank and artillery shells and rockets that are raining in. We spoke with an activist today in Homs. He was yelling to his family members to get away from the windows as we could hear explosions in the background. And then the line went dead.

Christine, we don't know what happened to him or his family because sometimes the telecommunications are cut off there. Activists saying at least 50 people killed today alone in Homs, more than 6,000 people killed, according to the United Nations, in Syria since this uprising began nearly 11 months ago. The Syrian government says it lost 30 soldiers just yesterday, buried them. This country looks like it's headed have quickly towards a civil war. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Ivan Watson in Istanbul. Thank you, Ivan.

Meantime here in this country prosecutors in Pennsylvania want former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky ordered to stay indoors as part of the conditions of his bail. There have been complaints that he's been watching children play in a nearby schoolyard from the back porch of his home.

Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrating a huge victory this morning, a federal appeals court striking down California's Proposition 8 which bans same-sex marriage, calling it unconstitutional. Prop 8 supporters are expected to appeal. The case could end up before the Supreme Court next year.

Actor Chuck Norris says he knows what makes a true warrior, and that's why he's endorsing Newt Gingrich. Norris compares the former House speaker to Benjamin Franklin and King David, saying, quote, We're electing a president, not a pastor or a Pope.

It turns out that Kid Rock's "Made in Detroit" clothing line isn't actually made in Detroit. The "Detroit Free Press" reports his company's designs are printed on a variety of clothes that are made in India, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.

"Minding your Business this morning, stocks futures pointing to a higher open. Optimism grows that Greece will finalize a deal to fix its debt problems soon. Markets gaining some traction really over the past few weeks. The Dow closed at its highest level since May, 2008 yesterday, the highest of the Obama presidency.

And will NFL fans stop Tebowing and start Brady-ing. This Tom Brady pose of head bowed to the ground legs extended after losing to the Giants has become something of a craze. Brady-ing has its own official website there documenting fans across the country doing their version of the pose.

O'BRIEN: Who wants to do that? You lost.

ROMANS: I don't get it.

O'BRIEN: That's like, my life sucks right now. Who wants to do that? That's terrible. That's terrible. I love Tom Brady. He did not win. Go giants, go Giants. Have I said that before?

ROMANS: You're gloating.

O'BRIEN: Little bit. We'll see Eli Manning's pose? Get on that for us. What's Eli Manning's pose? What's the Mannining?

ROMANS: He's cool as a cucumber.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Thanks, Christine.

Let's get back to Rick Santorum's surprise comeback. And I have a conversation with our panelists this morning. He won scores of victories in Missouri, Minnesota, and then had a nail biter in Colorado, full sweep in all on Tuesday night. Last night Mitt Romney attacked Santorum and Gingrich for being D.C. insiders. But Rick Santorum a little bit earlier in my interview was quick to hit him right back. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's funny because I ran for the United States Senate the same year Mitt Romney ran for the United States Senate. We both ran in 1994. I won and he lost. It's not that Governor Romney didn't want to be Senator Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Not that he didn't want to win. He tried.

With our panel this morning re-introducing everybody, Bill Press is the author of "The Obama Hate Machine." Fariah Chideya is a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy Schools of Government at the Institute of Politics. Will Cain writes for TheBlaze.com.

Santorum, I thought that was an interesting little moment that he had. You could see with his big smile he was winding up. He has become a very solid candidate in all of this fighting. I think he has emerged the best.

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He had a line ready for you. You played the clip of the Newt campaign saying he lost -- trump, saying he lost by 16 points in Pennsylvania. I may have lost an election, but one thing I didn't lose was my principles. Boy, he had a strong line. I've been trying to analyze why he does strong in some states and not others.

O'BRIEN: What is that about?

CAIN: I think it's the attire. He wore the sweater vest. He took the bolo tie in Colorado.

O'BRIEN: I would have guessed the bolo tie --

CAIN: It worked. He won in Colorado.

O'BRIEN: I know he did.

FARAI CHIDEYA, FELLOW, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: I'm not going to go with the fashion theory of politics. I do think regardless of whether or not you agree with Santorum's positions, he is someone who has been very consistent, and I think that there are a lot of voters, not just evangelical voters, but a lot of Republican base voters and swing voters who appreciate that.

O'BRIEN: What happens now as a conversation? Clearly after yesterday it's going to turn to social issues. I think it was we a week ago said it was all about the economy. We haven't been discussing social issues. That ended with Komen. That ended with the Prop 8. What was the third story? This whole Catholic Church and contraception. Now we're into social issues.

BILL PRESS, AUTHOR, "THE OBAMA HATE MACHINE": First of all, it is stunning for Rick Santorum to do a whole hat trick yesterday and get all three states. You've got to give him a lot of credit for that. It's bad for Romney because he wants to be on the economy. I do think with Santorum's win and the events of the day, it shifts things back to social issues. I want to make a point I made earlier.

I think the big, big loser is Newt Gingrich who has all along been saying he is the alternative and having the audacity to suggest that rick Santorum should drop out of the race. So I was waiting for rick Santorum to suggest to you, Soledad, that maybe it's time for Newt to drop out of the race.

O'BRIEN: You know what's interesting, he doesn't play that game. He doesn't say that.

PRESS: He hasn't.

O'BRIEN: He doesn't do the attack thing. I wonder what's going to happen now, first of all, again, the social issues. He has a target on his back. He doesn't have a lot of money.

CAIN: That's helping him. Let me use me as your proxy. I am not a big social conservative. But the week that we have just had with prop 8, the catholic charities, the Susan G. Komen versus Planned Parenthood, this has forced socialists into the conversation and in a very divisive way. And Rick Santorum has clear positions on this. I think he will be a winner in these debates over these issues. And I think it's going to hurt Barack Obama. Let's pretend we weren't debating this over the break. I think this was a bad week for Barack Obama.

CHIDEYA: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

CAIN: Disagreement?

CHIDEYA: Because let's be real. The swing voters will determine -- the polls are showing such a tight, you know, Republican-Democratic match-up that swing voters will determine a lot of this. The majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose. When you talk about social issues, a swing vote population is not going to be, you know, necessarily a Santorum camp.

CAIN: What I'm telling you is the issues that came into the news this week aren't simply those black and white social issues. When you attack Susan G. Komen, a very reputable and good organization.

CHIDEYA: They attacked themselves.

CAIN: And you have this debate over religious charities and liberties, you are fighting losing battles.

PRESS: No filibustering here at the table. Susan G. Komen killed themselves. They destroyed themselves. Don't feel sorry for them. It was a dumbass move.

O'BRIEN: Did you just curse on my show? My children watch this show, sir.

PRESS: It was a dumb move.

This is a Pat Buchanan primary now. That may help in the primary. It won't help in the general. The Republicans I think can win this election. Let me repeat, they can beat Barack Obama on the economy. They're not going to win on the social issues.

CAIN: Here's the mistake you're making. We're not having prolife versus prochoice debate. We're having a debate over whose voices do you stifle? Do you stifle the opinions of the churches who have a position on this? Do you stifle the opinions of Susan G. Komen who might have had a position? We're not debating our actual positions. We're talking whether or not we can debate it.

O'BRIEN: That is going to be our commercial break and then we'll continue our conversation.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're talking about Komen. The V.P. Karen Handel has quit after all that controversy over the funding of Planned Parenthood. She says this was a shakedown.

Also, Ashleigh Banfield sits down with Donald Trump. A cabinet position in the works for Donald Trump? First Mitt Romney would have to win. That would be the first step. We'll hear what Donald Trump had to say with that. We'll leave you with Will's play list, a little Willie Nelson.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. You can love him or you may hate him, but Donald Trump has somehow become a player in this year's Republican race. Ashleigh Banfield of "EARLY START" had a chance to sit down with him. And he did not disappoint, did he? Good morning.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST, "EARLY START": No. He has an opinion on just about everything, and he follows everything too to the letter. He had a lot of things to say. But the one thing I found so surprising is what he thought about Rick Santorum. I had not heard him make the comments he made before about Rick Santorum.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was very interesting. He also was saying those comments right before Rick Santorum had a route and won.

BANFIELD: Yes.

O'BRIEN: So it's like, oh maybe you want to take a little bit of that back. It's interesting though, he's backing obviously Mitt Romney. He did that press conference the other day. And you asked him one of those like, so what would you do if your guy wins and you're offered a cabinet position.

BANFIELD: Yes, I even phrased it differently. I'm like, did you talk about -- was there a little deal -- no, I asked him, look, what did you talk about? Did you talk about a cabinet position? Did you talk about being involved somehow in a Romney administration? I was actually quite surprised right off the bat of how he answered. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: Is there a place for you in a Romney cabinet?

DONALD TRUMP, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Well, it's certainly not something I'm looking for, but if I can do anything to help this country, we have to do something to help the country. We can't keep losing our jobs to other countries and losing, really respect --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Have you talked about it with Governor Romney?

TRUMP: No, I haven't. I haven't discussed that, no.

BANFIELD: And if he reached out to you, what would your reaction be?

TRUMP: Well, I think it's very early to worry about it. I think, number one, he has to get the nomination. Number two, he has to get elected. And after that I would certainly be open if I can do anything to help him or the country.

BANFIELD: And what cabinet position would it be that you would want?

TRUMP: I don't know maybe a position where I negotiate against some of these countries because they're really taking our lunch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: Oh, my goodness. I think some of his comments on China.

BANFIELD: What, not ambassador to China, right. No, not ambassador to China.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that would be a very bad, bad fit.

BANFIELD: Yes.

O'BRIEN: He's a wealthy man.

BANFIELD: Big time.

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney is a wealthy man.

BANFIELD: Yes. And what a big controversy the last couple of weeks with the tax returns and us all finding out about the 15 percent effective tax rate and we all got a great lesson on why tax rates are 15 percent for the wealthier Americans and corporations. So I asked Donald Trump, wow, what -- what do you pay and also is it right? And -- and is it time to change that code? Some surprising answers. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And when I look at what's going on, this world is very fragile and this country is really fragile from an economic standpoint. China is eating our lunch. OPEC is taking advantage of us like probably nobody has ever taken advantage of anybody or anything.

When you look at what's going on and this country, number one, needs leadership. But beyond leadership, taxes to start raising taxes at this very fragile point can be a very, very dangerous thing.

BANFIELD: But can I peg you on the future? Is there perhaps future if we do recover in this economy, are higher taxes for the wealthy or for corporations maybe something that would be viable.

TRUMP: Well, it could happen. But I'm just saying very simply, and I -- I hate to give you a very quick answer. But the truth is --

BANFIELD: But could it happen? Could it happen? It could happen?

TRUMP: The truth is, it could happen. It certainly could happen.

BANFIELD: Should it happen? Should it?

TRUMP: It depends on the economy. It depends on the state. And it depends what they're doing with our money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure I got the answer there.

BANFIELD: I kept saying, are you saying that if the economy gets better, there might be room to say maybe we need to change the tax code and stop the lobby? Because isn't there's this incredible stat that the top ten corporations in America pay more to lobby to keep the tax code protecting their 15 percent effective tax rates than they pay in taxes.

So it's overwhelming. He wasn't going to go all the way there on that.

O'BRIEN: He didn't tell you what he pays?

BANFIELD: No, and I asked a couple of times what are you -- as politely as I could.

O'BRIEN: And he will not -- and I don't think it was the polite thing.

BANFIELD: It was a rude question. What do you pay in taxes? But he just said, a lot, a lot, a lot. Millions and millions.

O'BRIEN: So i think a lot of his whole thing is just marketing. "Apprentice" is ending.

BANFIELD: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: There's a whole spin.

I've got to tell you, interesting interview. Nice job. Ashleigh, nice to have you.

BANFIELD: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: All right, coming up next, Susan G. Komen executive quits, blasts Planned Parenthood on her way out. Why Karen Handel says this was a shakedown. Up ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

The Susan G. Komen Senior VP Karen Handel is stepping down in the fallout from the controversy with Planned Parenthood. Handel was asked how much defunding Planned Parenthood had to do with their opposition to abortion. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HANDEL SENIOR VP, SUSAN G. KOMEN: Absolutely none. I'm a professional. And when I come to Komen my number one priority is the fight against breast cancer, our mission and the women that we serve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Laura Bassett is a political reporter for the "Huffington Post". And she joins us. The problem with that position, is the conversation that we had I think it was yesterday, right, Laura, which looked at e-mails where you said that in fact that there was a correlation between what her position was on abortion and the defunding move with Planned Parenthood. Remind us of what those e- mails said and your source who gave you those e-mails.

LAURA BASSETT, HUFFINGTON POST: Absolutely. The e-mails showed that Karen Handel was the driving force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood and behind the strategy to cover it up and to make it look non-political.

She did have the Komen board on her side. She had the leadership on her side. She convinced them that defunding Planned Parenthood was a smart political move, but it absolutely did have to do with an ideological opposition to abortion. And she's admitted that it had to do with caving to pressure from anti-abortion groups.

So for her to come out and say this is not political, this has nothing to do with abortion, she's still being defensive and she's still being dishonest with the public.

O'BRIEN: So here's what Karen Handel had to say. I thought she had an interesting choice of words when she used the word "shakedown". So listen for it in this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HANDEL: The only place for politics in all of this came from Planned Parenthood when they launched this vicious, vicious attack on a great organization and perpetrated what was nothing short of a shakedown to coerce a private entity to give them grants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: "Shakedown" is interesting. And "launched an attack" I thought was an interesting choice of words as well.

BASSETT: Absolutely. I'm not really sure what she's talking about. I think Planned Parenthood has actually laid pretty low. While it is true that Komen --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Well, that's not true. Planned Parenthood, as soon as they lost their funding, they did the opposite of laying low. They went up and --

(CROSSTALK)

BASSETT: Well, last week when the first, when -- when the decision initially was announced they did not lay low. They came out with statements, but since their decision was reversed that's all they wanted. And most of the controversy has come after that, has come after Nancy Brinker lied to Andrea Mitchell last week.

And -- and when most of the backlash has actually come from the public. And Congress wrote -- wrote a letter to Karen Handel and there have been petitions circulating all over the place, hundreds of thousands of people signed MoveOn.org --

O'BRIEN: So what does your source say about how -- what the impact has been on this resignation?

BASSETT: You know, my source is not -- hasn't talked to me specifically about the resignation. I know that there's a lot of internal pressure and external pressure for her to resign. And people seem to be still dissatisfied with the fact that she -- with the fact that she resigned. I mean, they wanted that to happen, but they want more. They want Komen to come clean and -- and admit that they lied to the public.

O'BRIEN: So you look at the woman who is sort of the face of Komen is Nancy Brinker. It's her sister who was Susan G. Komen. It's not like she's going -- I mean, I -- I would be surprised if she would step away from their own foundation that was built on her sister. That sounds crazy.

What -- what is the end game on that? I mean, is it about -- is it about a conversation about it was political? Does it end at some point? Do more people have to resign? Who?

BASSETT: I think people would like to see a shakeup in the board since the board unanimously approved this decision. And I think people would like to see Nancy Brinker come out and admit that she lied and promised the public that she's going to make decisions with more transparency going forward, you know.

This is a cancer charity. They owe the people who are raising money for them transparency.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right. Thanks for being with us. Appreciate it. Laura Bassett is with the Huffington Post; she's a political reporter.

Got a break and then "End Point" is up next with our panel. We're back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: In our remaining seconds we get to "End Point". Bill, you get to start for us.

BILL PRESS, FORMER CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR: As a Californian, I'm very proud of the fact that it looks like Prop 8 is disqualified and that same-sex marriage is on its way in California. It's about time.

O'BRIEN: An interesting debate that hasn't ended, by the way.

PRESS: I know. But we're moving in the right direction.

O'BRIEN: All right. Farai Chideya, what have you got?

FARAI CHIDEYA, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I will echo him. But I'm just going to do a straight on shout-out to the students who I am going to be teaching this semester at the Institute of Politics at Harvard. It's a great program.

O'BRIEN: Are you a tough grader or an easy grader?

CHIDEYA: I don't have to grade them. Isn't that great? It's like all of the pleasure, none of the pain. They're fantastic students and I'm enjoying it.

O'BRIEN: Well, that's nice.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Set aside how you feel about abortion. I think it is a travesty that Susan G. Komen Foundation, an institution that has saved thousands of women's lives has been vilified and demonized because they dared to take away money that was not owed to Planned Parenthood.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you a question because we have kind of extra seconds. I want to take moderator's privilege on this one. Do you think Susan G. Komen did not start this fight? Do you think that politics did not play a role when Nancy Brinker said it did not play a role? Do you think she was telling the truth or do you think she was lying?

CAIN: I think that does not matter. I think abortion is a highly controversial issue --

O'BRIEN: That's a dodge of a question.

CAIN: No, it's not. I'm saying what the real issue is -- I'm saying this issue over PR and politicization is not the issue. The issue is that Susan G. Komen did not owe money to Planned Parenthood, The fact that they chose to take it away does not deserve for them to be vilified.

PRESS: It's about breast cancer screening. That was the issue, period. Don't try to get abortion into it. It was about protecting women.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: All right. We end as we start, with a little arguing. I like it. I like it.

Let's get right to Kyra Phillips.