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Rick Santorum Receives Donations after Primary Victories; Four GOP Presidential Candidates Continue Campaigns; Miramonte School In L.A. Reopens Today; Beating Victim Speaks Out; Court To Rule On Mississippi Pardons; Interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Indiana Stage Collapse Fines; Expanded Combat Roles For Women; Busey Files For Bankruptcy; Presidential Flip Flops?; "Appalling Brutality" In Syria; Gingrich Eyes Super Tuesday; Judge's Ruling after Domestic Dispute Questioned; Interview with John McCain; Kirk Cameron Discusses New Project

Aired February 9, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Hey, ladies. Good morning to you. Our "Starting Point" this morning is CPAC. We're live from CPAC in Washington D.C. It's the nation's leading conservatives and activists come together. What's important about this meeting is that it will end with a big endorsement this weekend, but before the kickoff, the big political names will join this morning.

Also this morning, Obama under fire. He's accused of flip- flopping on Super PACs. The DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, is going to be with us to defend the president.

And blood vast (ph) in Syria. You should see (INAUDIBLE) on Syria. Should the U.S. arm the opposition? Senator John McCain is going to talk with us about what is happening in Syria now and what should be happening. "Starting Point" begins right now.



O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein was so cool. This is Bruce Springstein. We take care of our own. Ron Brownstein --


O'BRIEN: -- from Ron Brownstein's playlist. Yes, you're cool.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Coming back this spring, world tour, bittersweet without Clarence Clemons. Big man RIP, and we'll rock on.

O'BRIEN: Welcome everybody. Our panel joins us, Ron Brownstein, and it's always nice to have Ron in person. Jason Chaffetz is a Republican from the state of Utah. It's nice to have you join us as well. Al Cardenas is the chairman of the American Conservative Union. You are the guy behind all of this. You have seen thousands of seats behind us, the presentations that will happen at CPAC, nice to have you joining us. Let's get right to it, if I can. First and foremost this is the all-star event. Rick Santorum will make a presentation, Mitt Romney will make a presentation, Newt Gingrich will be here making presentation, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin will wrap-up the entire night. What does it tell you about sort of the role of conservatives in this year's election?

AL CARDENAS, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN PARTY OF FLORIDA: Well, obviously, this has become an election that in my opinion will be decided by turnout, and whoever gets their base more passionately involved and out there to vote will win this election. The country divided 50-50 now, in terms of philosophical terms. Conservatives are the base of the movement and the right, and progressives are the base of the other side. And whoever thinks it's more at stake will get more enthusiastic will allow that candidate to win the election.

O'BRIEN: When you look at statistics on turnout -- Ron and I talked about this yesterday -- doesn't that bode badly for you? The turnout has been low in the last three races which Rick Santorum swept, I think very low.

CARDENAS: Negativity in campaigns brings down turnouts, especially in primaries. They spent $30 million in Florida, 92 percent in negative ads. When I see that happen in primaries, it has this suppressing effect on turnout and we're seeing it. Frankly, obviously the concern has been over the last six weeks as these differences have become more personal, folks don't like to see in your own backyard that kind of mud-slinging, president's numbers go up, guys numbers go down, sooner that stops, the better.

O'BRIEN: Could there be a hold -- do you expect a hold over to the general election?

CARDENAS: I don't think so. Look, the passion out there, what unites everyone, the glue that binds us together is the quest to defeat President Obama, and it's a quest more passionate than any I've seen in a long time. It surpasses Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton. This is a real mission. You will see it here, live as you witness these three days.

BROWNSTEIN: Al, can I ask you, there has been a lot of questioning about why there isn't a candidate more kind of organically emerging from the conservative movement for this race. You look at the choices Republicans are dealing with, Republican governor of a blue state, record shaped by that. You have the Newt Gingrich, last won an election in 1998, Rick Santorum last won in 2000. Why isn't there a candidate in the race as a viable candidate from more contemporary conservative movement?

CARDENAS: We started out with 10 candidates, every ice cream flavor in the spectrum you want to have we're now narrowed down to four. And people looked at different criteria, competence, who they like and values. You put it in the same pot and we have four finalists heading in the home stretch.

Ron Paul developed an interesting following that is growing cycle by cycle, and they want to have a voice at the convention. I see him lasting through the process to have that voice in Tampa, at our convention. But I think the three who lasted for whatever reasons, I'm a firm believer in competition and winner is the best.

BROWNSTEIN: So the field is set, no late entries, is this it or is there room at this point given the fragmentation we've seen, and the inability to sustain an advantage, there is room for someone else to make a late entry?

CARDENAS: I'll answer that on March 7th.

O'BRIEN: I will take that as kind of a yes. I would have expected a strong no. But if he's not saying a strong no, that means probably there is a chance.

BROWNSTEIN: What happens on March 7th?

CARDENAS: March 6 is Super Tuesday, and if we still have a fragmented electorate and an undecided process, that means this thing will last quite a while. It will mean no one has the 1,144 delegates to win the nomination. If they don't, then you're dealing. And if you're dealing you will come up with a combination of two of the four in the race or an outsider like Jeb Bush get in the race. Mitt Romney is hoping that he can get this thing done March 6th. I don't think anyone else has the resources that could accomplish that. But if he doesn't and continues to be wide open race, things may get complicated.

O'BRIEN: Everyone claims they are the true conservative. Let me play a clip of all the candidates say that and we'll talk on the other side.



RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a clear choice, I'm the only person in the race, Republican or Democrat, who has never served a day of time in Washington. In the world I come from, leadership is about starting a business, not trying to get a bill out of committee.


O'BRIEN: I love when everyone says it's a clear choice. It's a clear choice and then they say the opposite of what the other guy said. Will the straw poll determine what the clear choice is on Saturday night?

CARDENAS: It could. Going back to who is a real conservative, we're in the empirical business of measuring these people. Three of them served in Congress, we do our congressional ratings every year.

O'BRIEN: Who is the true conservative?

CARDENAS: Ron Paul has a life time record of 83, Rick Santorum has a life time record of 88. And Newt Gingrich got a life time record of 90. We looked at Mitt's Web site, assuming he would be for the things that he stand for, he would be a conservative. All four met our test and all four here. They can argue back and forth as to who is the best, but empirically they all make muster. As long as they are over 80 percent we give them a passing grade.

O'BRIEN: Explain to me why Mitt Romney is struggling to connect when he won the straw poll the last time around.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UTAH), ROMNEY SUPPORTER: I have 100 percent rating.


CHAFFETZ: I know, you do. I like Mitt Romney. I'm a Mitt Romney fan. The idea that he is somehow the establishment candidate has been laughable to me. He is 64 years old, hasn't served a day in Washington, dc, business leader, has to communicate the message. What is exciting about CPAC, a very young crowd, when I came and spoke and I appreciate you having me, new blood from all over the country. That makes it exciting and people coming out to speak.

O'BRIEN: Is why he struggling with conservatives then?

CARDENAS: Can I tell you something? I think in our country there is an optic bias when you come from certain states. If you're a Massachusetts elected official, you have to overcome a huge optical bias in terms of how people feel folks think in that state. It's unfortunate but Mitt's record in Massachusetts given what head to deal with was pretty amazing.

Now, you mentioned and I didn't answer your question about the straw poll, man, it will be interesting. We haven't had a real contested presidential race here at CPAC in two decades, Ron? We thought in 2008 we would, but Romney at this stage here stepped down. So a straw ballot this year could well make an interesting statement as to how folks in the audience feel.

O'BRIEN: We're here to watch that, thanks for being with us Al Cardenas.

CARDENAS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Other stories are making news this morning, and Christine Romans has those for us. Hey, Christine, good morning. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Developing news this morning to tell you about. One million under water homeowners could be eligible for up to $20,000 relief on the principal they owe on their mortgage. A landmark deal between the states and banks could be announced as soon as this morning would amount to at least $25 billion from mortgage lenders and servicers including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Allied Financial. This would be the largest rescue plan yet, largest settlement between the industry and the states, since the big toe back settlement in 1998.

Attorneys general for California, Florida, New York are now all on board, we're told. Nearly all of the other states have agreed to the terms, still working out the details of who qualifies and how you find out.

Also making news this morning, fierce fighting overnight in Syria has killed at least 12 civilians. Government forces are bombarding the town of Homs. The opposition says Syrian forces are targeting homes and beating residents.

"I should have killed you. We should talk tonight." That is the e-mail prosecutors introduced in the murder trial of University of Virginia George Huguely. He's accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, in a jealous rage after finding out she'd been dating a lacrosse player from a rival school. Earlier on CNN, criminal defense lawyer Midwin Charles said that e-mail could support prosecution claims of premeditation.


MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: A lot of people think premeditation means you have to plot and plan for months and days and hours, but it's something that can occur within a split second. And usually what prosecutors do in trying to prove a murder case is they look at the actions, they look at what led up to that particular day and the kind of relationship the defendant had with the person.


ROMANS: In the opening statements yesterday, Huguely's attorneys insisted their client was drunk the night Love died and was incapable of plotting to kill her.

The 911 call center in Pierce County, Washington is launching an investigation to find out why it took dispatchers eight minutes to send a police car to the home of Josh Powell. Once that police car was dispatched, it took 13 minutes to get to Powell's home, too late to stop him from blowing up his house, killing himself and his two little boys.

The founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure is speaking out for the first time since reversing a decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. In a letter to "The Washington Post" Nancy Brinker says, quote, "I made some mistakes. Women's health organizations must be absolutely true to their core missions and avoid even the appearance of bias or judgment in our decisions." Brinker apologized for disappointing supporters and pledged to work harder to restore their trust.

The triple win Tuesday night translated in a lot of cash for Rick Santorum today. His campaign said he raised $1 million after those wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. And $800,000 came from donations online, which then crashed the Santorum Web site. I guess a good problem to have, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, the list of problems, having a Web site crash because people are giving you too much money is good. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, the biggest names are here at CPAC conference. Joining us this morning will be Senator John McCain, Congressman Paul Ryan. We're going to talk to Senator Mike Lee and Senator Jim DeMint.

Ahead this morning Newt Gingrich is focusing on winning the upcoming contests in the south. Some people say that southern strategy might not work. We'll talk to Gingrich's campaign chairman straight ahead.

Plus, this strange story, a woman alleges domestic dispute, and a judge tells her she should go on a date with her husband. Our "Get Real" is a question this morning -- did the judge make the right call? You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Oh. Too bad we don't have the video, remember?


O'BRIEN: Devo doing that. This is from Congressman Chaffetz's playlist. Devo, "Whip It." What year was that?

CHAFFETZ: I'd used -- I put out -- I put the cassette tape in to my Walkman --


CHAFFETZ: It's part of life's most embarrassing moments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's right after the 8 track.

O'BRIEN: Dating all of us. Dating all of us.

Welcome back, everybody.

We're talking this morning about politics as we are at CPAC in Washington, D.C., and focusing on the Santorum surge. He raised a million dollars since his three victories just on Tuesday night. In fact, so many people donated to the website that it crashed the website.

Newt Gingrich is struggling to be number two, certainly let alone number one. Gingrich Campaign Chairman Bob Walker joins our panel this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for being with us.


O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it. You're a former congressman from the State of Pennsylvania. Is that correct?

WALKER: That's right, yes. Correct.

O'BRIEN: What does Newt Gingrich, who's going to speak on Friday, have to say to conservatives to get their support to win the straw poll? That could be a big victory for him considering his losses.

WALKER: Well, the straw poll here has always been a question of who shows up and it's going to be a very young audience, and we assume that -- that for instance Ron Paul will do very well here in the straw poll.

And so I think the real question here is whose message resonates not only with the crowd here but conservatives across the country. Then I think that Newt is going to have a very strong conservative message. It's going to be one that's going to be positive. It's one that is going to I think resonate across the country with conservatives who understand now that the Romney inevitability has been broken by what happened in South Carolina and now in three states in the West.

O'BRIEN: It's been broken, but it seems like it's been replaced by Rick Santorum.

WALKER: Well -- well, Rick --

O'BRIEN: His speech was "I am the true conservative."

WALKER: -- Rick Santorum had a great night, but Rick Santorum's record still has yet to be examined, and I think that that's one of the things that we will see over the next few weeks.

I think that the things with Newt Gingrich is, he's been coming here for a lot of years and he's been coming here as the conservative leader. It has been Newt Gingrich who has set the agenda for conservatives for many years and I think this week here at CPAC he will help set the agenda for conservatives once again.

O'BRIEN: So Karl Rove wrote in the "Wall Street Journal" this. He said, "Counting on the southern strategy," (INAUDIBLE) and Newt Gingrich is really focused on a southern strategy, "is hoping to draw an inside straight," poker hand. "After his impressive hat-trick -- like hat-trick victories on Tuesday, Mr. Santorum is for the time being, Mr. Romney's main challenger."

And I read that as Karl Rove saying this is going to be kind of impossible for Newt Gingrich. WALKER: First of all, the national polls don't show that. And secondly, I think that it is more than a southern strategy. The fact is that Newt spent the last couple days in Ohio. We feel very good about our chances of winning in Ohio.

We're certainly going to pursue a strategy that includes Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, going into Texas, Alabama and Mississippi after that. Those are all states where Newt should do very well.

But our strategy is a multi-state strategy. And for instance, one of the things we're looking out for is California.

O'BRIEN: Sounds expensive.

WALKER: Well, sure.

O'BRIEN: I'm hoping it's not that really expensive.

WALKER: Well, it is expensive.

O'BRIEN: How much money do you have?

WALKER: Well, we're doing pretty well money-wise.

O'BRIEN: Like a number?

WALKER: Well, you know, I don't follow the numbers day to day, but we've been doing very well online. We've been raising money online. Even yesterday, now that the inevitability has been broken, the fact is that the money is flowing to other candidates. We're seeing -- we're seeing an upswing in our online contributions as well.

O'BRIEN: The number I've read is a million dollars roughly is what Newt Gingrich has. And Mitt Romney's number is somewhere around $19 million. So that's a little bit (ph) outspent, outgunned.

WALKER: Yes, sure. And we saw that in Florida. We saw that Mitt Romney spent, you know, somewhere in the vicinity of $15 or $20 million all of it in negative advertising. And you know, we talked earlier in this program through the conversation was about the fact that --

O'BRIEN: Hang on. You just keyed up --

WALKER: This is driving -- this is driving down the votes.

O'BRIEN: Let's play what Al Cardenas said. Hang on one second. Thank you for tossing to that for me. Here's what he said.


AL CARDENAS, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Campaigns bring down turnouts especially in primaries. And in Florida, for example, they spent $30 million, 92 percent of those were in negative ads. And every time I see that happen in primaries, maybe not so much in general elections or primaries, it has a suppressing effect on -- on turnout and we're seeing it.


WALKER: Well, that's -- that's the problem is that what we're doing is turning off our own base with this kind of campaigning. Newt went into Iowa with the idea that what he would do is run a positive campaign on big ideas and so on. He got buried under negative advertising in Iowa. We had to go to some negative advertising just to defend ourselves in primaries that followed.

We would like to get away from that. We would like to have a campaign around big ideas but already in Ohio we have negative advertising being thrown up on the air. That's a problem I think for our base.

O'BRIEN: Final words --

BROWNSTEIN: Congressman, real quick. As long as you and Rick Santorum -- as Gingrich and Santorum are dividing the conservative voters most resistant to Romney, can either of you in the end overcome him?

WALKER: Well, I think -- I think in the end, it will be a case where one or the other will sort out, and at the present time, Rick has done well in some of the caucus states. We have done well in the one really big conservative primary, where real voters were out. I think it still has a way to sort itself out. But in the end --

BROWNSTEIN: What about Florida? Were that not real voters?

WALKER: In Florida -- in Florida, it was a negative election. The fact is that in Florida, what happened was that the voter turnout was way down in all of those counties where Mitt Romney won, it was way up in the counties that Newt Gingrich won. And it shows that the negative advertising is in fact destructive for the Republican Party.

BROWNSTEIN: So when you say sorting out, you mean ultimately either Gingrich or Santorum has to step aside in favor of the other for one of them to have a chance at beating Romney, is that what you're suggesting that in the end --

WALKER: I'm suggesting -- I'm suggesting that this is an election that is likely to go all the way to the convention. I'm suggesting that there will be a contest where Mitt Romney will not end up with the majority of votes headed into Tampa and where we will have an election that will be settled at the convention.

O'BRIEN: That's a very interesting prediction.

BROWNSTEIN: For the first time since 1952.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for joining us, Congressman. We certainly appreciate your time.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, the Pentagon is changing the rules when it comes to women in combat. Some people say the change doesn't go far enough. We'll talk about that this morning.

And a woman alleges domestic violence and heads to court, but did the judge do the right thing? Did the punishment fit the charge? We're going to ask you that question in our "Get Real," which is coming up next.


O'BRIEN: OK. So our "Get Real" this morning really is a question for everybody. I'm going to give you the back story first.

A Florida couple got into a fight when Joseph Bray, the husband in a couple, forgot to wish his wife a happy birthday, his wife name is Sonja. And she claimed that her husband shoved her against the sofa and then put his hand on her neck, and eventually all of this resulted in a domestic violence charge.

So fast forward to Tuesday's court hearing, the whole thing goes to court. Sonya tells the judge when she's asked, she wasn't hurt, she wasn't scared of her husband.

So the ruling? The judge, a guy named John Hurley decided that the husband, Bray, should go home, pick up his wife, get dressed and take her out to her favorite restaurant, which is Red Lobster. Then after dinner, he should take her out bowling because that's what she said was one of the things she liked to do.

The judge getting a lot of flack about this now. He says he wouldn't have ordered such a whimsical ruling if the charge was more serious or if it looked like the wife had been hurt. It was also first offense for, Bray, the husband.

The judge also ordered marriage counseling for the couple.

So, how do we feel about this? Did the judge give the right ruling? It is our "Get Real" this morning and it's a strange one, right? Because domestic violence is one of those charges when you ask someone if they're afraid of their spouse in front of their spouse and if you ask them would you like to get back together, most of the time even in severe domestic violence cases they say yes, I'd like to get back together.

Did the judge do the right thing?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I find that when I'm talking about people's worse moments on national television, so I guess I'm going to start with that. But I would say cases like this you have to treat it seriously and whatever else, whatever else you're putting into the mix you have to make sure you're treating the threat of violence seriously.

And I'm not sure -- I don't really know from what we've seen of the judge whether that -- that has to be the threshold. I mean, you have to be treating the threat of violence seriously whatever else you do.

O'BRIEN: He said he want to come up with a creative solution that was sort of a win-win for both of the couple.

BROWNSTEIN: But it must have been bad enough that the police were called. It wasn't just, oh, you know, I forgot -- so, you know, I don't know. If the police are called and the guy is actually arrested, and the police on the scene made some sort of assessment that it was serious enough, I -- I don't know.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm going to be the contrarian.

O'BRIEN: Of course.

ERICKSON: Of course, I'm going to be the contrarian. You know, having been a lawyer for a number of years, seeing odd rulings, I would like to know if there were any other facts that persuaded the judge on this.

O'BRIEN: Of course, I did a 30 second story on that.

ERICKSON: It seems very odd for the judge to take the wife's word in front of the husband. And having done spousal abuse, I've never had a judge question the spouse in front of the other that you're OK with the guy with the other being somewhere behind the scene, so that makes sense.

But at the same time, I do wonder sometimes if even more and more people are too quick to -- to call the cops or go to the court when you've got a situation like this one as the facts are presented probably not. But at the same time --


O'BRIEN: What's -- the question is what is the right thing to do that keeps everybody safe? And also helps them get to --

BROWNSTEIN: That has to be the first question. That has to be the first question.

O'BRIEN: All right.


O'BRIEN: They're yelling at me. I -- I've got to move on.

BROWNSTEIN: All right, move on.

O'BRIEN: Strange case, isn't it?

So still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, how far should the United States go to stop the bloodshed in Syria? Should we put weapons in the hands of the rebels? We're going to talk this morning to Senator John McCain, that's straight ahead. He's going to join us right here on the set.

And then, President Obama changed his mind now. He says, yes, he's going to use Super PAC money to get reelected. Republicans are ripping into the president about that, saying this is a flip-flop. We're going to have DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz responding to that. That's straight ahead.

You're listening to Erick Erickson's playlist, The Civil Wars' "Barton Hollow."


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. Right to the headlines this morning, Christine Romans has that for us. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

A Los Angeles elementary school at the center of a child abuse scandal, it reopens today. Miramonte Elementary has an entirely new staff today. Two former teachers have been arrested. Investigators also found more than 200 photos of students allegedly taken by one of those teachers.

We're hearing this morning from the victim of a brutal beating who was attacked for being gay. The assault took place over the weekend in Atlanta. It was videotaped and posted online. Brandon White says that is the reason he went to police.


BRANDON WHITE, VICTIM OF BEATING: I was just going to be silent about it and let it ride over because that is just who I am. I deal with situations my way.

But by them going ahead and wanting to release it and put it on the internet, I feel that they wanted the attention themselves. They wanted to make themselves look like they were brave, they were strong, but in my opinion, I'm the brave one.


ROMANS: The mayor of Atlanta is offering $10,000 reward for information about the attackers you see in this video. The FBI is also investigating Brandon White will join Soledad live coming up next hour.

Just a few hours, Mississippi Supreme Court will hear arguments that could lead to the reversal of 200 pardons. Those pardons were granted by outgoing Governor Haley Barbour. Among the prisoners released, these four convicted killers.

It's $80,000 in fines that is how much the Labor Department of Indiana says has to be paid for last summer's deadly stage collapse at the state fair. The largest fine, $63,000, was levied against the Mid-America sound corporation, that's company that built the stage and leased it to the fair. Seven people died in that collapse waiting for a Sugarland concert to start.

This morning, the Pentagon will announce plans to expand combat roles for women. The 14,000 new jobs could soon be available to female soldiers including combat support roles like radio operators, medics and tank mechanics. Women will still be barred from fighting on the frontlines.

Gary Busey has filed for bankruptcy in California. The 67-year-old actor reporting his assets worth up to $50,000 with debts between $500,000 and a million dollars. Busey listed that he owes money to the IRS, Wells Fargo Bank and the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's a sad story. All right, Christine, thanks for the update. The White House is watching the GOP nomination battle obviously, Republican fractures should be making them happy, but the president isn't quite able to stay out of the fray.

The GOP is hitting very hard on "Super PACs." Look at this image that they are using to raise money. They are accusing the president of flip-flopping on the issue, get it, flip flops?

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is the chair of the Democratic National Committee and she joins us this morning. It's nice to have you joining us. You're at CPAC, the lone Democrat in a room of thousands and thousands of potentially of Republicans.


O'BRIEN: Let's talk seriously about this whole CPAC, sorry, the "Super PAC" issue, the president has come out very strongly against "Super PACs" and then turns around and says, well, OK, I'm going to take "Super PAC" money, isn't this an obvious contradiction?

SCHULTZ: Well, he remains strongly against the decision that resulted in the creation of these "Super PACs" and that create an opaque process in which you have hundreds of millions of dollars that are dumped in campaigns, with no transparency.

Yet, we still have not been able to get Republicans to support the disclose act, to support legislation that would roll back some of the really terrible points of the decision.

In an election year like this one the Republicans on the "Super PAC" side have already spent $40 million, Mitt Romney's PAC, $30 million against his opponents.

We can't unilaterally disarm. We have to play by the rules that exist right now and at the end of the day, we have to make sure that we weren't in a lop-sided situation.

O'BRIEN: Isn't there something contradictory. I'm very against it, but I'm going to ahead and embrace it because the other guys are embracing it.

SCHULTZ: Well, because we can't operate in a situation where we have only the resources that we can raise in our campaign by very limited campaign finance rules and the Republicans will have several hundred million in "Super PAC" money that will be dumped on President Obama in the general election. So the rules as they exist now are the rules we are going to play by, but when it comes to the future and if the Republicans would step up right now, pass a disclose act, apply those new transparency rules and get rid of "Super PACs" to the election right now, which we would love to see. We welcome them and urge them to do that.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, one of the concerns in this era, is that, of course, you're seeing people and institutions give much larger sums than we have seen in the campaign financiers to individuals.

And one of the concerns the Democrats have raised is that the Republican nominee will be beholden in ways to people who have giving them vast sums of money.

Aren't you now -- do you feel confident sitting here and you can say the president himself will not be beholden to certain interests or individuals in a way that's uncomfortable if he is re- elected?

SCHULTZ: I'm definitely saying that.

BROWNSTEIN: Why him and not them?

SCHULTZ: Because President Obama has taken unprecedented steps from the very beginning to really reduce the influence of special interests contributions.

He doesn't accept PAC money. He doesn't accept money from federal lobbyists. The DNC doesn't accept PAC or federal lobbyist money. So we have been the example in how to reduce the influence of special interests.

BROWNSTEIN: Now you're going to be in a situation where there are going to be interests of giving very large sums to the "Super PACs" supporting him. Does that not incur obligations for him the same sort you're worried about with the Republicans?

SCHULTZ: No, not at all. In fact, President Obama has also established some rules of the road neither he, unlike Mitt Romney and the other presidential candidates on the Republican side, neither he nor the first ladies, vice president nor Dr. Biden will participate in any of the fundraising for those "Super PACs". It will be surrogates that will be involved in that. So there is distance between the actual "Super PACs" and the president.

O'BRIEN: We will be watching it. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, it's nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Senator John McCain says we need to arm Syrian rebels to help stop the violence there. The White House is disagreeing with him. How do you end the bloodshed? We're going to talk to the senator straight ahead.

Also you probably remember him as the teen heartthrob from "Growing Pains." The actor, Kirk Cameron will join us. He has a new movie, which is all about America. He says it's off track and he has some solutions to fix it. We'll talk to him this morning.

And once again, you're listening to Congressman Jason Chaffetz's play list "Ready To Go."


O'BRIEN: Syria's government unleashing even more attacks on its own people. There are reports that the Syrian forces are firing on several neighborhoods in the city of Homs. More than 90 people have been reportedly killed just in yesterday.

People on the ground are saying that not even infants or people who are patients in hospitals or doctors are safe in the attack. Last night, Anderson Cooper talked to an activist in Homs who just witnessed a friend die. Here is what he said.


ABU ABDO, SYRIAN ACTIVIST, REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL OF HOMS (via telephone): We have no choice, no other choice, we are dying slightly and we tried to save each other, at least -- to keep somebody alive, because we believe we all will die here. The city, it's being under shelling and bombing and everything, and there is nothing to do.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": You really believe you're all going to die?

ABDO: We do.


O'BRIEN: This is the fifth day of dramatic pictures like this. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona joins us this morning. He is the ranking republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It's nice to have you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. As I said, fifth day, you seen pictures of snipers firing, killing civilians, the pictures are really just devastating. What should the international community be doing right now to bring an end to the violence?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Right now, we should be finding ways to help the people who are being slaughtered as we speak. The massacre goes on, artillery shelling. There's no legitimacy left in the Assad regime.

So we can work with countries to provide assistance in a broad variety of ways and by the way, military equipment should not be an option that should not be -- is an option that should be considered, but maybe not directly.

But as happened in Libya when other countries were able to supply that, we could give them communications. They need equipment. They need medical help very badly, as you just saw.

For us to sit by and watch this massacre and allow Russia and China to their everlasting shame veto resolutions in the United Nations Security Council is not acceptable.

There are many things that we can achieve working with Turkey, the Arab League and other concerned nations and we ought to get about it quickly to stop this massacre.

O'BRIEN: You have suggested that arming the opposition might be a plan, but when we spoke to General Wesley Clark, he said he didn't think -- he thought that plan had some flaws. I want to play for you what he told me yesterday.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER U.S. COMMANDER: It's a tough -- that is a very tough way to go. There is an opposition. It's not that well-organized. They have camps in Turkey. They are already getting arms from some people and some support. When you add more weapons to it, you create more conflict but you don't necessarily resolve it.



O'BRIEN: He seems to think that is not necessarily a doable strategy. Why are you laughing?

MCCAIN: Because I wish General Clark had had a chance to see what you just showed that is going on there, the merciless slaughter of innocent people. And, yes, some arms are getting through and I hope more arms get through. But to say that when defenseless people are being slaughtered to give them weapons to defend themselves complicates things, I'm sorry, General --


-- that is not the way I was brought up.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn, if we can, and talk about the GOP race. We're at CPAC this morning. We'll have the straw poll here on Saturday night. we had a chance to talk to a couple folks. First, the man running Newt Gingrich's campaign, you know Bob Walker, the former Congressman. Here's what he had to say that we thought was pretty interesting from this morning.


BOB WALKER, (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN & CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR NEWT GINGRICH: I'm suggesting that there will be a contest where Mitt Romney will not end up with the majority of votes headed into Tampa and where we will have an election that will be settled at the convention.


O'BRIEN: You've endorsed Mitt Romney. Do you think what Congressman Walker is saying is true or likely?

MCCAIN: Well, I found in the past, that those who are losing candidates always predict a brokered convention. The fact is that Mitt Romney took a setback Tuesday night. We know that. And we're going to reinvigorate and pursue the effort in the states that are actually picking delegates right away.

But there's a lot of ups and downs in these campaigns. But I'm confident, at the end of the day, it will be overwhelmingly a victory for Mitt Romney. Do we have to work harder? Yes. But I would also point out again that for, especially at CPAC conference, for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum to call themselves fiscal conservatives is simply defiance of the record. They were earmarkers, they were pork barrelers, they encouraged the K-Street Project, which led to corruption, members of the Congress going to jail and Jack Abramoff. That is not being a fiscal conservative and that is their record.

O'BRIEN: OK, so Al Cardenas does not have a candidate in the race. He's not a guy who is a losing candidate, making observations because it's politically expedient for him. Here what is he had to say this morning as well.


AL CARDENAS, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: These things can last quite a while. And if it lasts quite a while, it may mean, more likely mean that no one has the 1147 delegates to win the nomination. If they don't, then you're dealing. And if you're dealing, you will come up with a combination of two of the four that end the race or you'll an outsider like a Jeb Bush get in the race. Mitt Romney is hoping that he can get this thing done March 6th. I don't think anyone else has the resources that could accomplish that. If he doesn't, and it continues to be a wide open race, things may get complicated.


O'BRIEN: Complicated would be the understatement of the year. And I should mention, for those who don't know, Cardenas is running the organization that runs CPAC. A wide-open race, that would be a bad thing for your candidate, Mitt Romney.

MCCAIN: Well, to call it wide open I think it is a little bit inaccurate. The Florida victory was important. New Hampshire was important. We have resources and -- on the ground in strength. And the Romney campaign is taking nothing for granted, but I don't think it's, quote, "wide open." But the fact is that we will, I believe, have the decision probably made on Super Tuesday. And I have not yet seen, in my political career, a brokered convention although I heard it predicted every single time.

O'BRIEN: Well, we will see how it goes.

All right, Senator John McCain joining us to talk about Syria, of course, where the violence is spiraling out of control, and also to talk politics with us.

Nice to see you, sir. Thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, from teenage heartthrob -- I agree, he was a teenage heart throb -- now he's a conservative activist. The actor, Kirk Cameron, is going to join us next to tell us about his new project.

Plus, he's considered a young hot shot in the Republican Party. Congressman Paul Ryan will join us, taking on big spending in Washington D.C. We'll talk about what his plan is.

That is straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Looking a little --


That would be Congressman --



CHAFFETZ: I thought we were supposed to give life's most embarrassing moments.

O'BRIEN: This is on your play list. This is on your iPod.


O'BRIEN: You've got --


CHAFFETZ: Rookie mistake. Those are my most embarrassing --


KIRK CAMERON, ACTOR & ACTIVIST: No, no. Everyone loves that stuff.

O'BRIEN: Everyone loves that song.

CHAFFETZ: Let's go back to Divo.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, yes.

Not only politicians are speaking here at CPAC this morning. One of the speakers today is a very familiar face. Take a look.



ALAN THICKE, ACTOR: I guess he couldn't get in the bathroom either.


KIRK CAMERON, ACTIVIST & ACTOR: Hey, Mom, Dad, I want to take karate. I want to split boards. I want to break bricks.


O'BRIEN: Oh, you just put your hand over your face.


Kirk Cameron became the star. He was Mike Seaver on "Growing Pains." Then became a born-again Christian during that time. Altered his career path pretty dramatically. Now he's here presenting his new film, which is called "Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure."

It's nice to have you.

CAMERON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Is it embarrassing to see the shows from the '80s?

CAMERON: You look back to see old photos of those gawky teenage years and --

O'BRIEN: Huge hair, giant hair.

CAMERON: Most of us aren't on national TV when that's going on. For me --


-- I find it professionally embarrassing.

O'BRIEN: It's very nice to have you.

You're here to talk about your new film. It's called "Monumental."


O'BRIEN: You've really moved off of being an actor in those kinds of sitcoms and you've moved into doing movies that are centered around values, things like that. Why?

CAMERON: A few years ago, I did a film called "Fireproof" and it was a movie about marriage. It resonated so strongly in the hearts of so many people that I continued to want to be part of projects that really were about values that mattered for families, moms, dads, students. And so I'm here to present a brand new documentary film, called "Monumental." I took a year and a half personal journey to discover the people, the places and the principles that really founded and define America. And so I'm going to take audiences across Europe and America to retrace the escape route of the pilgrims to discover who they were, why they went to Holland for 12 years before they got on a boat and came to America. and how it is that everything we've become famous for in America today were really ideas that were planted in the hearts and minds of those, that little band of courageous pilgrims, 400 years ago.

O'BRIEN: Let me play a clip from the movie.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The set of ideas that is being implemented and advanced in this capitol at this time is terribly frightening to people who are students of history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at the 17 super powers in history, every single one of them has called themselves exceptional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at the Roman Empire, it parallels to what is going on in America are absolutely frightening.


O'BRIEN: Your thesis is that America is broken or on the way to being broken if things don't change.

CAMERON: Well, I'm a father of six kids, and I'm concerned about the world that they're growing up in to. When I look at the fruit that's hanging on the tree of this nation, morally, economically, politically, spiritually, I see that it's rotting. And so I'm digging down to look at the root, the systemic problem, and try to find an answer by talking to the men and women who built this country. That's why I went to retrace the escape route of the pilgrims, to learn from them, and hope to find the secret recipe that made this --


O'BRIEN: What's the secret recipe? What is it?

CAMERON: You're going to have to see the movie. But there is a monument --


CAMERON: There is a monument that embodies the strategy and the answer, and most people have never heard of it. It's the largest granite monument in America. And we're going to reveal that and its strategy in "Monumental."

O'BRIEN: Talk about the deep tease on us. Right.

(LAUGHTER) Kirk Cameron, it's nice to have you join us.

CAMERON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it.

The movie is called "Monumental."

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to talk to Congressman Paul Ryan. He's set to challenge fellow conservatives with the speech he's going to give here at CPAC. We'll talk to him about what he means by bold reform. And which candidate he thinks can carry that torch.

Plus, a shipwreck found off the coast of Massachusetts. You will not believe what was found inside.

We'll bring you that straight ahead on STARTING POINT. Stay with us.