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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Courting the Conservatives; Source: Contraception "Compromise" from White House; Slaughter In Syria Escalating; Contraception Controversy; Obama Super PAC Flip-Flop; Brutal Beating Caught on Tape; Santorum and the Right of a Woman

Aired February 10, 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 HOST: Hey, good morning, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is live from the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC which is here in Washington, D.C.

It's a very big day for the candidates. All of them will be taking the stage.

And, arguably, it could be most critical for Mitt Romney. He's got to shine. He's trying to prove that he can be the voice of the conservatives.

Syria is also what we're talking about this morning. Violent tipping point. Shelling for a fifth straight day. No signs of relief. And there were calls for help around the world growing louder and louder.

And also this morning, looking inside Steve Jobs' FBI file. He's described in this file as a liar and a narcissist and that is not all.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman, you are, so far, two for two. Your husband has had a couple of slow things this morning, and we don't like to slow music to start our morning.

Welcome back, everybody. You're listening to Congressman Mary Mack's playlist, Journey. She loves Journey, "Don't Stop Believing."

Also joining her this morning, her husband, Connie Mack, representing the great state of Florida.

REP. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: That's right.

O'BRIEN: I said California before, but it's your wife who represents the state of California.

And Congressman Allen West is joining us.

Nice to have you all.

Let's get right into it. Today is the big day for the candidates because they're going to get up here and speak. It was interesting to hear -- who was saying it earlier on our panel, this is sort of the straw poll? The enthusiasm from the speech is really the straw poll before the straw poll.

Do you agree with that?

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: Yes, I do. And it will be interesting to see since Ron Paul is not going to be hear speaking if that enthusiasm will be here, because normally he wins these CPAC straw polls. But this is a great opportunity for each one of these candidates to make their case at this great gathering. I think it's the largest that we've had in quite some time.

O'BRIEN: What's going on with the Tea Party? When you look -- and I think we have a graphic of this. Tea Party in Iowa went for Santorum, 29 percent. Ah, but New Hampshire, went for Romney, 41 percent. But wait, South Carolina, went for Gingrich at 45 percent. Back to Florida, went for Romney, at 41 percent, and Nevada as well went for Romney at 47 percent.

Is the Tea Party all over the map and within the Tea Party, there's no coalescing around a candidate?

WEST: Well, I think when you look at the Tea Party, it's much like Steve McQueen's movie, "The Blob." They're kind of different state to state. I mean, there's some energy that show up and there really is no centralized organization and structure to it. So, each organization in its respective state or even north Florida down to south Florida can differ.

So, think that's an interesting part of it. The candidates have to appeal to all of those different facets.

O'BRIEN: Your husband clearly has said and has been defending Mitt Romney all morning. Do you have a dog in the fight? Are you also a Romney supporter?

REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: I am a huge Romney supporter.

O'BRIEN: So what do you think he has to say today in the speech? Because it seems like there has to be an emotional connection to the audience or maybe he's not going to win the straw poll which would really -- could be problematic down the road.

BONO MACK: I think the number one issue without a doubt for all of us is that he's the one to beat Obama. I think today should be a unifying message, that we're all in this together. That the one over arching issue is taking out this administration. I think Mitt should deliver and can deliver that speech very well to talk about whether you're unifying the Tea Party or non-Tea Party Republicans. I mean, California and Floridians, it's all the same thing.

I think Mitt can unify the party and look at how we're going to take out Obama. That should be the speech.

O'BRIEN: He's focusing on earmarks when he tries to attack Santorum. So I have two questions out of that. One, is there a risk to the attack? You know, as we were talking about earlier, kill the guy with the ball I think was the metaphor. Somebody gets to the top of the hill, everybody else pummels that person.

WEST: Dodge ball.

O'BRIEN: Dodge ball. Is that your metaphor?

MACK: Yes, dodge ball.

O'BRIEN: You know, so, number one, is there a risk in going negative? Now, it's Santorum's turn to have a target on his back. And Mitt Romney is going to pour tons of dollars into trying to take Rick Santorum out? Is there a risk to that?

MACK: You know, first of all, I don't know how we've gotten to the point where any time you describe a difference between you and your candidate, that that is somehow a negative attack.

O'BRIEN: Oh, come on. You don't think this has been a negative attack?

MACK: I think the voters, they so want to understand who the candidates are and maybe one of the explanations about how the -- you know, in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, different candidates are winning the Tea Party or the conservative movement is because these messages continue to flow as Congressman West said, "The Blob". You know, they continue to flow. I don't think --

O'BRIEN: But you seriously cannot tell me that you don't think this has been a negative campaign where you have these colleagues calling each other a liar?

MACK: Absolutely. That's different.

O'BRIEN: Google. Google campaign and negative and come up with 50 more words.

MACK: That's different than talking about a record that is different.

O'BRIEN: Agree.

MACK: Absolutely. Coming out and saying this person is a liar, the most untrue candidate, or -- you know, those things, that should not be part of this dialogue. Pointing out differences between candidates is important. It's how the public, it's how the voters have the opportunity to decide between different candidates.

And if you think that one candidate is going to run ads saying this other candidate is just like me, that's not going to happen.

BONO MACK: We couldn't even do that.

(LAUGHTER)

BONO MACK: It wouldn't fly for you also.

O'BRIEN: It would be an interesting race as well. I get it. I'm, you know, I'm not a politician, but I'm not completely naive in how it works. It has been incredibly negative. And you also have seen tied to that negativity, it looks like a slide for Mitt Romney along support for independents.

I want to play a little bit of what Rick Santorum said in response to sort of the piling on about earmarks that he's gotten from the Romney camp.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At the time when I was supporting them, so was Governor Romney and so was just about everybody else, and, you know, that was something that I think we all saw the error of our ways and have changed our position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Is the earmark thing going to stick, do you think?

WEST: Well, I think as you look at how we're moving in Congress right now, as a matter of fact, we're going to bring a highway bill up to the House floor that for the first time I think in quite some years has no earmarks. So I think that that is a delineator if we're talking about having fiscal responsibility, restore it here and becoming good stewards of the American taxpayer dollar.

So, I think it's important to bring up. But most important, these candidates have to start talking about the contrast of their vision to the vision of the president right now and the direction that they want to see this country go in. I think there has been a semblance of a food fight that we have to move away from. Let's talk about the issues. Let's talk about the things that are important.

One thing that none of the candidates talked about when they were down in Florida was the fact that we have a Chinese made oil rig that is now 66 miles off the coast of Florida that's going to be doing drilling deeper than Deepwater Horizon. This is something that Mr. Salazar has provided technical advice and guidance to, but yet we have the president who won't allow the Keystone XL pipeline coming from Canada.

So, that's a great contrast that they should have been able to connect with the voters in Florida on that they kind of missed because they were getting into this food fight. So, that's what I'd like to see them do.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you a personal question? And now that we're on national TV, you have to say yes. You represent the state of California. You represent the state of Florida. That requires you to go back to your home districts for a large amount of time and, you know, meet with your constituents.

You're running for the Senate. So if you, in fact, win your Senate race for the state of Florida, you'll be on a different senate schedule than your wife who's a congresswoman in the state of California. How do the logistics work out on that?

BONO MACK: It's -- go ahead. I defer to him often.

MACK: I was just saying, it works how all marriages work. I understand my place and my role and when it comes to our calendar -- yes, dear.

O'BRIEN: And she rolls her eyes.

BONO MACK: He's trying to get away with this nonsense. It's not true.

We've done the math. I think we spend more time together than our colleagues do and their wives or spouses are in the district or even in Washington because you're always coming and going. So, it seems to work out well. We understand the business and what we're going through. So, I don't know, it works pretty well.

MACK: Yes. The point is that on weekends she goes to California, I go back to Florida. We've been doing this for four years. It actually works out pretty well.

And like she said, because we're working here in Washington, we get to see each other more than most members of Congress get to see their spouse. So, it works out pretty well.

O'BRIEN: I thought traveling a lot helped keep my marriage alive. I'm kidding. Just kidding, honey.

WEST: Same here, 22 years in the military. I mean, it does help.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

All right. We got to take a short break. We're going to take a break to listen to our other headlines and Christine Romans has a look at those headlines this morning.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Just in to CNN right now: an Obama administration source tells us a decision on the contraceptive controversy. A compromise of some sort will happen, quote, "likely today". This as two senators have introduced a bill that would reverse the Obama administration's requirement for religiously affiliated employers to provide birth control coverage to their female workers.

Vice President Biden says the White House is willing to seek a suitable compromise, but that hasn't stopped the Catholic network EWTN from filing a lawsuit to block this measure.

A Republican lawmaker in charge of the House Financial Services Committee is under investigation for possible insider trading violations. "The Washington Post" reports investigators are looking into some suspicious trades on Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus' financial disclosure forms.

CNN has called in to the congressman for a comment. So far, no response.

A prosecution witness in the UVA lacrosse murder trial said he saw defendant George Huguely with his arms around the neck of his then-girlfriend Yardley Love just a few months before Love was found beaten to death. Witness says Love screamed "Help me" before she managed to struggle fee. The trial continues today.

Desperate times for the U.S. Postal Service. They're running out of cash. Postal officials say they lost $3.3 billion in the final quarter of 2011 and they expect to be insolvent by October unless Congress authorizes cuts in facilities and employees.

Minding your business this morning, U.S. stocks futures are pointing to a lower open this morning. Renewed concerns about Greece going into default, European Union leaders say the austerity plan proposed by the Greek government, it might not be enough to secure the next installment of bailout money from the E.U.

Your a.m. house call this morning. A cancer drug may offer hope for Alzheimer's. Scientists say mega doses of bexarotene, a drug used to treat skin cancer, it erased Alzheimer's disease in mice. Researchers say the drug might not work on people, but they hope to try it out on healthy humans within two months.

OK. Questionable moral character, illegal drug user. Just some of the characterizations you'll find in the FBI's newly released Steve Jobs file. The agency compiled the 1991 file when Jobs was being considered for an appointment in the Bush administration. One more tidbit from the file: Jobs high school grade point average was 2.65 on a 4.0 scale. Think about that.

The file can be read in its entirety on the FBI Web site, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, that gives hope to millions of students around the globe, doesn't it?

ROMANS: Sure, it does.

O'BRIEN: A 2.65 and you can go on to become Steve Jobs.

ROMANS: Only in America.

O'BRIEN: All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING -- only in America. That's correct.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT: five days of shelling. No signs of it stopping. We're going to talk about the crisis in Syria which is growing louder by the minute. We are live with the latest developments on that story straight ahead.

And Republicans say President Obama flip flopped on the super PAC issues, but the president's side says, no, we're helping small donors. We're going to be joined by a member of the Obama campaign, straight ahead, to explain that.

And this is no regular flash mob. It's Delta flight attendants busting loose. I love this. Hilarious. All over the country. We'll explain why, straight ahead.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back after this commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We begin with violence that's escalating in Syria. Another 25 deaths to report in Syria's northern city of Aleppo. 137 people killed yesterday in Homs. Ivan Watson is live from Istanbul, Turkey, with us. There's a little bit of a delay. Ivan, what's the latest?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. The violence spread to Syria's second city of Aleppo this morning with at least two major explosions shaking that city outside of two headquarters of different wings of the security services there. Syrian state TV reporting at least 25 people were killed. More than 100 wounded in what the Syrian government is describing as terrorist attacks.

Now, Aleppo was a city that's largely been spared the violence that is destroying other cities and towns across Syria. We've spoken with members of the defector soldier movement that's fighting against the Syrian government that calls itself the free Syrian army. Getting conflicting accounts from them, Soledad, as to whether any of their members were in the presence of these security officers when the bombs went off.

They are denying responsibility for the explosions. Meanwhile, the assault on that beleaguered besieged city of Homs where hundreds of civilians have been killed over the course of the last week, that continues. Residents telling us that rockets were lobbed into the city again at dawn this morning and continued throughout the day.

Doctors, activists making impassioned desperate appeals for help from the international community, something to put a stop to the violence there.

Meanwhile, we're hearing from diplomats and different governments around the world about plans for some kind of friends of Syria international meeting, perhaps, to be held within two weeks to try to come up with some kind of roadmap to try to deal with this escalating increasingly deadly crisis which has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people over the last ten months - Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, goodness. Looking at these pictures, Ivan, while you're talking, been showing the damage to the city of Homs, it's remarkable. Thank you for that update. We appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Gabrielle Giffords House seat is up for grab at this point. Her wounded aid is planning on taking her place. We'll talk about his chances straight ahead.

And Apple is ready to unveil the next generation iPad. Going to happen next month. Makes sense since I just got the iPad 2. We'll tell you what all the buzz is about. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. I like this. Owl City. "Fireflies." Eric's pick this morning. And when we in for break, Connie Mack had -- Tom Petty, right?

REP. CONNIE MACK, (R) FLORIDA: Tom Petty.

O'BRIEN: From the great state of Florida.

MACK: That's right. Gainesville, Florida.

O'BRIEN: Nice pace. I like that. Everybody learns as we go.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Always. He's a politician. Come on. Come on.

Let's talk a little bit about where we go after CPAC. First of all, do you think CPAC really decides or defines anything, and then, what happens next after CPAC?

MACK: Well, I think, it will be a defining CPAC. I mean, I think what we've heard from everybody is that the candidates now have an opportunity to connect with the Tea Party and with the voters, and this is the place to do it.

O'BRIEN: If they can do it, it could be defining.

MACK: But this is what they all have to try to do. I mean, everyone of the candidates has to connect to this Tea Party movement and to people who said, look, we're tired of big government. We don't want just a little bit less of government. We want to control the size and scope of government and bring it back to what the founders had envisioned. And is the opportunity to make that case.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let me play a little bit earlier. It was Steve King was joining us. Congressman Steve King was with us. Let's play a little chunk of what he said in our last hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. STEVE KING, (R) IOWA: So, as they pulled each other down off that pedestal, Tim Pawlenty and then Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, and it went on and on, Mitt Romney kind of hung around at the summit and never really claimed it until New Hampshire, which was his territory, anyway, home team advantage. When they went to South Carolina, then you saw the Gingrich money torch Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, he's talking about the negative ads and sort of the kill the man with the ball sort of theory. How damaging do you think this is short term, Eric, and then long term?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I think short term, there's an enthusiasm gap that we see play out in every county that has had blustered (ph) on Mitt Romney's (INAUDIBLE) with increased turnout he's lost with the exception of New Hampshire. The base is fractured. There's a lot on the line at CPAC, probably, more than any other CPAC in recent memory.

And that, if they don't connect here today, that's going to be a big headline. If they do connect here, that's going to be a big headline, particularly, for Mitt Romney. Moving forward into the general election, if you have a base of people still licking wounds, bitter in how their guy was defeated by another guy through negative advertising or whatnot, they're going to vote against Barack Obama.

But will they go door to door? Will they give money? Will they make phone calls? And will the general election campaign be as negative as the primary which will also turn off a bit (ph) in voters?

RYAN LIZZA, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: You know, it is worth pointing out that Romney, he has some serious strengths in this campaign. His financial, organizational. And, he's been a slow and steady candidate the whole way through. Every time one of these challengers rises up in the polls, the polls are very, very sensitive to negative information about these guys.

O'BRIEN: He has many more self-inflicted wounds than the other candidates, that's for sure.

LIZZA: But he's been through this before. He's been through with Bachmann, and Perry, and Cain, Gingrich, right? And I don't see how Santorum is going to end up any differently.

ERICKSON: Here's the issue for Mitt Romney, ultimately, and I'm not a fan of his, but ultimately --

O'BRIEN: You said every time. We got it. We got it. Congressman Mack is like got it.

MACK: We got it. Yes.

ERICKSON: If you go back to 2008, the moment Mitt Romney began to be vetted by the press, suddenly, Mike Huckabee rose, and then, it was over. He's never really gone through the one-on-one vetting process that the other candidates have, because in this political season, we've been looking for the alternative to Mitt Romney.

Suddenly, the spotlight is on him in a way it has been, and it started right after Florida with you, and we're seeing these errors, his campaign (ph). You know, for a guy who's a great turn around artist, I've been thinking in the last month, why isn't he turning around his campaign.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about Jerry Sandusky. He is back in court this morning because his neighbors say he needs to be confined indoors. Sandusky is arguing for more freedom in the court. We're going to hear what's going to happen there.

Plus, this just into CNN, there could be a compromise on the table in this contraception controversy we've been talking about. The White House announced that moments ago that they're going to work with religious groups. We'll see exactly what those details of that deal could be, and the Obama campaign's response coming up.

First though, a track -- oh, Ryan. finally, Ryan. We've been ignoring you all morning.

LIZZA: Yes. I was starting to worry that my taste was just that bad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, don't -- everyone gets very personally nervous about it. It's not about that. Arcade fire, ready to start.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT STRODE, COMMUNITY CRUSADER: To get on my bike and go ride up in the mountains really just brings peace. In my drug and alcohol use, it was the opposite. I got into it pretty young. By the time I was 15, I was using pretty serious drugs. When I got sober, I lost my group of friends because they were still out drinking and using.

I got into boxing, triathlon, climbing. I had this new group of friends. I had completely redefined myself. So, I thought, how can I give this to other people? I'm Scott Strode, and I want to help people find a better life being sober.

TRACY ALLEN, DENVER, CO: Welcome to Friday night climbing. It's good to see all you here.

Phoenix Multisport offers about 50 events a week. All the programs are free to anybody that has 48 hours sober.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm good, Zach.

ALLEN: You see that you're capable of whatever you put your mind to. We have this common connection. So, it's easy to make new friends. We do bike rides, hiking, triathlon training, strength training. It really is just a new community of folks to hang out with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an example of hitting rock bottom. I had a heroin overdose. They had to jump start me with the paddles.

STRODE: Roll it over, drill it in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going out biking, boxing, hitting the bag really fills the void. Phoenix is the best sport I could imagine having.

STRODE: We're having fun and we're proud of being sober. So, come out and go climbing with us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. It's time to get to the headlines. And Christine Romans has those for us this morning.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Later this morning the attorney for former Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, will ask a judge to grant the accused child sex offender more freedom while he's out on bail. Now Neighbors want the accused child sex offender confined to the inside of his home. They're complaining that from his deck he can look out and watch school children in a playground that is adjacent to his house.

The army in Mexico makes a huge drug bust seizing more than 15 tons of methamphetamine. Authorities raided a laboratory hidden in a remote area. Soldiers also found materials used to make the drug.

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is back in Washington this morning. She will visit the Oval Office to witness President Obama signing the final piece of legislation she sponsored. It's called the Ultra Light Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act. It gives law enforcement more authority to combat drug trafficking on borders.

And a former aid to Giffords who was also injured in that January 2011 shooting, he is now running for her old congressional seat. Ron Barber told CNN's Piers Morgan that Giffords asked him to run.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON BARBER (D), CANDIDATE FOR HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Very hard to say no to Congresswoman Giffords. I've never said no to her in our life as we've worked together over the last five years. But I did go away from that conversation and gave it considerable thought and looked at the pros and cons and finally I was able to say to her, Congresswoman, I will do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. Watching your money this morning. U.S. stock futures down across the board right now. Investors feeling concerned about Greece and whether it can secure more bailout money from the European Union. The longer these bailout negotiations take the more the volatility we're likely to see in the markets worldwide. IPad 3 rumors, the digital blog, all things -- all things D says Apple will announce the next generation iPad next month, potentially at the -- at the South by Southwest Conference. It's rumored to have a better display, a better processor, better graphics. It's also rumored to have a better camera. Lots of rumors. And something that a lot of customers have been asking for.

All right. $310 million, that's the jackpot for tomorrow's Power Ball drawing. It's the fifth highest prize in the game's history. If one winner chooses the lump sum it'll be worth more than $193 million. And if our office pool turns out, we each get $4 million a piece.

All right. Tearing up the terminals. Delta Airline employees get their dance on in a series of flash mobs. Workers at airports in Atlanta, New York, and Detroit, they all got in on the fun. Take a look.

That's cool. That's really cool. See, you can't do that on a plane. Airport work, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: No, you can't. No, you can't. You know, and I like that they put the good dancers in the front. That was smart because bad dancers should be hidden in the back. That's a good thing.

You know what I love about that, too, is that usually when we're talking about flight attendants, and service on airlines, it's some terrible story about some conflict with somebody and now like this is just cute. Perfect. Go, Delta.

ROMANS: Yes, Alec Baldwin was nowhere around the flash mob, I'm told.

O'BRIEN: Good -- yes. Yes. But we've moved away from that story. We've moved on to this story. That's a good thing.

All right, Christine, thank you.

New this hour, a source is telling CNN that the Obama administration is going to announce a compromise on the contraception controversy. The announcement is expected likely today, we're told.

President Obama has been criticized for this ruling on contraception. And the president certainly has been under fire here at CPAC, full of conservatives, so no surprise in that.

Listen to what Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The president's job is to unite the country, not divide it. His job is to bridge differences, not aggravate them. To encourage success, not condemn it. And honor and embrace the free exercise of religion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The conversation moved on to talk about religious freedom. So here to talk about the other side, we have Stephanie Cutter, she is the Obama deputy campaign manager. She's in Chicago this morning.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it. Can you give me some details on this story? Here's a little bit of what we know which I kind of mentioned to everybody. Likely -- attempt to accommodate the religious groups that we have been hearing from who in many cases are very, very angry. What's the plan as you know it so far?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, first of all, good morning. You know, the president made clear when we announced the contraception rule to ensure that all women could get access to contraception with no out-of-pocket costs that he wanted to work with everybody to ensure that we could meet the goal of ensuring women get access to this important preventive care with no out-of- pocket costs in a way that respects religious believes.

Twenty-eight states are already doing this. You know, looking at how those states accommodate religious institution, it's not churches because churches are already exempt from this, but looking at how different institution, Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals are already dealing with this on a state level has been very important to the president.

And we want to find a way to accommodate all of these institutions so --

O'BRIEN: So how do you navigate that?

CUTTER: -- the ultimate goal is met.

O'BRIEN: OK.

CUTTER: I'm sorry --

O'BRIEN: But that seems to be the rub, right? That seems to be the rub, forgive me for tripping over you there. The access part of it and the no out of pocket costs, right? That seems to be where the line is going to be.

Is it possible, in fact, to make everyone happy in a compromise?

CUTTER: Well, I think that it is possible because it's already happening, Soledad. It's happening in 28 states. It's happening in the state of Massachusetts. When Governor Romney was governor there women had access and continued to have access to contraception at all institutions.

The exclusion there is the same exclusion that the federal requirement includes. A number of other states don't have any religious exclusion so there is a way to find common ground here, and ultimately reach the goal. Remember, the goal here is to ensure women, regardless of where they work, get access to contraception to keep them healthy with no out-of-pocket costs. We think we can meet that goal.

O'BRIEN: So I would imagine that some of the goal, too, is to move the conversation certainly in a political forum at a very important time in an electoral season away from religious freedom, which is really what everybody is talking about and kind of get this off the table because it's gotten a lot of -- a lot of publicity in a bad way.

First I want to play for you a little bit of what some of the people here at CPAC have been saying and then I want to talk about what some of the Democrats themselves have been saying about this contraception ruling. So let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Government shouldn't be telling these institutions what to do and they certainly shouldn't be oppressing them.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This attack on religious freedom cannot and will not stand.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: This administration is assaulting the Catholic Church and people of faith across our nation by forcing their pro-abortion agenda on religious hospitals, on charities, and on employees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: OK. Here's a list of the Democrats in the Senate who have asked the president also to reconsider. Senator Carper, Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Ben Nelson, Senator Claire McCaskill, Senator Bob Manchin, Senator Bob Casey. Would the president say, yes, what he has done was a mistake and now he's backing away from a mistake or would you spin that a different way?

CUTTER: Well, first of all, I want to address some of the comments that we heard at CPAC. I'm assuming those are the comments that I heard. This is not abortion. This is birth control. This is the pill which women have been taking for generations. It is not controversial, 99 percent of all women have taken it, 98 percent of Catholic women have taken it. The debate on this is over.

Now it's how we ensure women aren't locked out of this important preventive care because of cost. $600 a year does lock too many women out. As far as the Democratic members that you mentioned who are asking the president to take a look at how we can accommodate some of these concerns, the president agrees. He agreed when we announced this rule, that's why we gave these institutions an additional year and a half before anything goes into place so we can talk to them and figure out how we can figure out a way to meet the goal.

Again the goal is to ensure women get this access in a way that's respectful of everybody's beliefs. And we think that we can do that.

O'BRIEN: Last question for you and I want to ask about super PACs. You've said the entire purpose of the president's decision to embrace Priorities USA, which is the president's super PAC, the super PAC that supports President Obama. You said the entire purpose was to protect the priorities of small donors. That seems contradictory to me. Can you explain that?

CUTTER: Well, I think it's a little different. It's to ensure that the voices of small donors don't get washed out as a result of Citizens United. You know after Citizens United we saw a huge wave of money, special interest money, corporate money, wealthy individual's money going to the Republican super PACs.

I mean just look at Mitt Romney's super PAC. Tens of millions of dollars from under 200 people. You know that's a stark difference from what's happening for the president's campaign. More than a million people on average giving less than $250. So we want to make sure that those voices don't get washed out in this debate. We want to ensure that we can not go into this election unilaterally disarmed and we can protect priorities not just of small donors but of the progress that we've made of this country.

We're not going to go into an election where a half billion is committed for one singular purpose, to defeat the president of the United States. We're going to go in fighting to ensure that we can protect the progress that we've made.

O'BRIEN: Stephanie Cutter is the Obama deputy campaign manager. Nice to have you with us. Thanks. We appreciate it.

CUTTER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: And still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, you bet, the victim of a vicious beating. Have you guys seen this videotape? My goodness. Young man, they caught it on surveillance camera, being beaten by a gang shouting anti-guy slurs. This young man said he wasn't even planning to go to the police until the video became public and now Brandon White is demanding justice. We're going to talk to him live up next.

And then Rick Santorum apparently not that comfortable with females on the front lines of combat. We'll play what he said about that. I'm not sure we fully understand it. And then we'll ask the question, is this going to be risky when it comes to women voters. Those stories ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We brought this story to you yesterday. The young man brutally attacked for being gay is speaking out. And we wanted to check in with him.

I've got to show you this videotape, but I want to warn you, as we told you yesterday, it's hard to watch. You'll see here 20-year- old Brandon White walks out of a store and then, look at that, he's just attacked. This is taking place in Atlanta.

It turns out Brandon says he wasn't even going to report the attack until the tape made it online and he said he was embarrassed and humiliated. But ultimately he decided that he was encouraged to come forward. Brandon White joins us this morning.

Brandon, thanks for being with us. I've got to tell you, I've seen this tape a bunch of times. It is so hard for me to watch. Is it hard for you to watch it as well?

BRANDON WHITE, ATTACKED IN ATLANTA: Yes. When I first seen it, it was very hard to watch but, you know, as you keep watching it, you keep watching it and you see how they don't have any feelings for anybody so it was hard but now I'm dealing with it.

O'BRIEN: Yes. OK, so then take me back a little bit. You walk out of the store. Did you have any idea that these guys were waiting outside that store to basically jump and pummel you?

WHITE: No, I didn't. I was actually on the phone. I was calling my grandma because I needed to ask her some questions. And I come out the store and, bam, there it was. I had no clue it was coming.

O'BRIEN: What were they saying to you? I know they were screaming things that were anti-gay. What were they saying?

WHITE: You know those are things that I wouldn't want to repeat, especially out loud where other people can hear it. They were very harmful words. They hurt my feelings as well.

O'BRIEN: So then I was surprised -- and I fully understand that. That makes a lot of sense to not go ahead and repeat them, but I was surprised to hear that you felt like you shouldn't go forward after being hammered for 30 seconds or more, that the first thing you didn't do was, you know, to run to the cops. Why not?

WHITE: You know, as I've been telling everyone, everybody handles situations different and I handled my situation different than other people. You know, I -- I let it blow over.

But once it hit viral, and once it hit the news, you know, you want to have your opinion -- you want to voice what really happened. You want to have your say. You don't want to keep quiet. You want to let people know how it happened and possibly find out why it happened.

O'BRIEN: How are you doing now? I mean, it looked like such a brutal beating. But you look like at least externally you're doing -- you're doing ok. How are you doing both on the inside and on the outside?

WHITE: You know, I'm doing much better, I really am. But now as the case is coming toward where they're coming up with arrests, you know, now is the mental part. How do I deal with it from the mental part? So that's why I -- O'BRIEN: Yes and how are you going to deal with it from the mental part? What do you do?

WHITE: You know I actually have a therapist and me and my therapist are working through it. She's helping me deal with it where I can understand it.

O'BRIEN: There are a lot of people today who are saying you are incredibly brave. It's a gang. And they were -- it looked like they were trying to kill you. Do you feel like you're brave or something else?

WHITE: You know, I really don't want to say I was brave, but I do feel like I was a stand-up person because I came forward. After everything happened, I came forward.

I decided to talk about the situation because, as I say, I want to see other people that have had this happen to them, I want to see them come forward as well. We shouldn't have to hide who we are just to please other people.

O'BRIEN: Brandon White, we're going to watch this case, of course. Thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it; nice to have you on the show.

WHITE: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about Rick Santorum's comments. He talked about women on the front lines of combat. Is that in step with how female voters feel? We'll talk about that on the other side of this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Now this, people, is music. Marvin Sap, "Shout Unto God." This is how I like to start my morning.

UM1: Serious radio --

O'BRIEN: I know, I really do just need to move right into a music show and forget about this whole political stuff, blah, blah, blah on politics. And we got lots to talk to about politics, though.

It's Rick Santorum who has the momentum now as he comes into CPAC. He'll be speaking here later today. But he also has a target on his back, from your guy, Mitt Romney -- certainly he's going to be targeting his biggest rival right now.

I want to play a little bit about what Santorum has to say about contraception and also women in the military. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That has nothing to do with the right of a woman. This has to do with the right of the Church not to spend their resources in a way that's inconsistent with their faith.

I do have concerns about women in front line combat. I think that can be a very compromising situation where -- where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Ok. So I never know what he says about other types of emotions. Let's skip that for a minute and go to the first part. On contraception, clearly as soon as this ruling came out conservatives were all over it and really pointing to, I guess, interference by the White House in religious freedom. Now it looks like it's going to change.

RYAN LIZZA, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": I mean, if the White House -- if this compromise is something that's politically acceptable and sort of tones down the rhetoric on the right, it will be a victory for Obama. But this issue of contraception and re-litigating women in the army, that's deadly in a general election for a Republican candidate. There's already a gender gap.

O'BRIEN: Do you think the contraception issue --

LIZZA: The big swing vote is highly female.

REP. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: I think what the Obama Administration did by forcing its position on the church will be a huge issue.

O'BRIEN: Churches are exempt. It's the church organizations and the institutions, like hospitals, schools.

MACK: It's unconstitutional. They know it. This is a pattern by this administration. That is going to hurt Obama in his re- election more than anything is this overreach into all of our lives.

O'BRIEN: Unless there's a compromise, which it looks like they're trying to get to.

Let me ask about the second thing that Rick Santorum said about --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emotions.

O'BRIEN: I've got to read it because I think you're right. "Types of emotions that are involved"; people may not do something in the best interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved." I'm not even sure what that means; now that could be deadly in a general election.

LIZZA: Absolutely.

I mean that's -- if you're sitting here at CPAC and you're trying to figure out who's the guy that's going to beat Barack Obama, you're going to be scratching your head saying do I want to spend -- does Erick Erickson want to spend the general election defending Rick Santorum's talk about women --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Fighting over these issues instead of jobs.

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk about it in our "End Point" coming up.

Back in just a moment, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Time for "End Point"; it's how we wrap up the show. Congressman, I'm going to let you start. What's your big take away for the morning?

MACK: Big take away is that the administration, the Obama Administration continues to inject itself into the private lives of the citizens and contrary to the constitution. And tonight at CPAC the candidates connecting to the voters is a big issue and we'll watch and see how the candidates do.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We'll watch it, too.

LIZZA: Take away is I support what the CPAC is as conservative as the Republican Party has become. Remember, we still have to put together a coalition to win this nomination and to win the general election. And the only one that's showing that he's able to do that so far is Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: Final two seconds go to you, Erick.

ERICKSON: The Obama Administration has managed to unite the Republicans better than they've been able to unite themselves over this contraception issue. Can the candidates now finally -- can the voters unite behind one of them.

O'BRIEN: You know what that sound means. It's 9:00, we have to hand it over to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips. They begin right now.

We'll be back here on Monday morning at 7:00 a.m. Hey Kyra, good morning.