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Whitney Houston Autopsy Complete; Obama Budget Plan; Houston Autopsy Done; Arab League Steps Up Pressure On Syria

Aired February 13, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

And we're bringing you the news from A to Z. It's 5:00 in the East. Let's get started.

Big news over the weekend: the death of Whitney Houston. Her autopsy has now been completed but we're not going to know about the results because there are still weeks of tests ahead with the toxicology, and there are some new reports in the drugs that were found at the scene of where she died.

SAMBOLIN: So, if you watched the Grammys last night, you know that it was a soulful tribute to Whitney Houston. One performer there still too shaken up to sing. We're going to also talk about all the winners from last night.

BANFIELD: And a massive budget battle. We're going to have an election preview. It seems to be.

The president is unveiling his final spending plan before the 2012 election today. And you know what? It's not even delivered to Capitol Hill and the GOP is already on it.

What are they going to say about it and how do we know this will be the preview of the general election campaign?

SAMBOLIN: And Lin-sanity. Look at this guy very carefully. Knicks new sensation, Jeremy Lin, the talk of the Big Apple. He's making headlines on the other side of the globe as well.

BANFIELD: Yes. Keep your eyes on that one. This is one of those sensations that just sort of came out of nowhere.

SAMBOLIN: Did you know about him before they wrote about him this weekend?

BANFIELD: Never heard a thing about him.

SAMBOLIN: I didn't either. I'm totally shocked.

BANFIELD: I don't know a lot about basketball.

SAMBOLIN: I do. I couldn't believe I didn't know this guy. Wait until you hear the details. Absolutely amazing.

BANFIELD: It's a fun story even if you're not a basketball fan.

But we've got a lot to cover this morning. So, let's get right to one of the top stories, of course, the death of a music legend.

You can't not know about Whitney Houston -- music lover or not. But the story becomes a mystery, how did she die? The autopsy now complete as we said. But just exactly what might have killed her could take weeks to find out. That's the status of the toxicology results, they do take time. And this report could take up to eight weeks for us to find out.

SAMBOLIN: Meantime, sources tell "The Los Angeles Times" that detectives are looking into whether or not she drowned. She was found in a bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hilton, and TMZ is reporting medical officials found water in her lungs. But the coroner would not comment on that. And Radar Online says police found prescription drugs, Valium and a sleeping medication in her hotel room as well.

David Mattingly has the latest from Los Angeles from us.

You know, if we talk about the toxicology reports, I know that in Michael Jackson's case, which was, you know, the last big icon to die, those toxicology reports took three months for us to actually get the results.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And we're looking for at least a month. We're talking six to eight weeks before the toxicology reports come back in this case.

There were so many reporters gathered here yesterday when the coroner came out to make a statement, so many questions about what kind of drugs were found at the scene, what kind of drugs might have been involved in this case, and everyone walking away with very few answers at all.

Listen now to what the coroner had to say.


CHIEF ED WINTER, LOS ANGELES COUNTY CORONER'S OFFICE: I know there's reports that she maybe was drowned or did she overdose. But, no, we won't make a final determination until all the tests are in. But there was no visible signs of trauma, and foul play is not suspected at this time.


MATTINGLY: Now, you heard what the coroner there was able to confirm, that there were no visible signs of trauma, no foul play is suspected. And earlier, the coroner did also confirm that Whitney Houston was found in her bathtub in her hotel room. That was reported earlier by police.

Paramedics did attempt to perform CPR when they arrived. They were unable to revive her there at the scene.

But again, all these reports about prescription drugs being found at the scene, none of that -- absolutely none of that confirmed yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: David, there were reports that her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was taken to the hospital. Do you know anything about that?

MATTINGLY: A family member has confirmed to us she was taken to the hospital and released. It wasn't serious. She was described as being overwhelmed. And that was very understandable considering the circumstances. But no details really about inside Houston's family.

We know her former husband, Bobby Brown, did have to leave the stage during a performance. He got very emotional during a performance on Saturday night and then he had to cancel a performance on Sunday. So, everyone here absolutely reeling by this sudden news.

SAMBOLIN: We do understand he has arrived in Los Angeles. I'm sure we're going to hear much more from you. David Mattingly, live from L.A. -- thank you very much for that report.

BANFIELD: For anybody who is watching the Grammys, they certainly put together quite a tribute and it was really last minute, too. One of the more memorable moments coming from Jennifer Hudson when she sang Whitney's biggest hit. Take a listen.


SAMBOLIN: Listen to that song forever, right?

BANFIELD: Unbelievable.

SAMBOLIN: It's Hudson singing "I Will Always Love You." And the host of the show, LL Cool J started the ceremony with a prayer for Whitney.


LL COOL J, ENTERTAINER: Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us. Today our thoughts are with her mother, her daughter, and all of her loved ones. And although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit and to have her lasting legacy of music to cherish and share forever. Amen.


BANFIELD: It's interesting to see the audience reacting like that. By the way, another huge music legend Chaka Khan backed out of the planned performance last night. Just saying it was too soon for her to do that.

And this is what she tweeted, "As I grieve the loss of my friend and, quote, 'little sister,' I don't feel it appropriate to perform at this time. Continue to pray for the family."

And you probably will be wondering what was going on with Whitney's ex-husband Bobby Brown. He was performing and sobbing on a stage, he went ahead with a planned concert with New Edition, his old group, in Mississippi.

Look at this video take on the night of her death. He reportedly broke down backstage before this show. He wasn't even on for the opening song, but he came out later, apparently quite emotional, crying several times on stage and then shouted out to the crowd, "I love you, Whitney," and asked for prayers for his family.

SAMBOLIN: You want to honor your commitments, right, as an artist, but that's got to be a very, very difficult moment. So, he skipped last night's concert in Nashville. Instead, he flew to Los Angeles to comfort his only child together with Whitney Houston, Bobbi Kristina.

Whitney Houston never forgot her New Jersey roots, and they won't forget her either. Every seat filled inside Newark's New Hope Baptist Church where Houston sang as a child, along with her mother Cissy Houston and her cousin Dionne Warwick.

BANFIELD: Flags flew at half staff at the school that was named after Whitney, Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts. That's in East Orange, New Jersey, where she went to school. Where she was born in Newark, the mayor, Cory Booker, said, quote, "A legend and great American artist and always one of Newark's and New Jersey's treasured daughters."

And the governor of New Jersey also weighing in -- Chris Christie, saying, "Whitney Houston was a true New Jersey treasure. Her terribly premature death is an awful loss."

SAMBOLIN: When I came in this morning, somebody asked me what is the first Whitney Houston song that you played right after. I said I didn't have to, because they were playing all over the place.

So, reliving one of Whitney Houston's finest moments, this was the first one I heard, the stunning rendition of the "The Star- Spangled Banner" of the Super Bowl in 1991.


SAMBOLIN: Everybody was talking about, that nobody ever sang it like that. It was the performance that moved a nation that was fighting the Persian Gulf War. Houston had planned a really different arrangement, with jazz chords and gospel rhythms. But the NFL really asked her to strip it down and she did. It shot to number one on the Billboard charts.

The Detroit Pistons played it on the JumboTron before their basketball game on Sunday as well.

BANFIELD: Look at that. I was just listening to that. Probably heard it a couple dozen times and each time goose bumps. It's just such -- you said no one had ever sung it like that and I don't think anyone ever will.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I wonder if they didn't have anybody there live singing that and that was part of the tribute, right, that she would do that.


SAMBOLIN: It's incredible moment.

All right. Ten minutes past the hour here.

At 6:30 this morning, we're talking to "Rolling Stone" magazine editor Joe Levy. He has the details on the death investigation, her final performance, and, of course, her lasting legacy.

BANFIELD: And that legacy is what is so critical in this whole story.

Switching gears now, another big day in politics. In just a few hours, the White House is going to release President Obama's budget for the next fiscal year -- expected to ignite a brand new war in Washington over some old issues that just won't seem to go away like tax hikes for the wealthy and payroll tax holiday for millions of working families out there.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans is in Atlanta, at the CNN Center this morning.

Christine, let's about this. And what else is in his plan? Good morning to you.


Well, you know, they say a president's budget is sort of his blueprint or his, you know, wish list for how he'd like it to be. But don't forget that Congress has to pass these things. We know how his are going right now between the president and this Congress.

So, what has the president laid out there in an election year for what he wants? He wants spending cuts and in the end, by 2013, he says he would have the budget deficit below 3 percent of GDP. That's good, $4 trillion in cuts overall, but targeted spending increases in infrastructure and education spending.

He's really making what he looks like -- what looks like a play to the middle class, starting jobs on roads, extending, you know, airport projects, really trying to get some money out there in the economy.

Also, the Buffett Rule. How do you pay for this? You raise taxes on the wealthy.

One thing the Bush tax cuts would be allowed to expire for the wealthiest earners and something called the Buffett tax. You've heard of this, right? The Buffett rule. For everyone that has $1 million or more, that have to pay a 30 percent tax rate.

So, you would have this targeted spending on the middle class, but be paid for by taxing the rich, something the Republicans have said is an absolute nonstarter.

BANFIELD: Christine, it bears repeating because the payroll tax cut for those who it would apply to, not the wealthiest, what does it mean in real numbers for folks out there on their paychecks?

ROMANS: Well, it's interesting because you're getting that right now and you had it last year. You know, it's a few dollars, up to $40 a week in your paycheck, right? The president is also pushing out like trying to tell everyone that this is real money for you, if the payroll tax cut becomes permanent, something that this budget is set to contain.

Listen to what president said in his weekly radio address.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This tax cut is common sense. If you're a family making about $50,000 a year, this tax cut amounts to about $1,000 a year. That's about $40 in every paycheck.


ROMANS: The interesting thing about that payroll tax holiday is a lot of people, the studies show people say they haven't noticed the extra money in their paycheck but, boy, they would notice in this kind of economy if that money isn't in their paycheck. The president making that middle class cut again to try to say let's make this permanent. So, there you go.

SAMBOLIN: I've got to tell you, it was exciting to see the boost in education spending, if it materializes.

ROMANS: Yes. You know, the thing is, is that this is a country that we have to have long-term deficit reduction at the same time needing to make strategic improvements, right, in the American economy. How you do that is a huge ideological fight between Republicans and Democrats in an election year no less. So, we'll hear more about the president and his budget.

BANFIELD: Everyone has got their pet -- we've got news breaking about the space program and the cuts there too. So, everybody has their pet projects that they think are the most important. Christine, thanks.

SAMBOLIN: We miss you over here.

ROMANS: I know. I'll see you in a few minutes. Don't worry.


SAMBOLIN: It's chaos on the streets of Athens as Greek lawmakers approve another round of austerity measures. This was the scene outside the Greek parliament. Police are using tear gas and stun grenades to try and break up all of the protests. Dozens of people have been arrested.

BANFIELD: Lawmakers in Greece have approved some really deep budget cuts -- and while that might sound great, not so much on the street. It was really necessary according to many for the eurozone leaders to sign off on the $172 billion bailout that they want to hand over to that itty bit itty country.

Like I said, it may not be resonating on the streets where Matthew Chance is live, he's in Athens for us.

It looks fairly quiet behind you right now, Matthew. But it has been a mess there all weekend.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has. It's been utter chaos here on the streets of Athens. This is the main square outside the parliament building right behind me.

Tens of thousands of people last night on the streets protesting against these austerity measures which are deeply unpopular. Thousands clashed with the riot police, buildings were set ablaze. There were stun grenades fired, tear gas, the air was like full of this really choking gas, very difficult to breathe at many points throughout the evening. So unpopular and so much anger against these austerity measures.

You mentioned it may sound like a good thing. Well, from the point of view from the euro perhaps or the banks in Europe, it certainly is. There's been a positive reaction to it.

You got to balance that with the fact that ordinary Greeks have seen their country sink in terms of their living standards over the course of the past several years. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year- olds, get this, 48 percent. Now that's something that is truly, truly painful, and the last thing they want to hear is there are going to be more austerity cuts, more job losses, more wage cuts in the years ahead. So, that's why there was such anger tonight, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: You know, did they realize -- I mean, I was just reading over some of the numbers, and I knew it was bad where you were standing, but I did not know it was this bad, that Greece's debts are 160 percent of their GDP? I mean, that is off the rails, Matthew.

CHANCE: Yes. There's no doubt that Greece's debt problems are astronomical. They spent years borrowing way, way more at low interest rates than they could ever repay. You know, you speak to ordinary Greeks and they say, you know, give us 200 years to pay these debts of and it's not going to happen.

So, why are we trying? Why are we trying to couple these services when we know we're never going to pay this money back?

BANFIELD: That's fascinating, 48 percent unemployment. You know, we're talking about 8 percent being astronomical here. Matthew Chance, live in Athens for us this morning, thank you. Thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: Sixteen minutes past the hour.

Snowy, icy start of the work week in the South and Midwest. It is downright cold, Rob Marciano.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Winter is here, guys. Good morning, it's Monday in the middle of February, and we're finally getting weather like we should.

Here are pictures out of west Texas, Amarillo, Lubbock area seeing a decent amount of snow yesterday. Five, six inches in some spots. And that's enough to shut down roads and certainly cause a lot of accidents.

Similar scene last night through Kansas. Here's shots out of Wichita, where snow has been falling and some crews were out dealing with multiple car accidents in that state. And the snow now heading through Oklahoma, even parts of north Texas, getting into Arkansas as well.

Cold air has settled into the eastern third of the country. Don't have to tell you about that. It was a chilly weekend. And 20s right now as far south as the Florida Panhandle.

Here comes the moisture, all rain in parts of Louisiana, but just north of Dallas. We have a little bit of mixture. Across the Red River, we're getting into some snow. Winter storm warnings are posted for parts of Arkansas and here's the snowfall that we expect to see, four to six inches in some pots, but stretching all the way into Chicago.

And the good news with this system is it exits the mountains, we're looking at a decent amount of snow pack that continues to build thankfully out west.

New York, you got winds, some travel delays there in the morning, maybe some Dallas delays. And San Francisco and Los Angeles, your next round of Pacific storms heads into the West Coast.

Guys, back to you.

BANFIELD: Rob Marciano, thank you for that.

And still to come on EARLY START, have you heard of this? Lin- sanity? Lin-credible, Lin it to win it -- that was my own, I just made that one up. But this is the guy --

SAMBOLIN: Lin it to win it. It may be, Ash. It may catch on.

BANFIELD: It may catch on. His name is Jeremy Lin and if you don't know about him now, you need to know about him in the next segment. Stick around for it.

SAMBOLIN: If you have a little super star in the making, he gives those little guys hope. It's a great story.

All right. Two big wins for Mitt Romney this weekend, so why does it feel like he lost?

BANFIELD: And also, in Syria it just continues to get worse. Look at this. Tanks that are reportedly covered with civilians too as human shields and now the Arab League has made a decision. It's stepping in to say we need peacekeepers. Is it going to work, though?

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: That voice will linger with us forever. It is 21 minutes past 5:00. Time to check our top stories making news this morning.

And that is the top story. No sign of trauma or foul play in the death of singer Whitney Houston, but the Los Angeles coroner says it could take up to two months before an actual cause of death is known.

Whitney Houston's death is hanging or just was hanging over last night's Grammy Awards. Jennifer Hudson on stage performing just a chilling rendition of that most famous song, "I Will Always Love You."

And also, Adele in her first public performance since vocal cord surgery, really just capturing that auditorium, and also taking home six Grammy awards as well.

SAMBOLIN: Good for her.

BANFIELD: Fantastic.

SAMBOLIN: She looks great.

BANFIELD: Some non-Grammy news, and a completely departing from that story. In the Middle East, the Arab League convening over the weekend and now proposing a joint peacekeeping mission in Syria with the United Nations, while calling on its members to provide political and financial support to President Bashar al Assad's opposition.

SAMBOLIN: St. Louis police searching desperately for 14-year- old kidney transplant patient Brittany Jones. She is in grave danger without treatments, and she was last seen being unhooked from her I.V. but her father who then walked her out of the hospital.

And President Obama unveiling his 2013 budget today. The headlines, tax hikes for Americans making more than $250,000 a year. Fewer deductions for the wealthy, and a permanent college tax credit.

And gas prices, they're still rising. According to the Lundberg Survey, prices have climbed 12 cents a gallon since late January. The nationwide average now: $3.51 a gallon.

BANFIELD: Wait, late January is only -- not even two weeks ago. How does that happen? Like a penny every day.

All right. So, from the Big Apple to Beijing -- yes, basketball fans everywhere have come down with a raging case of what's being called Lin-sanity.

SAMBOLIN: It's just an amazing story, New York Knicks Jeremy Lin taking the NBA by storm from total obscurity to global sensation in a span of eight days.

Richard Roth with a Lin-incredible story.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeremy Lin is now a real-life urban legend, from last man on the New York Knicks bench to overnight star.

PABLO TORRE, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: What we're seeing in New York is something that I have never seen, and we haven't seen for generations really.

ANNOUNCER: Lin showing off the handle.

ROTH: It was Saturday night Lin-fever in frigid Minneapolis as Lin helped the traveling Knicks to their fifth straight win. Ratings for the Knicks television on MSG network have soared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friends suddenly have become very interested in basketball, suddenly.

ROTH: Blondies Sports Bar seemed a little extra crowded.

(on camera): Why are you here tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Check out the Lin-sanity.


ROTH (voice-over): The first Chinese-American NBA player, Lin is drawing in newcomers to the sport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My fiancee, perfect example, she will be here later tonight. She saw a couple plays, just thinks that he's amazing

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I watched my first NBA game in years just yesterday, so -- and I think he's really revitalized the entire, not only the Knicks but the entire league.

ROTH: The whole country seemed to be still buzzing about Friday night, when Lin scored 38 points and drove the Knicks to a victory over the storied Los Angeles Lakers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was amazing. How could you not be excited? I mean, look at the Knicks? Have you followed them the last 10 years, right? And then this guy shows up and knows how to play the game. You've got to be excited.

ROTH: After the loss, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant conceded Lin's work ethic is a good example for young kids.

(on camera): Who's your favorite player?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin.

ROTH: What do you like about him?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: That he's a beast.

ROTH (voice-over): That means very tough for you non-sports fans who are just catching up on Lin's exploits which have occurred in just one week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And let's hope it continues. But, you know, we can't put him in the Hall of Fame yet.

ROTH: Lin's numbers dropped in the second half Saturday, and he was glad the team would be off for two days.

JEREMY LIN, NEW YORK KNICKS: I don't know. I just feel like I'm still living a dream. I feel like I'm in a dream right now.

ROTH: He's not the only one now dreaming.

(on camera): What do you like best about Lin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's tall and dreamy.

ROTH (voice-over): Richard Roth, CNN, New York.


SAMBOLIN: Tall and dreamy -- and I got to tell you, by NBA standards, he is not tall. He is 6'3", 200 pounds. Here's another side note here: he's a Harvard grad.

BANFIELD: Oh, really?

SAMBOLIN: He is, indeed.


SAMBOLIN: And, you know, they've produced five presidents of the United States, but only four NBA players since 1954.


SAMBOLIN: The last time, 1954. That is quite a story.

BANFIELD: Like I said, I'm not a basketball fan, but these are the kind of stories that can really --

SAMBOLIN: Touch everyone. Yes, kind of exciting. Dreamy.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, still -- I mean this is the story that is just sort of gripping everyone. Touching tributes at the Grammys because of the death of Whitney Houston. This music industry is absolutely in mourning over the loss of this incredible diva.

SAMBOLIN: And Mitt Romney wins a big conservative straw poll. Why are so many on the right still saying he is so wrong?

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, good morning. It is 30 minutes past the hour. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thank you for joining us this morning. It is time to check the stories that are making news.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): It could be weeks before investigators know exactly why Whitney Houston died. Coroner's officials say they will not release any information on an autopsy that was performed yesterday. That is at the request of police detectives that are investigating the singer's death.

The Arab league stepping up pressure on Syria to stop the incredible massacre. Members of the Arab league, which suspended Syria last month, are now calling for a joint peacekeeping mission with the United Nations.

And the Greek parliament approving deep budget cuts as Athens burns. Take a look at those images. Violence is spreading across the country as lawmakers voted for an austerity bill to secure a second EU bailout.

BANFIELD (voice-over): President Obama is unveiling his 2013 budget today, and Republicans are already taking him to task for his plan to hike taxes for Americans who make more than $250,000 a year.

Washington State is on the verge of becoming the seventh state of the union to legalize same-sex marriage. The governor expected to sign that bill into law today.

And Adele dominating at the Grammys. The singer scooping up six awards including record, song, and Album of the Year.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): It's nice to see her recovered.

BANFIELD (on-camera): I know. SAMBOLIN: Right. So, we're trying to cut through rumors surrounding Whitney Houston's tragic death. Here's what really happened or we're trying to figure out what really happened in her last hours. Here's what we know for sure. Law enforcement officials say that there is no foul play. An autopsy is finally complete. However, the results are on hold as officials wait for the toxicology report, and that could take eight weeks.

BANFIELD: Of course, there are reports coming in from all different sources. The website, TMZ, says that water was found in Whitney Houston's lungs, but the coroner decided there would be no comment on that. We do know that she was found in a bathtub, and the "L.A. Times" is reporting that detectives are looking into a possible drowning scenario.

And in the meantime RadarOnline, another website, says that police found prescription drugs, particularly lorazepam, Xanax, Valium and sleeping medication in her hotel room. David Mattingly has the latest from Los Angeles and joins us now live.

So, David, the question is while they await toxicology reports, which, as we know, can take weeks and weeks in the best case scenario, does anybody think that they might have a grip on exactly what caused her death?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's just the point here. The police have asked for a hold to be placed on all information about what was found at the scene, what sort of contributing factors there might have been to Whitney Houston's death. We're told this is something common that they do in high-profile cases. So, at the moment, officially at least, it leaves us all with the barest of essential information about her death.

There was a lengthy press conference from the county coroner yesterday, but what we actually were able to take away from that could be summed up in just a few seconds, and we have that for you right here. Listen. I'm sorry. We don't have that sound here, but what they were telling us was that there was no signs of trauma and no foul play.

So, again, just the bare essential information, and then, telling us it's going to be six to eight weeks, well over a month, before the toxicology reports come back, and we have an official answer about what might have happened here.

BANFIELD: All right. David Mattingly, thanks so much. And you know, it always takes that long. This is not a particularly unusual case. I want to show you a couple of these newspapers. This is sort of distressing. "The Daily News" putting this photograph on the cover just showing a really disheveled Whitney Houston in one of her last photograph saying "Prescription For Death," but then, Zoraida, if you look at "The New York Post" --

SAMBOLIN: You know I said when I saw this morning, it doesn't even look like her really, but it is a lovely picture, a lovely picture. But the one that you had was, you know, just -- BANFIELD: It hurts to see that.

SAMBOLIN: -- days before -- yes, days before. And that was quite controversial also because in that picture, there was blood on her legs, and people were trying to figure out what is going on with Whitney Houston.

BANFIELD: I want to remember her like "The New York Post" --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, the diva, right, that we all knew growing up.


SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 6:30 this morning. We're talking to "Rolling Stone" magazine editor, Joe Levy, the latest details on the death investigation, her final performance. And of course we want to talk about this woman's lasting legacy.

BANFIELD: The legacy, which is what we were just looking at on those newspapers. So, still ahead, as well, on EARLY START, big political news.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Winning weekend for Mitt Romney. He's still facing a critical challenge, however. He needs to convince conservatives that he is the one. And Sarah Palin, in particular, she's not convinced yet.

BANFIELD: And also, a murder trial in Alabama that has a lot of people talking. A man accused of killing his bride on a scuba diving honeymoon on the great barrier reef in Australia. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Bumping in with The Four Tops, "BABY I NEED YOUR LOVING." What a beautiful shot at the capitol glowing. I love that picture.

SAMBOLIN: I'm laughing because we're going into politics, aren't we?



SAMBOLIN: Baby, I need your loving. Boy, that's what Mitt Romney is saying.

BANFIELD: I think Mitt needs some serious loving. I think without question after CPAC, he was feeling it, and then -- welcome back, everybody. It's 38 minutes past 5:00. Washington, by the way, you're going to be 25 degrees right now, but you're warming up to, I don't know, 47 or so. Not so bad. I'll take that in February.

After winning those Maine caucuses and then, of course, the critical straw poll at the CPAC Convention, you'd think that Mitt Romney would have the momentum.

SAMBOLIN: A little bit.

BANFIELD: Yes, but like I said, a lot of the talk in the Republican circles this morning is about his inability to connect with those severely conservative conservatives.

SAMBOLIN: So, we're going to chat about that a bit. We have live from Columbia, South Carolina, Republican strategist, Joel Sawyer, from Washington, Democratic consultant, Ed Espinoza, and CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser.

So, Paul, I am going to begin with you this morning. We got a lot to cover, by the way gentlemen, so if you can give me some quick answers, that would be great. One of the conservatives that remains unconvinced is, indeed, Sarah Palin. Listen to what she said on Fox on Sunday.


SARAH PALIN, (R) FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: I am not convinced, and I don't think that the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced, and that is why you don't see Romney get over that hump. He's still in the 30 percentile mark when it comes to approval and primary wins and caucus wins. He still hasn't risen above that yet because we are not convinced.


SAMBOLIN: So, the turnout was really low in Maine as well. Is Sarah Palin right? Do they remain unconvinced?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: And exit polls indicate the same thing. You look at all of Romney's big victories and when you breakdown those exit polls and entrance polls among the severely conservative using his term from CPAC --

SAMBOLIN: We're going to talk about that.

STEINHAUSER: OK. I don't want to give it away. Yes, he still has an issue. Listen, the win in Maine and the win at CPAC did help, because he had a very bad week before that. They did help. They were like a band-aid to a degree, but yes, he still has an issue with those on the right, hasn't gone away. This didn't solve the problem.

SAMBOLIN: So, you talked about two things that are important. I'm going to talk about one of those with Joel here. Santorum throwing that on Romney's victory because of that CPAC straw poll. Listen to this, and then, we're going to talk about it.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's standard procedure in all of these straw polls, that campaigns who want to win go out and recruit people and provide, you know, free tickets for them to come and vote. There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, that's absolutely a strategy. We just don't think that's a good use of our resources and -- but Governor Romney, obviously, you know, may have a different idea.


SAMBOLIN: So, he's suggesting that Romney bought the CPAC straw poll. You were there. Is he right?

JOEL SAWYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I don't have any evidence of one way or the other, but I will tell you this. If you're spending a lot of time bragging about or complaining about the results of the straw poll, that's time taken away spent about issues and it's time taken away from trying to convince conservatives and actual voters that control delegates that you're the guy to carry the flag for.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ed, we're going to switch gears here. We're going to talk about the controversy over mandatory contraception coverage. The Obama administration proposed a compromise, the insurers pay for birth control, not the employers. Catholic bishops, though, are not satisfied with that. They want no exceptions. Let's listen to what republican, Paul Ryan, said, and then, we'll talk about it.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: Look to paraphrase the bishop's letter, this thing is a distinction without a difference. It's an accounting gimmick or (INAUDIBLE). It's not a compromise. The president has doubled down.


SAMBOLIN: So this, despite a Pew poll saying that 58 percent of Catholics want birth control coverage, more than the average person, actually. Will Obama have to listen to the bishops and conservatives again, Ed?

ED ESPINOZA, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, there has to be a dialogue to move this through at this point. But ultimately, what is it that the people want? We can have regulations and we can have rules that say that there's exemptions, but it doesn't mean that the demand isn't there.

So, when we go toe-to-toe with policy in the House, the question is, do you want government telling you what -- government defining this or do you want businesses telling you what type of healthcare you can and cannot have. It's a no-win situation as far as the policy goes. And bottom line, the demand is there from the people, and we've got to find a way to give it to them.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, I want to talk about that severely conservative moment. Romney's getting a lot of heat for that. Apparently was an adlib moment. Let's listen, and then we're going to talk about it.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fought against long odds in a deep blue state, but I was a severely conservative Republican governor.


SAMBOLIN: All right. So, here it goes. People like Erick Erickson says that it sounded more like a critique of conservatism from the left. Some people said it sounds like a disease. Paul, what do you make of that?

STEINHAUSER: You know, it's interesting. You look at his speech a year ago at CPAC and the speech the other day. He barely said the word conservative a year ago. This time, you know, with competition, with some severe competition from Santorum and Gingrich, he had to show his conservative credentials, and he -- more than used that word over and over and over again.

SAMBOLIN: Joel, you were there. What did you think when you heard it?

SAWYER: It was a very strange choice of words, and I think that was reflected with a lot of the attendees that I talked to as well. It was just a very odd way to describe your conservatism. The other thing -- he said, conservative, conservative, conservative over and over in the speech which is something he has not done before.

I think, if anything, it may have muddied the waters for him a little bit. You know, why is he going out of the way to say conservative to us here at CPAC when he has not done this so much out on the stump. It just goes back to the trust deficit if you want to call it that with Romney. People are just not quit sure what to make of him.

SAMBOLIN: All right, guys. I have one last question for all of you. I hope that you know your sports. Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, five-game winning streak, first player since LeBron James to have at least 20 points and eight assists in the first two starts, not a political question, guys. You can only answer this with three words, one week wonder or new boy wonder? Paul.

STEINHAUSER: I'm a Knicks fan, so bring it on. I hope it is a new boy wonder.


SAWYER: New boy wonder.

SAMBOLIN: New boy wonder. Ed.

ESPINOZA: Playoff bound.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Gentlemen, thanks for playing this morning. I appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Still ahead on EARLY START, if you like to look through your lens out into space, this is not going to be news you're going to want to hear. All those great things we're doing, landing machines on Mars to probe, well, big budget cuts headed towards that agency. And you know what? Our plans to explore Mars just might be shelved.

SAMBOLIN: Are these the rovers?

BANFIELD: They are. Fascinating.

SAMBOLIN: All right. The Sandusky ruling is expected to come down today. Will the judge order him confined indoors? Not allowed to do that, stand on his porch and look across the way. We're going to find out the answers to that and so much more. You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Great to listen to her, isn't it? Forty-nine minutes past the hour.


SAMBOLIN: I didn't know that she sang backup for Chaka Khan.

BANFIELD: I didn't know that.

SAMBOLIN: I just found that out.

BANFIELD: Oh, no kidding.

SAMBOLIN: All these factoids we're finding out this morning. It's time to check the stories that are making news this morning, and that's our top story here.


BANFIELD (voice-over): It is without question, because, obviously, the mystery is, what happened? And, at this point, all we can tell you is that there isn't a sign of foul play in the death of Whitney Houston, but the Los Angeles coroner is, quote, "deferring a ruling on the cause and manner of death," saying that it could be a couple of months before the toxicology reports all come in, and perhaps, give us those answers.

Her death is sending a chill through all of us, especially during the Grammys last night when Jennifer Hudson performed a stirring rendition of this song "I Will Always Love You."

And Adele, also at the Grammys in her first public performance since vocal cord surgery, took home six of the Grammys. So, quite a story there as well.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): An Alabama man who already served prison time in Australia, going on trial in Birmingham today for allegedly murdering his bride nine years ago during a scuba diving honeymoon on the Great Barrier Reef.

And a Pennsylvania judge expected to rule today whether former Penn State coach, Jerry Sandusky, will be confined indoors until he goes on trial to face child sex abuse charges. Sandusky is asking for more freedom so he can see his grandchildren.

And violence flaring on the streets of Athens, this after Greek lawmakers approved a tough austerity plan in exchange for an EU bailout program.

And President Obama presenting his spending plan for 2013 today. It calls for tax hikes for Americans making more than $250,000 a year. Fewer deductions for the wealthy and a permanent college tax credit.


BANFIELD (on-camera): And just ahead on EARLY START, some bad news for folks in NASA, particularly those in the planetary exploration. While we love seeing these pictures of the explorer on MARS, not good news. Lots of cutbacks coming their way. We'll let you know what's up all coming up.


BANFIELD: Another anthem of our youth. Does that give away our age, "Rocket Man"?

SAMBOLIN: I have no idea where that song came from, never heard it before.


BANFIELD: You're an absolute sellout.

SAMBOLIN: As I was singing along.


BANFIELD: I love that car commercial that finally tells us what the lyrics are. Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone.


BANFIELD: Burning out his fuse up here alone.


All right. It's almost six o'clock here. Later today, NASA will be rolling out its 2013 budget. It is not going to be pretty, folks.

BANFIELD: No, especially for the planetary science, because they're bracing for bad news there. Double-digit cuts expected and the Mars missions looking to be, perhaps, the worst hit. Our John Zarrella is live from Miami, the state where they do not want to hear this kind of thing, especially since Newt Gingrich came plowing through there talking about a colony on the moon. How do we go from colony on the moon to no more Mars?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, forget about colonies on the moon, I guess. This is one of those good news/bad news stories. The good news is NASA's budget is about flat this coming year, the proposed budget, about just under $18 billion. Before you say wow, it's a lot of money, it's actually half of one percent, less than half of one percent of the federal budget.

But the big loser in all of this is going to be planetary exploration. Losing about 20 percent is what we're hearing, about $300 million, and the two big missions that are going to be cut are going to be the 2016 mission and maybe the 2018 mission, both joint projects with the European space agency.

And this all comes as you're looking at this video of the curiosity rover, which is on its way right now, speeding to the red planet, and if all goes well lands in August and could find the first signs of organic material. That's what it's looking for, the building blocks of life. So, all these cuts coming at a time when some fascinating science may be on the horizon for NASA.

So, what's NASA doing? Well, it's preserving its priorities. Priority number one, keep the space station flying. Priority number two, build a big new rocket that can take humans to Mars and an asteroid in the 2030s, and number three the web telescope. $6 billion over budget, years behind schedule, but they're going to try and keep that in the equation. So --

BANFIELD: 2030, humans on Mars. I wonder how many people have to be on Mars before Newt Gingrich would say statehood is in the running for them.

SAMBOLIN: He had a number, didn't he have a number? He did.

BANFIELD: He had for the moon, indeed --

SAMBOLIN: There you go.

BANFIELD: Mr. Zarrella, thank you for that. I love John Zarrella.


BANFIELD: He's such a space nut and he's so clever and smart.

SAMBOLIN: And he makes it seem enjoyable for everybody. Everybody can understand.

BANFIELD: He's a rocket scientist.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Almost six o'clock here. In the next hour, how did Whitney Houston die? We're going to find out the latest on the investigation. Details from "Rolling Stones" editor.

And it is chaos in Greece. Have you seen the pictures? The country approves huge cutbacks as riots continue to rage. What does the future hold? You're watching EARLY START.