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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Whitney Houston's Body Undergoing Toxicology Examination; Jeremy Lin Becomes Overnight NBA Sensation; Obama Meets China's Next Pres. Today; Cheerleading Coach Fired for Calling Girls "Heifers"; New Details In Houston Death Case; Israel And Iran Play Blame Game; Radical Cleric Released From Jail; Heart Stem Cells Heal Hearts; Arizona Bill Aims To Censor Teacher's Speech; Kate Upton Is SI's Cover Girl; GOP: Obama Budget "Campaign Document"; Interview with Senator Pat Toomey; Former Romney Adviser Discusses GOP Race

Aired February 14, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, good morning, good morning. Nice to see, everybody. Welcome. Our STARTING POINT this morning is focused on Whitney Houston and some new details about her death. The body is back home in New Jersey. It's been flown back. There are some plans for funeral.

People who are remembering her amazing voice today, but at the same time, there are questions that are lingering about the drugs, the prescription drugs, that were found at the scene of her death and whether or not those drugs, in fact, killed her.

Plus, there are rumblings of total war in Syria. New video is shelling. CNN gets inside the country. Last week's death toll, you remember, was 680. It's on course to be equally high this week.

And then, Jeremy Lin, love this guy, went from the bench to the talk of the NBA. Will Cain is laughing because he knows that I don't usually get to cover sports. My strength, my forte. But Jeremy Lin, you know, the question today is, is he getting all the buzz because he schooled Kobe, yes, or because he's Asian? We're going to talk about that this morning. "Starting Point" begins right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, welcome, welcome, everybody. Your listening to music from Jacob's playlist. Jacob, we love you. Anything Whitney Houston, this is Whitney Houston's "Love Will Save the Day." I'm going to introduce the rest of the panel.

Will Cain is back. Are you boycotting the show? Where were you?

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I come when you ask.

O'BRIEN: You lie. You lie.

CAIN: You act like I've been holding out on you.

O'BRIEN: We love having you. Thank you for much for being was.

And Joe Levy is back, contributing editor for "Rolling Stone."

Let's get right to it this morning. The investigation into Whitney Houston's death -- her body is now back in New Jersey. A Los Angeles County coroner's official is refusing to say whether or not she drowned. They're waiting for the toxicology reports. In past cases, we know it could take weeks or weeks. He also won't comment on whether alcohol or drugs may have played a role in her death. Listen.

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ED WINTER, ASSISTANT CHIEF, L.A. COUNTY CORONER'S OFFICE: You can look at a body and not know what the cause of death is. You might have a suspicion, but the person could have suffered a heart attack or an embolism or something. And no matter what medications they're taking, until we run a toxin and see the level and see what's in the system, we're not going to speculate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He's been on TV a lot saying a lot of nothing lately. How come it takes eight weeks to do a toxicology report?

JOE LEVY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": This is typical. Let's be honest. We're talking at many, many tests. You know, initial reports say I --

O'BRIEN: Right, but eight weeks?

LEVY: They don't want to get it wrong. And goodness knows we need to be careful here. We don't know exactly what happened. What I like is when he gets up there and says if you're wondering if there was an embolism or a heart attack, immediately now I'm wondering about that. That's what I think may have --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: He's very --

JACOB BERNSTEIN, SENIOR WRITER, "NEWSWEEK": Not as if it's weapons of mass destruction. It is a sad, horrible death, but it is a celebrity story. I mean, you know, they have to take their time and do it right.

O'BRIEN: We should mention, I haven't officially introduced you. I introduced the song. He's a senior writer with "Newsweek" and also "The Daily Beast."

It's nice to have you talking about this. It's been interesting to compare and contrast the different versions of Whitney Houston's last days with people who knew her very, very well. Chaka Khan and Kelly Price -- she used to be a backup singer for Chaka Khan. She used to be a backup singer with Kelly Price. Here's what they had to say last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAKA KAHN, SINGER: I was coming through a city like L.A. We made specific plans. I come in day -- night before, the day of performance. Especially if you're still -- if you're not -- you've gone into proper treatment and gotten really handled, gotten your situation handled, yes, that was the first big mistake, for her to come in an entire week before her performance at the party.

KELLY PRICE, SINGER: She was not high. I'm a girl that grew up in the projects in New York City. I know high when I see it. She was not high.

KAHN: I stand on that whoever flew her out to perform at that party should have provided someone to be there, to somehow look -- just keep the riffraff out of the situation. Just keep some of the dangerous people away.

PRICE: I saw her with a couple of glasses of champagne. And then our interactions were normal. There was nothing that seemed that it was over the top. She didn't seem to be intoxicated to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I thought it was amazing last night when she was talking to Piers Morgan. This is a woman who knows what she's talking about. Any concert she goes to and stands up and talks about songs she's written and can't remember them because she was high. She's like, yes, I wrote that. I can't tell you the story behind it because I was high when I wrote that song. She's really constantly talking about her drug use. Interesting perspective that very much differs from Kelly Price's because the riffraff thing, seems like it was more prescription drugs at this point, we don't know, and riffraff, random people selling her drugs.

BERNSTEIN: I think there's a loft minimizing going on and a lot of people pretending that nothing was quite wrong. And all of these comeback albums that seemed -- you know, she would go on TV and she was probably sober for a few weeks before she went on, but we heard this overwhelmingly from people who worked with her that, you know, on the 2002 album she wasn't sober when she went into that Diane Sawyer interview and I don't even think she was really sober when she did "I Look to You" in 2009.

O'BRIEN: Where does the investigation go now? If you're talking about drugs now, and again, the coroner has said a lot about nothing at this point but reports there was valium in the room, Xanax, Lorazepam, Midol.

LEVY: The discussion goes to whether or not prescription drugs can be abused. And the answer is simply yes.

O'BRIEN: I can answer that.

LEVY: And these are extremely powerful drugs found there. Xanax is an extremely powerful drug. It's an anxiety drug. It's easy to abuse. And it's bad to mix with alcohol. When you listen to Kelly Price, if you examine all of her statements what she initially said was Whitney was sober. Yes, she had a little champagne. That's the question now. Were the people around her, as Jacob was saying, are they enablers or like Chaka Khan, people who have been through this, who have recovered and knows there is not such a thing as a little champagne if you're struggling with addiction.

O'BRIEN: Other people say Whitney Houston was a person that could clean up very well. She could make a comeback and make a comeback and look amazing. There are reports that her body was flown from California to New Jersey on Tyler Perry's plane. I hadn't seen that confirmed anywhere yet. What happens now in terms of funeral and memorial service, do you know?

BERNSTEIN: Apparently there is this giant thing at the prudential center. Over 10,000 fans will be allowed in. And I don't know how she would have felt about it. I mean, she was so uneasy with her celebrity in a lot of ways. For a person who is one of the biggest stars of the era, she -- she was -- she was not warm and fuzzy about her celebrity, though she was -- she seemed like she was our princess. She wasn't. And she had a hard time with what she was marketed as.

O'BRIEN: She did an interview with Katie Couric when she was talking about some of her critics, which I thought it was interesting. I think it's from 1996. I think we have a clip of it. Could we play that, guys? It is full screen. I know Katie well so I think I can do a dramatic representation of Katie Couric. She said, talking about her critics, you're not black enough for them. You're not R&B enough. You're very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them. Was this the issue for a search for who you are in terms of credibility and there's search for who you are in her Oprah interview?

LEVY: Obviously it was a real issue. The criticism got to her. I think it's also obvious at the start she participated in getting this massive, massive pop audience and bag crossover artist. But the criticism was consistent right from the start, that she, "Whiteney" was one of the names thrown at her.

O'BRIEN: I did not know that. Did you know that?

BERNSTEIN: I had no idea. But the criticism also goes from people like J-Lo. She's not Latina enough. A lot of minority stars fall into that trap.

O'BRIEN: Crossover, bigger audience and yet at the same time --

BERNSTEIN: They're turning their back on their community.

O'BRIEN: She had a lot of issues. When you listen to her Oprah Winfrey interview, which I think was a fascinating interview she was really ambivalent about the fame part of success. You know, like couldn't be normal anymore, you can't just go out to the grocery store anymore. Everybody is watching every single thing you do.

BERNSTEIN: Yes. And almost the entire family was financially dependent on her. O'BRIEN: Not unusual.

BERNSTEIN: She had two brothers who one of whom was a backup singer and another of whom who had -- was busted, you know, with cocaine in his car. And you know, Dionne Warwick has had a lot of problems herself despite being very successful. And I think it was -- she just had a lot of people in the payroll. And one thing we heard is that the reason she went on tour last year when she was really in no position to go on tour was the family needed money. You know, she didn't go broke from drugs. She went broke partly from having so many people on the sort of extended list that she was -- that she was helping.

LEVY: This is a very, very familiar story in the entertainment industry. You build an organization around you and you need to keep it running.

O'BRIEN: Right. Right. So sad. We're going to keep talking obviously about Whitney Houston and the latest in the investigation and also the plans for the funeral and memorial service. Later this morning we're going to talk to Gloria Estefan. In the '80s the two of them were always vying for the top spot. She has amazing memories of Whitney Houston. She's going to join us as well.

Other stories making news today, let's get right to Christine Romans. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I can't wait for that Gloria Estefan interview, Soledad.

This morning watching Syria and whether it's headed for a full scale war. Government forces bombarding the city of Homs again this morning. Witnesses say it's the heaviest shelling they've seen all week with six deaths reported so far today. And 30 civilians were killed yesterday. CNN's Arwa Damon has been able to cross into Syria but we're not disclosing her location for safety reasons. She says the situation is rapidly deteriorating.

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ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the areas where the government crackdown is at it its worst, people say that there are snipers positioned on every single street corner. You can hardly cross a man thoroughfare without coming across government snipers. Then, of course, there are all of the tanks at the government checkpoints. It's an incredibly intense situation here. It's also incredibly emotional. Anger is running at an all-time high, as is frustration and desperation.

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ROMANS: In Washington, an about face by house Republicans. They've now agreed to extend the payroll tax cut without demanding spending cuts to offset the $100 billion estimated cost. A vote could take place this week. House Speaker John Boehner says other costly measures like renewing jobless benefit, for example, those will have to be paid for before they can be passed.

Rick Santorum surging ahead of Mitt Romney by six points in Michigan. That's the latest American Research Group poll. That has Romney's super PAC spending extra half a million dollars on ads in Washington where Romney was born, by the way, in Michigan, rather, to try to avoid a loss.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Republican "National Review" is calling on Newt Gingrich to drop out of the GOP race. The editors there say they want to see a Romney-Santorum contest.

Moody's is threatening to cut the AAA ratings of Britain, France, and Austria this morning. They ratings agency also downgrading six other European nations including Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Moody's says it's worried about Europe's the ability to enact the necessary reforms it needs to address its burgeoning debt crisis.

Minding your business this morning, stock futures in the U.S. trading up right now. That follows European markets up. Markets getting a boost overnight from a positive on confidence in the German economy, the largest single economy in Europe. Markets still, though, very volatile right now, all the uncertainty in the EU. We'll see what happens as we get closer to the opening bell.

Also, check out the evolution of the drive-thru at this ski resort in Squaw Valley, California. They just opened a Starbucks ski- through at 8,000 feet. It's exactly what it sounds like. You just ski up to the window. You order a piping hot caramel macchiato, and no need to take the skis off.

O'BRIEN: I think that's such a great idea if I could ski because I tore it my knee last year. But why take the effort to get in your car and drive. I love it.

O'BRIEN: With our panel again, we're talking Jeremy Lin. New York Knicks. He's the first U.S. born NBA player of Asian descent, of Chinese or Taiwanese descent who is performing. And a lot of people coming down on him. Have you heard these? Floyd Mayweather, who never is all that PC on anything ever, he tweeted this. "Jeremy Lin is a good player." Oh, really? "But all the hype because he's Asian. Black player s do what he does every night and don't get the same praise." That's just not true.

LEVY: I don't actually think black players school Kobe every single night. I don't think that happens every night.

O'BRIEN: And then he is a Harvard grad. I love him for that. Very rare that Harvard people go off to the NBA. It's a handful or maybe just a couple. Great tweets about this, Spike Lee, if you follow him on twitter has been running a contest to see how you can use Lin's name. He's having people submit sentences, like he's "school-Lin," "ball-Lin." I love it. Here's Stephan Colbert talking about Jeremy Lin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Folks, there is a name for what we're all feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lin-sanity continues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It essentially becomes Lin-sanity in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York basketball fans have a raging case of Lin-sanity.

COLBERT: Yes, I've got a raging case of Lin-sanity. I've been called legally Lin-sane. My symptoms - -- Lin-somnia, restless Lin syndrome, and Lin-testinal blockage.

(LAUGHTER)

COBERT: Folks, it's an exciting time. Fans have not come down with a basketball borne disease this intense since the mid '70s outbreak of Kareem Abdul Ja-Botulism.

(LAUGHTER)

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O'BRIEN: It's been interesting to hear Lin himself talk about kind of the racism and discrimination he's experienced along the way. Back in 2008 he said there is a sport for white and black players -- sorry, 2008. "You don't get respect for being an Asian-American basketball player in the U.S. I hear everything -- "Go back to China. The orchestra is on the other side of campus. Open up your eyes."

CAIN: I can't -- look, race may have something to do with the story. But it's the smallest piece of the pie in the story. This guy's story, I'm a huge fan of Dallas Mavericks. His story is the guy that's been cut by three teams, who came from the end of the bench, who was a couple days away from being cut by the Knicks, and now he is this out of nowhere superstar. That, by the way, is taking place in New York.

O'BRIEN: And by the way, the Knicks really need him desperately.

CAIN: That's the story.

O'BRIEN: I think the criticism of him has been race based, has been, you know, often people tweet things around the fact that he's Asian. And it's unusual in the NBA but also particularly, I think, cruel and discriminatory. Really, who cares? The guy is helping the Knicks.

CAIN: Jeremy Lin is going to be fine. He's not the first Asian- American player. Yao Ming came long before he did.

O'BRIEN: We're going to move on. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, President Obama is meeting China's next possible leader. The author of the book "The Coming Collapse of China" is going to talk to us about why he thinks the U.S. still holds the cards in this meeting. And then censoring teachers. There is a bill in a state that would bleep them like they're on TV. This is really odd.

And then our "Get Real" this morning, my favorite story of the day. An epic coaching rant and it's been caught on tape which is why we like talking about it this morning. High school cheerleading coach goes completely Sue Sylvester on her squad, like completely nuts. We're going to play it for you straight ahead.

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O'BRIEN: Thank you. Oh, you know, sucking up to the host is such a good idea. I just want to point out that I fully support that and I really feel like the two -- the three of you have done nothing on that front for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look wonderful this morning.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

Let's talk about China this morning. President Obama we know is set to meet with Chinese Vice President, his name is Xi Jinping. Xi arrived yesterday for a five-day visit to the United States, expected to become China's head of state sometime next year.

So ahead of his visit, China's vice foreign minister said that the two countries have a trust deficit which is never a good thing. Gordon Chang is a columnist for Forbes.com. He's also the author of the book called "The Coming Collapse of China" which goes against what I think many people have been saying about how we think about China.

So first, let's talk a little bit about this visit. Trust deficit is never a good way to go into a meeting. What really is at stake here?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, FORBES.COM: Well, I think there are so many issues that the United States has with China and also China have with us. So, you know, all of these things are going to be discussed from Iran to trade (ph) to North Korea, you name it. You know, there's not an issue in the world today that doesn't affect China and doesn't affect us.

O'BRIEN: There's a lot that's known about Xi, because -- partly because of WikiLeaks --

CHANG: Sure.

O'BRIEN: -- some of that was released and partly because he has a daughter who is an undergraduate, right, at Harvard.

CHANG: At Harvard, yes.

O'BRIEN: So he has been to United States. People know a little bit about him. Tell us more about him.

CHANG: Well, he's a prince-ling. In other words -- O'BRIEN: What does that mean?

CHANG: He's a descendant of a --

O'BRIEN: Oh, like literally.

CHANG: -- former leader of the People's Republic. A guerrilla leader before that. And so essentially he's the number ranked -- number sixth ranked member on the Politburo Standing Committee, which is really the top of the Chinese political system.

He's a hardliner. He's not shy of saying things that other Chinese leaders wouldn't talk about. So for instance, a couple years ago in Mexico he criticized foreigners up and down in some pretty, pretty tough words. You normally don't hear that from Chinese leaders, but he's confident enough to be able to do that.

O'BRIEN: People have said this is a get to know you trip, which of course it is. Like, you know, you don't do a get to know you trip with the president. So what is the agenda of this trip?

CHANG: Well, for him, for Xi Jinping it's not to make a mistake. And the reason is that his whole, you know, path to power is not so clear as it was two weeks ago.

O'BRIEN: What happened?

CHANG: About a week ago there was an extraordinary series of events. While we were watching the Super Bowl, mid-level Chinese official tried to defect to a U.S. consulate in Chengdu (ph) in Western China. One provincial leader invaded another province with hundreds of armed security troops to try prevent all of this from going on.

And essentially, many people say that this was engineered by Hu Jintao, the senior leader of China, to sort of attack one of the allies of Xi Jinping. And that means that Xi Jinping, you know, while he looked 100 percent a couple weeks ago, now looks only 80 percent in terms of being able to get to the path of being the leader of China.

O'BRIEN: So he is pro-western. How is that going to play -- you don't think so? Is that an unfair characteristic?

CHANG: No, I don't think so.

O'BRIEN: I mean, when you read his quotes about his time they spent -- I think it was in Iowa, right, he speaks very much with great affection for the United States.

CHANG: Well, you know, he we may have affection for the United States, but every communist leader has institutional constraints which he acts under. And right now, the hardliners dominate in Beijing and if Xi Jinping wants to be the next General Party secretary, which is the top of the political food chain in China, he's got to be a hardliner as well. Remember, the military is becoming more independent, becoming more hostile. Xi Jinping's power base is the military and so that really is the problem for us.

O'BRIEN: Final question for you. Politically, of course, the role of China, every single candidate at some point is -- and even the president as well, talking about China. How is that a tricky situation, certainly while you had the visitor here?

CHANG: Well, there's a lot of political constituencies in the United States and somewhat a hard position in China and some want a soft one. Because, you know, we sell stuff to China.

But also, you know, when you look from labor to business, to all sorts of groups, they have very different views and so trying to correlate that triangulate that is very difficult. You know, some people go hardline like Romney, others go soft line. But the problem is that you just don't know where the political center of the United States is on China.

O'BRIEN: Everybody is watching it very closely to see on all sides what exactly happens here.

CHANG: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Gordon Chang, nice to have you. Thank you very much for joining us --

CHANG: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: -- this morning.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Senator Pat Toomey is going to join us talking about the Obama budget, look at his plan for his budget. We'll talk about that.

Plus our "Get Real" this morning, an epic rant from a high school cheerleading coach. She calls her team the Highfalutin Heifers. I'm sorry. I'm sure that's devastating if you're a teenager or maybe not. But we'll tell you exactly what she said and what happened after that as STARTING POINT continues.

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CAIN: You have specifically made fun of Leonard Cohen and how slow it is?

O'BRIEN: You're about -- you're about to get yourself banished off. You know, really, Will Cain does -- I mean, because I love him. I love him so I make fun of his musical tastes. And sometimes they're really bad.

But Joe Levy is a guest in our house today and he like Leonard Cohen. It is a little slow. You may want to work on that. But try to remember --

LEVY: I think people want to (INAUDIBLE) it up a little it's still morning.

O'BRIEN: -- help people wake up for the morning.

CAIN: I think people need to ease into the day.

O'BRIEN: No, they don't.

LEVY: Ease right through it.

O'BRIEN: No, they don't.

Moving on to "Get Real" this morning. So this is my favorite story of the morning. We have heard some of the legendary coaching rants in our day. Often NFL coaches are like screaming at their grown male players. But not in this case.

This is from the head of a -- this is a head of a high school cheerleading squad and she's talking to teenage girls, probably haven't heard something like this unless you're a Sue Sylvester from "Glee." Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANE LYNCH, ACTRESS PLAYING SUE SYLVESTER FROM "GLEE": What would possess a person your age to get a boob job? You don't even know what your body is going to look like. It's an insult to nature and completely distracting. I can't take my eyes off them. I'm actually talking to them right now. Oh, Boobs McGee, you're demoted to the bottom of the pyramid so when it collapses your exploding sandbags will protect the squad from injury.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: OK. So that would be Sue Sylvester from "Glee."

The woman that we're going to tell you about is sort of the real Sue Sylvester, which if you're a coach is a bad, bad thing. This is from TV station KPRC outside of Houston. Took place at the Cypress Woods High School cheerleader encouraged by her dad. This went -- their cheerleading coach went nuts on the team. Here is what she said. "Y'all don't have a mortgage. You get away with crap. Who do you think you are, highfalutin heifers? You can just come and go as you please. Fire me!"

First of all --

LEVY: And she may get her wish.

O'BRIEN: Well, I believe she had gotten her wish in terms of being coach of a cheerleading squad, she's out. Heifer, of course, is a young female cow, probably not a nicest thing to call the tender young, delicate ladies in your care.

There was an 11th grader who recorded what she had to say. That 11th grader was -- I think she got detention for a couple of days because you're not allowed to record your teachers. But where did the mortgage thing -- like where did that come from? You don't have a mortgage.

CAIN: She's invested in this cheerleader squad. That's what she thinks. Personally, I don't see why she was fired. (INAUDIBLE) they got her fired here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Verbal abuse. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, she was frustrated but she knew better.

CAIN: Many teachers are from Texas and this is no surprise.

LEVY: No, but exactly. If you're from Texas, you know high school football is a religion there. Coaches act this way. And cheerleading is serious business. And when you look at it is, no, we look at it as though it's fun and games. But that's a -- a major competition --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is verbal abuse, bottom line.

LEVY: I'm not saying it isn't. But it's also part of high school coaching, it has been for a long time. If you're going to stop it with the cheerleading, you're going to stop it with the football as well.

CAIN: Lighten up.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I love this story because it's like who calls their cheerleading squad Highfalutin Heifers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It damages girls' self esteem, right?

CAIN: Being in a cheerleading squad is what it looks like.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning -- I can see what kind of days it's going to be with Will Cain today. He's just going to go, all right, bring it on.

We're talking this morning about tensions between Israel and Iran this morning. Latest round of finger pointing over what Israel says of planted bombs. They say they're planted by Iran.

Also some exclusive details about the death of Whitney Houston. We spoke to a friend who says she was on the right path right before she died. We're talking about that.

Plus, teachers forced to follow FCC rules, no cursing or you'll get a fine. We'll discuss what that's about straight ahead on STARTING POINT. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Senator Pat Toomey, that's Olman Brothers. Nice choice, Senator. We're going to talk to Senator Toomey coming up this morning, talking budgets. First, though, we've got to look at new details about Whitney Houston's final days. A family friend is telling CNN that Houston was taking various medications for anxiety, for sleep. Also she had a throat infection and she was taking medication for that.

That friend insists though that Houston was no longer an addict. She said she wasn't doing any hard drugs. Houston told her friend just weeks before her death that she was at a comfortable place in her life.

Deb Feyerick spoke with that friend. She joins us this morning from Newark with more on some of the details about the death and also the funeral arrangements as well and how the family is coping.

Deb, first of all, update us on what happens next in terms of arrangements for the body.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the body is here at the funeral home. It arrived late last night. Whitney Houston's mother Cissy Houston, a gospel legend and she was here along with cousin, Dionne Warwick.

The family stayed until about 2:00 in the morning, actually. And I'm told that Cissy Houston is, while she's overwhelmed, she's very strong throughout this process. This is a very religious family. And the friend tells me that her faith is going to get her through this.

Also, Bobbi Kristina, Whitney Houston's daughter, is in New Jersey. We are told that Bobby Brown, also in New Jersey, though it's not clear whether they're at the grandmother's or whether they are at Bobby Brown's home.

You know, there's a lot of talk, as you mentioned, Soledad, about potential drug abuse, about her past addictions. And this friend tells me, no, it's not the case. That she was, quote, unquote, "clean from using cocaine and marijuana."

Though she did have an occasional drink and she was taking Xanax for anxiety and sleeplessness along with medication for a sore throat infection. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN, WHITNEY HOUSTON FAMILY FRIEND (via telephone): I know for a fact that she wasn't on anything hard. She had gave that life up. She had let it go and we were proud of her. We are proud of her.

She was back on top and I quote her in saying, "I'm in a good place, I'm where I want to be." And she was. She was at a good place. She was where she wanted to be. She was drug free, as far as the hard drugs are concerned.

But she did have things that us as humans go through. We have sleep anxiety. We have sore throats and there was medication to cover that. (END VIDEO CLIP0

FEYERICK: And right now we are being told that the funeral is likely to take place on the Friday and that there will be some sort of memorial service at the church where Whitney Houston sang as part of the junior choir where she really found her voice and where her mom was the choir director for more than 50 years.

And very religious family, relying on faith and one of the reasons that Whitney Houston may have been more at a comfortable place now, according to friends, she had found her way back to God, something she had lost while trying to go through and trying to overcome that addiction -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Your heart just breaks for those family members now dealing with the aftermath of this. Deb Feyerick for us this morning. Thanks, Deb, for that update.

Other stories making news. Christine has those for us. Good morning. I don't hear you, Christine. I'm going to stop you there. Can you hear me? I'm trying to figure out our technical difficulties. Sure. I'm going to do the news. You let me know when your mic is ready and you just hop in and take it back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go.

O'BRIEN: She was starting with finger pointing between Iran and Israel. Israel is blaming Iran for the bombing of two embassy vehicles. Four people were hurt when a detonation device went off in a van in India.

Another bomb went off in a car in Georgia. One person was hurt there. Iran blaming Israel for both incidents. Accuses Israel of bombing its own vehicles in order to tarnish Iran's ties with India and Georgia.

A radical Islamic cleric has been released from jail in the United Kingdom. Authorities say (inaudible) conspired with terrorists and was an inspiration for one of the 9/11 hijackers. He had been in jail since 2005.

Immigration court says the British court could not justify his continued detention. He's released on bail while the British government works to have him deported back to his home country of Jordan. Christine, I think your mic is ready.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm ready.

O'BRIEN: All right, go girl. Pick it up.

ROMANS: All right, team work, my friend. All right, A.M. House Call this morning, a breakthrough that could help heart attack victims recover faster.

Scientists at Cedar Cyanide Medical Center in L.A. and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say they have successfully used a patient's own heart stem cells to regrow new heart tissue and help undo the damage caused by their heart attacks.

Doctors report that this stem cell therapy cut the amount of scar tissue in half in safety trials. There was also an unprecedented increase in new heart muscle. Amazing.

Arizona teachers watch your language. Republican lawmakers in the state are working to pass a bill banning teachers from using words the FCC has deemed too hot for TV or radio.

The bill is in response to complaints of teachers in high schools using four-letter words in front of students. Proposed penalties range from a one-week suspension for a first offense to being fired for a third offense.

Kate Upton, your "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit edition cover girl. There she is. The magazine hits newsstands and iPhones and iPads today. A new iPhone app gives people a 360-degree view of some of the girls. Upton joins an elite group of SI cover girls that have included Kathy Ireland, Cheryl Tiegs, Tyra Banks, and Brooklyn Decker, 360 degrees.

O'BRIEN: How is that sports? Seriously, like how is that sports? By the way, rocking bodies, I fully support that, but how is that sport?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very, very competitive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very irrelevant.

O'BRIEN: It's not about sports and you don't care. All right, thank you, Christine. Appreciate the update.

President Obama hitting the road to talk about his newly released budget proposal. He spoke to students at a community college in Virginia trying to sell the plan directly to voters. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm proposing some difficult cuts that frankly I wouldn't normally make if they weren't absolutely necessary, but they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The plan includes tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and targeted investments including $476 billion for infrastructure upgrades over six years, $350 billion for job creation, $30 billion to hire teachers and police and fire fighters, $30 billion to modernize schools, and $2.2 billion on R & D for advanced manufacturing.

Talking about the budget with me this morning is Republican Senator Pat Toomey of the great state of Pennsylvania. He also serves on the Joint Economic and Budget Committees and served on the debt "Super Committee." It's nice to have you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: You've said about the president's budget, it doesn't go after the deficit, it doesn't go after entitlements. So let's talk about both of those things. First, entitlements, what entitlements would you cut?

TOOMEY: Well, let's look at what the president himself has said. He has said that the long-term driver of our deficits and our debt are completely unsustainable budget picture is mandatory health care spending. It's the big health care programs. The president knows that.

And yet he gives us a budget in which spending grows, taxes are higher, spends even more than the tax increases and gives us a bigger deficit than we had last year and no reforms at all on the fundamental driver of these programs.

So I think that's a tremendous avocation of leadership, but we need to do is restructure the design of the big health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid for younger workers. So that when they retire it will be there for them. We're on a path right now where it will not survive.

O'BRIEN: OK, so then let's take a look at your plan for cutting the budget. Here's -- there's an analysis and I know you know this, at the center on budget and policy priorities.

It's a non-bipartisan organization. Here's what you propose. Tax cuts for the wealthy. For people who are making under $200,000, taxes would raise -- would rise. You would limit the child credit. You would limit --

TOOMEY: Wait a minute. I got to stop because that's factually ridiculous.

O'BRIEN: Really, OK?

TOOMEY: Yes, factually wrong and ridiculous and not close.

O'BRIEN: What part about it?

TOOMEY: Raising taxes on people whose income is lower than $200,000. What I've said is we should make the current tax rates permanent.

In fact, what I prefer to do, that's at a minimum, would be something like what I propose in the super committee, which was a process by which we would simplify the tax code.

Get rid of some of the deductions and loopholes and credits and broad den the base by which we apply taxes and lower rates for everybody.

O'BRIEN: So some of those loopholes and credits though would be, for example, the mortgage interest deduction, you want to get rid of that or limit that, right and the child credit, true?

TOOMEY: They might be. Here's my suggestion. You know, Marty Feltseen, a Harvard economist, just come up with a very, very creative and I think an elegant way to deal with the fact that me with all of these huge deductions that force us to have high marginal rates.

What his suggestion is put all of the itemized deduction into a basket and then limit the total value of that basket. It doesn't mean you have to eliminate any one of those items, but you couldn't have all of them.

O'BRIEN: But there are people --

TOOMEY: The advantage is you could lower marginal rates accordingly.

O'BRIEN: But there are people who look at what you have proposed and let's focus on the two we're not arguing over. The child credit and also the mortgage interest deduction and you had said earlier Medicaid and Medicare, right, all of those.

And there are people who look at that which is what you're proposing and say, so that's bad for the middle class. Those are all deductions that middle class people rely on and wealthy people don't really rely on.

TOOMEY: Let's remember the middle class also pays a marginal tax rate on their income. And what I said is if we diminish the value of deductions, I want to lower that rate as well. So the middle class would be paying a lower marginal rate.

As far as Medicare goes, I mean, the president acknowledged it's not sustainable in its current form. I'm not talking about pulling the rug out from under anybody who is on Medicare now or about to go on Medicare.

But somebody my age who is 50 years old or someone in their 40s, I think we've got to make some changes. I think wealthy people are going to have to pay more, frankly, for this benefit.

I just don't think it makes sense to continue this universal entitlement that's growing faster than our economy can possibly grow.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you about the "Super Committee." When you served on the "Super Committee" and it failed to reach an agreement you said this is a quote, "The president actively made our job more difficult."

The president in turn said about Republicans, "Republicans refuse to listen to the voices of reason." That's a quote there. So as, you know, I'm just a voter, just a regular old voter and I look at those congressional approval numbers.

And I think, wow, these people just cannot get anything done, even in the most important issue, the "Super Committee" cannot get something done. How do you fix that? TOOMEY: You know, it's very, very frustrating. You know, what I tried to do is offer a proposal that was outside of my comfort zone, something that met the demands of the other side. I offered tax reform that generated new revenue. They said they had to have revenue. I said, OK, we really need to change the architecture of the big entitlement programs.

But since you guys aren't willing to do it, can you at least agree on some of the very minor tweaks along the edges that will save some money? That was a proposal that got some initial traction, but then, frankly, the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party rebelled against it and we were unable to make it in Congress. And I wish we had.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like you're saying there's no hope because it becomes a political thing. It's not even really about cutting the budget.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: It's not about trying to trick the budget, it's about, listen, we're not going to bracelet you do what you want to do, because we know you're not going to let us do what we're want to do so, we're going to have a giant stalemate, and too bad for the voters.

TOOMEY: Except that, again, I was the one that offered the Democrats to do in order to reach an agreement and they weren't willing to meet us halfway, so that makes it pretty hard to get a deal done. I think ultimately it takes presidential leadership. And unfortunately, in this budget, we're not seeing it.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

All right, Senator Pat Toomey joining us this morning.

Thank you, sir, for your time. We appreciate it.

TOOMEY: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, I'm going to talk to a key Democrat on the Budget Committee. We'll talk about Senator Toomey's comments from just a moment ago.

STARTING POINT is back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. New polls out. They could be game changers. The polls confirm what we have been calling the Rick Santorum surge, and it paints a very difficult picture for Mitt Romney. Going to get to those numbers in just a moment.

First though, we want to bring in a former adviser to Mitt Romney. Brett O'Donnell is the president of O'Donnell and Associates. He advised Mitt Romney on debates and then something happened. We'll talk about that straight ahead.

First, nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time.

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENT, O'DONNELL AND ASSOCIATES, FORMER ADVISER TO MITT ROMNEY: You're very welcome. Great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Let's talk about this article in "The New York Times" that was -- really talked about how Mitt Romney was able to turn around what was really a challenging time by success in a debate. And you, to a large degree, were responsible for some of that success. You were coaching him in the debate. And then kind of, you were booted off the committee that was sort of helping Mitt Romney. What happened?

O'DONNELL: Well, I'm not really going to talk about what happened either behind the scenes or what we do. I mean, I think, at the end of the day, what people have to remember is they have -- candidates have advisers but it's the candidate that has to go debate, give the speech, do the media interview. And Governor Romney's a great candidate. He did a great job in the last two debates in Florida. And I expect that he'll do very well moving forward.

O'BRIEN: Huh. I find it so interesting when people say I'm not really going to talk about that. But I guess people can read through the lines, or into the lines, whatever they want.

Let's talk about some of the polls. You say Mitt Romney is a great candidate.

O'DONNELL: Sure.

O'BRIEN: The polls would not necessarily agree with you at this moment. We have Rick Santorum up two points in a national poll. Can we pull up that Pew Research -- there we go. He's leading 30 percent to Mitt Romney's 28 percent. Then, if you look at a poll that focused specifically on the state of Michigan -- this, an American Research Group poll -- he's up by six points there. So let's say you were brought back in right now to advise the Romney campaign, what would you be telling them?

O'DONNELL: Well, I mean, I would be telling them to keep running their race. You know, what we've seen over the course of this campaign is that Governor Romney's been pretty steady in his support and that he has been very steady in running his race. If he panicks at this point or tries to shift strategy dramatically, I think he keeps doing what he's been doing, trying to get his message out, and watch the other candidates go up and down. I think this race has been about winners winning. And governor -- Senator Santorum absolutely did a great job last week winning three primaries, a couple caucuses. I think that gave him some momentum. But Governor Romney won Maine. So it remains to be seen how that will carry over. In this race almost, you know, nothing has carried over for very long so --

(LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That might be the understatement of this political season, that nothing has carried over. We could graph it out. It's been something like that.

O'DONNELL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: As you mentioned, Governor Romney won Maine and won that CPAC straw poll. Next up, you have Arizona and Michigan. What happens if he loses there? Is this just big, giant stakes at this point? He's tripled his ad buy. Is this sort of the moment to watch for? Because you look at that poll, that's a problematic poll.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, every time people have counted out Governor Romney, he's come back and won. People that counted him out in Florida after he lost South Carolina -- I actually think it made him a better candidate coming out of that loss in South Carolina. And, you know, going into Michigan, I certainly wouldn't count him out. He has a large infrastructure. He's running lots of television. And don't forget there's Arizona on the books as well that day.

O'BRIEN: Right.

O'DONNELL: So, you know, I think voters will take a look at both races, and we'll see what happens going into Super Tuesday. I think that's a game changer because Super Tuesday really nationalizes the race. It remains to be seen whether or not either Speaker Gingrich or Senator Santorum can run a national race.

O'BRIEN: The "National Review" has called for Newt Gingrich to get out of the race. They wrote this, "It's not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride."

Do you think that that's true, that he should get out of the race at this point?

O'DONNELL: Well, I don't think anyone should tell a candidate when to get out of the race. I was the advisor, chief strategist to Michele Bachmann's campaign, and I really strenuously objected when folks were calling for us to get out of the race before voters had even had a chance to vote. So, you know, I think that it's up to Speaker Gingrich when he gets out of the race. It's a matter of can he go on and should he go on. That's a judgment that he and his staff will reach. And I don't think anyone should be calling for him to get out of the race, especially in this election, where things have gone so up and down so fast. I mean, every time we count him out, he comes back. Folks --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You just said that about Mitt Romney, too.

(LAUGHTER)

O'DONNELL: Yes. Yes. You know, I mean --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I mean, that's kind of a --

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: Absolutely. And I think that this is good for our party. It gets ideas flushed out. It puts things on the table that surely the Obama folks already know. It's not like Republicans are coming up with something new that the Obama campaign didn't already know. It's good to get these things flushed out now and make a stronger candidate when we turn the corner toward the general election.

O'BRIEN: Brett O'Donnell, will you be working with the Romney campaign as he moves forward into more primaries and --

O'DONNELL: Who knows? We'll see. I remain open. I'm just excited to see what's happening in the race. And we wish all of them well.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: That's a very political answer, sir. We wish everybody well.

Brett O'Donnell, nice to talk to you again.

Always great to have him on, giving us the inside scoop on that.

O'DONNELL: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, heat on Rupert Murdock over the scandal at "The Sun." Charges could be filed here in the hacking scandal. We're going to talk to the man who literally wrote the book on the media mogul, straight ahead.

Then, are kids forced to literally pay cash for things like not looking their teacher in the eye? A Chicago charter school under fire for fining children, many of them from low-income homes, for those kinds of things.

(LAUGHTER)

This is a little bit of a crazy news-day story, isn't it?

You're watching STARTING POINT. Got a short break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a key Democrat on the Budget Committee will explain why she thinks the president's budget plan is good for jobs. Also, Gloria Stefan knew Whitney Houston more than two decades. We had planned to talk to Gloria Stefan anyway. She was booked to come in to talk about the election in Florida, to talk about her new album. Then, of course, this tragedy. So were going to ask her about all that straight ahead this morning.

Plus, did you see Nicki Minaj -- did you see this, Will?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I did.

O'BRIEN: At the Grammys? What was that?

CAIN: Little Red Riding Hood.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I think it's an understatement to say Catholics were not happy about that.

(LAUGHTER)

We're going to talk about that straight ahead on STARTING POINT.

What was that?

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