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ICE Agent Killed in Federal Building; Stars to Sing at Whitney's Funeral; U.N. Condemns Syrian Violence; Protests In Violence-Torn Syria; Keystone Pipeline Bill Passes House

Aired February 17, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Friday morning to you. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Some developments overnight be want to tell you about, very unusual. A shoot-out in a federal building and ICE agent killing another and another ICE agent injured as well. We'll tell you how and why this happened.

SAMBOLIN: We have new details on Whitney Houston's funeral. We know who will sing, who will speak and who will simply witness it all.

BANFIELD: Also, your car may be getting smarter as you get a little dumber. You see these images all the time, don't you? Distracted drivers endangering you and me. Now, the DOT, the Department of Transportation is going to crack down on this. No Facebook until you park, folks.

SAMBOLIN: It's a huge mystery. Have you been following this? It's all over Twitter, Facebook. The Stephen Colbert show mysteriously canceled some shows. Nobody really knows what happened. We're going to try to dig deep and figure this out for you.

BANFIELD: In the meantime, though, at one minute past 5:00 on the East Coast, we want to begin with a developing story out of southern California. A really bizarre workplace shoot-out. This involving ICE agents, immigration and customs officials. This is a shoot-out in a federal building in Long Beach.

Here are the external pictures. You can see obviously responders there as two immigration agents apparently engaged in a fight and then it rose to gun battle. One of them is dead. The other one has been stabilized. A third agent was the one who actually ended up shooting the shooter.

FBI agents were also involved. They say it was some kind of a workplace dispute and one of them just began to fire.


STEVEN MARTINEZ, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN CHARGE, LOS ANGELES FBI: This situation began with what we can characterize as an incident of workplace violence involving two federal agents in their office space. When the incident escalated, one agent fired several rounds at the other agent wounding him. The victim is currently hospitalized in stable condition. At that time when that incident occurred, another agent working nearby intervened and fired his weapon to prevent additional rounds being fired at the victim. This resulted in the death of the shooter.


BANFIELD: Clearly, there is so much more to investigate here. The FBI is calling this an isolated incident and saying that the shooter acted alone.

SAMBOLIN: Well, switching gears here. Her life and her voice touched so many including in of the biggest names in entertainment and many of them will be in church tomorrow to say farewell to Whitney Houston. The final plans are now in place for her funeral, which will happen tomorrow at her childhood church in Newark, New Jersey.

BANFIELD: A lot of celebrities will be on hand. Many invited and confirming attendance. And many of them are going to perform as well at the service.

Here's a bit of a list so far. We know that Kevin Costner, who was her costar in the movie "The Bodyguard," is going to speak at the service. Alicia keys set to perform as well. Stevie Wonder is going to sing apparently. And Aretha Franklin, who, of course, you'll remember, is Whitney Houston's godmother, is set to perform as well.

And then the big rumor put to rest. Was Bobby Brown not invited, was he not going to attend. It is confirmed not only was he invited but he will be there.

And then sort of an unusual but perhaps not so unusual move, he's going to perform later on actually out of state, saying that getting back with his band on tour, New Edition, is very therapeutic for him.

SAMBOLIN: Hopefully, a star-studded celebration of her life, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. It will be.

Susan Candiotti is live for us in Newark this morning.

And, Susan, obviously, this is going to be something that a lot of people wanted to take part in. It's on TV, yes, which helps people to see it. But the police there have gone to great lengths to try to keep people as far away from that church as possible.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they sure have. And in fact, some of those measures are already under way. We're noticing that overnight and this morning, some of the streets around the church have already been blocked off and probably with good reason because of security concerns and privacy reasons as well.

You know, arguably, fewer people love her, most people from her own town may love her more than anyone else and that's why they keep coming by the church here to leave behind mementos and balloons and flowers. But they might not be able to do that much longer because of the perimeter -- two to four blocks around the church -- that will be put into place very soon.

And that's why police are saying this to any fans who want to get close to the church.


SAMUEL DEMAIO, NEWARK POLICE DIRECTOR: The best thing to do would be to stay home and watch the service on television. It is going to be aired over all the network channels and that would be the best place to see it. The funeral is not going to be a traditional procession as would -- we would normally have. There's really going to be nothing to see.


CANDIOTTI: So looks like about the closest anyone will be able to get is about two blocks away from here.

But for now, fans have also been going over to the funeral home where they've set up a large, beautiful photograph of Whitney Houston in the front window. There are balloons, people coming by and leaving other messages. We see police tape up there and large white drapes around some of the entrances presumably for security reasons.

So all this while everyone is getting ready to watch the funeral on television. Certainly CNN and as you know will be broadcasting that. People hoping to get a glimpse of some of the big names that you were mentioning, including Oprah Winfrey who was also coming.

BANFIELD: Oh, man. That's going to be hard to keep people away despite what the police are doing there.

Susan Candiotti for us live this morning -- thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: New Jersey's governor made a decision to fly the flags at half staff and now he has to defend that decision. He was just attempting to honor his hometown girl Whitney Houston. So, he's under fire now for his decision. This all started on Twitter.

One Twitterer is saying, "She's not a fallen hero. I am not alone in taking offense to this. She's no role model. She's a dead junkie."


SAMBOLIN: Another person tweeted, "Shame on you for ordering our flag to be flown half mast for a singer who O.D.'ed. What about our soldiers and our real heroes?"

So, listen to this, Christie fired back, first on Twitter, by saying, "Every New Jersey soldier who has been killed in action during my administration had the flags lowered in their memory. Learn your facts before accusing."

He also had this to say.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I understand, there will be some who disagree. But you know what? Look, every decision I make, someone disagrees with.

I believe that drug addiction is a disease and I think that she struggled mightily with that disease, and I don't believe that diminishes the cultural contributions she made to the state.


SAMBOLIN: And, you know, it's not the first time that he's done this for a homegrown musician. Christie called for flags to be lowered to honor the E Street band saxophonist Clarence Clemmons who died last June.

BANFIELD: Yes. And it's kind of that reaction that has so many that want him to run for president, I think.


BANFIELD: That he is just absolutely, you know --

SAMBOLIN: That she stands by his convictions, right?

BANFIELD: Yes, digging in and saying that's the way it is.

SAMBOLIN: All right. CNN is airing special coverage of Houston's funeral. It's hosted by our Soledad O'Brien, Piers Morgan and Don Lemon. It is beginning Saturday at 11:00 Eastern.

BANFIELD: And we have sad news to report to you of one of our colleagues, a Pulitzer Prize honored and courageous "New York Times" reporter Anthony Shadid, a friend of the CNN family, has died in Syria at 43 years old. He reportedly suffered a fatal asthma attack in country. His photographer carried his body over the border to Turkey.

You might remember his image because he did several interviews with Anderson Cooper here. He and his photographer were both kidnapped in Libya last year.

SAMBOLIN: And CNN's Anderson Cooper discussed that experience with Shadid back in April. He told Cooper that telling these stories are absolutely worth the risk.


ANTHONY SHADID, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: I think there are some stories that are worth taking risks for. It is a little bit of a cliche, but there's some meaning to it, that unless you're there covering it, no one is going to know about it. Unless you're there trying to bring meaning to it, to bring a certain depth to it, it won't be done otherwise.


SAMBOLIN: Shadid was reporting on the military resistance in Syria. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage in Iraq.

BANFIELD: Situation in nearby Syria out of control, nonstop shelling this morning. Again, it is repetitive, but it is awful. The city of Homs once again -- look at the images. Reportedly, this is at the hands of government forces on their own people.

United Nations stepping in and condemning this for human rights violations. How did they do it? It was the U.N. General Assembly overwhelming approving a nonbinding resolution that calls for an end to the bloodshed.

SAMBOLIN: And the strongest U.N. statement so far condemning President Bashar al Assad's regime. But the opposition pleading for stronger intervention.

This guy that we've gotten to know now. He's a Syrian activist, Danny, as he is, who was shot in Homs -- spoke exclusively to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.

Walsh traveled to an undisclosed location, and for Danny's safety, we are not disclosing where that was. Danny has since moved.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's possible Barack Obama will hear what you're saying. If you could appeal directly to him, what would you say?

"DANNY," SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Well, I beg him to help us. Military forces or by weapons or by no-fly zone. We want help. We can't stay like this.

Bashar al Assad will kill millions. He has no problem. This can't be solved peacefully.

We're asking anyone for any kind of help.

WALSH: Even the Israelis?

DANNY: Even the Israelis. It don't matter -- it doesn't matter if the Israelis come in. One of the guys said I want him, Bashar al Assad, to move and Satan sits in his place, it's much better.


SAMBOLIN: Nick Paton Walsh is live in Beirut, Lebanon, with the very latest.

It's really great to see you. You have been in northern Syria. We talked to you yesterday.

We mentioned this nonbinding resolution. China and Russia are on board with it. But will it have an impact?

WALSH: At this point, it's very hard to see exactly how it will change things on the ground certainly. As you point out this U.N. resolution is nonbinding. It's not a Security Council resolution which would have some kind of legal impact. It's effectively just a big piece of paper in which people say officially together through the U.N. what they've been saying beforehand together at the same time after this lengthy diplomatic kerfuffle over the past week or so.

On the ground, we hear this morning from Arwa Damon who's in Homs that shelling began at 7:00 a.m. It's continuing intensely. As I think you just heard from Danny early on, his point to us very clearly was that diplomacy of the past few months, specifically the veto by Russia and China which prevented that last Security Council resolution from getting through, that will be judged very harshly by history.

Let's hear what he had to say.


WALSH: How do you think history will judge the diplomacy of the past few months?

DANNY: For the last few months it's crime against humanity. Russia and China will be guilty of that. What they did, they've got Syrian blood on their hands. This is all their fault.

Last time the U.N. did nothing. They gave the green light and the OK to Bashar al Assad to kill more. It was the first time that he had used rocket launchers after the U.N. He felt safe. They gave him the OK.


WALSH: Just more news emerging from Homs this morning, specifically relating to what Danny had said. According to activists, nine bodies have been found in that particular city killed this morning -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Nick Paton Walsh live in Beirut for us -- thank you very much.

BANFIELD: And we are minding your business this morning. How you ask? By looking at stocks.

New highs this morning and that you won't believe the numbers if you haven't been following it day to day. Kind of paints the picture of the U.S. economy on the verge of a -- wait for it, wait for it -- a comeback. Yes. I said it.

The Dow hit its highest level in nearly four years up 123 points. That's more than 1 percent. Close to -- closing at 12,904.


BANFIELD: Twelve thousand?

ROMANS: From 13,000.

BANFIELD: Where was I for the last 2,000 points?

ROMANS: Over the last 10 years, the NASDAQ had a 10-year high. It's like the whole 10 years was nightmare.

BANFIELD: I feel like I was asleep. The Dow has gone more than seven weeks without a triple digit loss. That is true. We're going to break the 13,000 at some point. Will it be today?

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh! The S&P 500 gained just over a percent. The NASDAQ is back in dotcom territory, hitting a peak it hasn't seen since December 2000.

Shall we go on? The NASDAQ soared to end at 2,559 logging its best close since December of 2000.

And your response?

ROMANS: This is the reason --

BANFIELD: That would be her response over there.

ROMANS: This is the reason why you have to watch the trend in the markets. All of a sudden, you wake up one day, now I feel better about stocks, well, too late. There's been a really nice move. You missed it. You can't decide today you feel better about things because the market has been telling us for a long time that things were turning.

We've been concerned about Greece and that's been the thing that has really kept pulling things down whenever you got, you know, nice and effervescent in the market. But it is basically -- it is basically because of the U.S. economy is getting better. I mean, we had jobless claims yesterday that were good and housing starts that perked up. And investors bought stocks.

BANFIELD: I'm wondering if it's an assiduous assault on the bad economy. That's the word of the day. I'm sorry, I had to get it in. I had to get it in.

ROMANS: Very well done.

BANFIED: But there was another assiduous assault and it was on Capitol Hill. Did you see this? The fireworks yesterday?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, fantastic. It's good TV.

BANFIELD: Off the rails.

Our treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, you met him. He was testifying before the House budget hearing and he was sort of pushed on by the Republicans saying, hey, what about tax reform. Remember tax reform, did you bring it? And he said, no, actually, not really.

But here's how it went down. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That you would be coming to us not today but prior to this with a simpler tax system today and not waiting until the end of your term.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: Even in tax reform that raises the revenues that, for example, Simpson Bowles suggested we need, or Rivlin-Domenici suggest we need, (INAUDIBLE) suggest we need, in that context, the effective tax rate on somebody is going to go up. That's why we spent so much time with your leadership discussing in the summer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In other words -- OK.





BANFIELD: Yield, yield, yield. It was actually kind of fiery. We missed a bunch of the fire.

ROMANS: He looks irritated the treasury secretary and --

SAMBOLIN: Right, arms crossed, mark on his face.

ROMANS: Congress irritated to because you have a stock market that's going up, a jobless rate going down, and so you've got opponents of this candidate and president who are trying to say, look, you haven't done all of this stuff, you haven't lowered the corporate tax rate, you haven't made the tax system in this country more simple, I mean, we're still -- you're laying out guidelines for some time in the future when we're going to reform the tax code, by why aren't you doing it now, why isn't it in this budget?

And it got a little testy there. Good stuff.

BANFIELD: I mean, if you read the transcript, takes a long time to play, almost the hour of this program, so we can't play it all, but, you know, half of me thinks was that a lot of politics or a lot of meat and potatoes to what they were talking about some.

ROMANS: Those things are always a lot of politics. Don't you think those congressional hearings? I mean, it's -- this is what Congress people do, they want to get a sound bite played the next day of them being tough against the administration. And that's what they did there.

SAMBOLIN: Got a little bit from both sides.

ROMANS: I'm going to come back in an hour and we're going to talk more about stocks. It's really -- I mean, you're less than 100 points on the Dow Jones.

BANFIELD: I swear, I blinked and we're over 12,000. I don't know where I was. Maybe be Christmas I took my eye of the prize.

ROMANS: This is the highest stock market, since this has been the president. The highest NASDAQ in 10 years. So, I'll have more about that next hour.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very.

BANFIELD: Thank you.

Have you ever done a White House tour?


BANFIELD: It's great. It's such an exotic and fun thing to do and it's a real American experience but for some people --


BANFIELD: I think it is. I think it's terrific. Yes. It's one of those things, it's not Disneyland. You're going to take your kids on a vacation, this is the one you want to do.

But if you were one of the folks on the White House tour yesterday, bit of a shock. Look who showed up. This is not normal. Don't expect if you're going to sign up for the tour you get to meet the first lady and shake her hand.

But she surprised the tourists and they got some hugs, they got some handshakes, and photos. First dog Bo also making an appearance.

And this wasn't just a little drive-by either. Michele Obama was there for more than an hour. More than an hour. Fourth time that Mrs. Obama has done this as a nice treat to her fellow Americans.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that, walk in and get a hug.

BANFIELD: It's great.

SAMBOLIN: Seventeen minutes past the hour.

We're going to head to Atlanta. Check in with Rob Marciano.

Good morning.


You know, I do that from time to time when the tours come through CNN.



SAMBOLIN: I get a hug.

MARCIANO: Who are you? What do you do here?

BANFIELD: And your name is and I know you from?

MARCIANO: Exactly. Good morning, guys.

Hey, listen now. We got some rain heading across the Gulf Coast. Look at the flood watches up for New Orleans and Houston.

These are areas or at least Houston and parts of southeast Texas that desperately need the rain. Really a couple weeks ago, but they've had a pretty good replenishment of it as of late, Dallas and Houston in particular. The amount of rain that we've seen since December, 13 inches. So, that's above normal, above average and Galveston as well.

Austin and San Antonio, these are two places where we really, really need it and we still do need it there. We'll start to get it over the next 24 to 36 hours.

This radar will fill in as we go through time. The actual storm system that's going to affect this area and folks along the east coast, especially the mid-Atlantic is still across the four corners region and desert southwest and even into parts of Mexico. So, that's got time to go eject eastward.

So, Houston, if you are traveling through that city, on Continental in particular, heavy thunderstorms throughout the day, they'll be building. So, that will cause some delays. Rain showers across New York City and the Northeast will be moving out but low clouds will linger so that will kind of create some travel delays as well.

Not a ton of cold air. Most of the cold air remains up in Canada. Temperatures will again be above average today.

And here's your storm across parts of Texas. That will eject eastward and bring not only the threat for flooding to New Orleans, but a threat for tornadoes and damaging winds across the Gulf States and panhandle of Florida.

And, man, this gets up into the Mid-Atlantic States where a little bit of snow mixing in maybe around D.C. as we go through Sunday. But it doesn't look like a blockbuster storm for the Northeast. One of the reasons is temperatures still mild -- 49 degrees for the high temperature in New York City.

BANFIELD: I never liked to see that tornadoes in the Gulf area. I don't like to see them anywhere. Whenever it's Gulf, I get a little upset.

MARCIANO: We'll try to keep them in the Gulf maybe.

BANFIELD: Good idea. You knew that. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: See you.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, if you like to just get on your airplane and fly around, don't fly near the president, don't fly near where the president is, and, by the way, you might not want to have dope on your aircraft. We'll explain this one.

SAMBOLIN: It's a cookie story, man.

So is this one -- "The Colbert Report" suspended out of nowhere. Did you read about it? It's exploding on social media. There's a lot of speculation about what happened. We're going to try to add to it.

You are watching EARLY START.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: Some news for you coming out of Germany. Somewhat expected. The president of that country is resigning. It is Christian Wulff. You haven't heard that name before.

He is expected to deliver a televised statement about this later on today. He's been dogged by a whole bunch of scandals, calls for him to step down as well. The presidency, you might not know who he is, it's mostly ceremonial.

You have probably heard more about the chancellor and that is also playing into this because this could be seen as a blow to Angela Merkel. She's the chancellor and she supported him as a candidate for president. So, Angela Merkel is also expected to give a televised statement at some point later today.

Again, the president of Germany announcing that he's going to be resigning today.

SAMBOLIN: It is 23 minutes past the hour. Time to check our stories that are making news this morning.

Funeral plans for Whitney Houston including an A-list of stars. "Bodyguard" costar Kevin Costner is expected to speak at the service. You recall he actually handpicked her for that starring role, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and her godmother Aretha Franklin are all expected to perform tomorrow.

And CNN confirms Bobby Brown did get a last-minute invitation.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defending his decision to fly flags at half staff in honor of hometown girl Whitney Houston. He's saying he believes addiction is a disease.

Pulitzer Prize-winning "New York Times" reporter Anthony Shadid has died in Syria. He apparently suffered a fatal asthma attack. Shadid was just 43 years old.

BANFIELD: Two U.S. immigration agents have been involved in a deadly shoot-out. One of them is dead, the other has been stabilized. Authorities say those agents were involved in some kind of a workplace dispute that escalated to gunfire.

And an odd story from the World Trade Center site -- three 60- feet steel beams fell 40 stories at that site yesterday. Each of those beams, 40,000 pounds.


BANFIELD: And what's incredible, Zoraida, no one was hurt. But, obviously, troublesome and quite a mess as well.

Here's an unusual one: Air Force fighter jets stopping a private plane. Here it is. Parked in Los Angeles.

It flew into air space that was reserved for the president's Marine One helicopter. The president is in California on fund- raising. But guess what was on board? Forty pounds of pot.

So, yes, don't fly into the president's air space, especially when you're carrying illegal substances like that.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know, they were trying to reach him and he refused to answer.

BANFIELD: I wonder why.

SAMBOLIN: And he got escorted by two F-16s.

BANFIELD: Usually what happens.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Popular Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report" mysteriously stops production. The show did not tape this Wednesday and Thursday, and the network is giving no clues as to why this happened.

Comedy Central's other fake news program, "The Daily Show" has stopped production only twice in history. So, some good news and some bad news. Once for the birth of host Jon Stewart's second child and another time when a member of the staff died suddenly.

Of course, we're hoping Colbert is off for happy reasons.

BANFIELD: It's very unusual because there were reports that fans were already in line for the show. There were other reports that they were -- some of them were actually in their seats, too. So, this is very last minute. Very mysterious.

Still to come on EARLY START, 26 minutes past the hour, moving on up to the west side. We're going to tell you the price of an apartment in New York City. It is a record. Look how pretty. But you will not believe what you've got to shell out if you want that thing.

SAMBOLIN: And listen to this, Air Australia's entire fleet grounded. Thousands of passengers are stranded now. Boy, they're not happy. You won't believe what the airline didn't have money to pay for.

BANFIELD: And a closer look at the legacy of this woman, Whitney Houston, as she gets closer to her burial and her friends think forward to remembering her. We'll look back at the star and the legacy she leaves behind.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Thirty minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with Ashleigh Banfield. It's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Protests planned across Syria this morning as shelling continues in the city of Homs. The U.N. General Assembly has passed a nonbinding resolution condemning Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad for the violence.

And the battle over the keystone pipeline now on its way to the Senate. The house passed a bill that would strip President Obama's authority to decide on the $7 billion project and also open Atlantic waters to offshore drilling.

BANFIELD (voice-over): You know that ticket that you have on Air Australia? Toss it out. They're grounding. They're entire fleet of planes and thousands of passengers are now stranded. The airline says it just didn't have enough money to cover, you know, the little things like operational expenses, like jet fuel. Maybe don't toss it out, but certainly, call the airline.

Also, a penthouse apartment on New York's central park west is now officially the most expensive apartment ever sold. It is pretty, isn't it? Take a look inside and out. The view is stunning. It sold for $88 million. Who has that kind of money, especially to buy that for your daughter? A russian billionaire, and the daughter is 22 years old. That is her new pad on the upper west side.


BANFIELD: It's remarkable.


BANFIELD (on-camera): Beautiful building. New building, too.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Thirty-one minutes past the hour here. We've all heard singers say my body is my instrument, and with Whitney Houston, we saw her battle with addiction take its toll on her body, and obviously, on her gift. She lost that voice that could just bowl you over. Last night on "AC 360," a vocal coach who started working with Whitney Houston back in 2004 talked about the terrible shape her voice was in during their first session.


GARY CATONA, WHITNEY HOUSTON'S VOCAL COACH: When I went to see her in Atlanta, her voice was in horrible condition. Her speaking voice and her singing voice were both hoarse. She had about one audible tone in her lower register. I was horrified. I had this image of her being a young beautiful lady with this incredible voice, and here, she is sitting in front of me with no voice whatsoever.


BANFIELD: And on "Piers Morgan Tonight," singer and songwriter, Valerie Simpson, said that Whitney Houston will be remembered as "The Voice," and perhaps, not so much for those battles with drugs and alcohol.


VALERIE SIMPSON, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Some people, you know, might find fault with that idea, you know, and want to bring in her personal trials and tribulations which have nothing to do with her artistry and her gift to the world. That is her record. Not her personal trials. Her record is her music, that incredible voice.


BANFIELD: Susan Candiotti is live in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey this morning with more on the plans for the funeral and, of course, Susan, the family is trying very hard along with friends and colleagues of Whitney Houston to try to gear the conversation more towards this incredible legacy, aren't they?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Without doubt. That's definitely been happening. Not only that, but also the fans who have been coming by the church here day after day sharing memories, stopping to take pictures, leaving behind flowers, because despite Whitney Houston's various struggles, they still love her because of that powerful voice and that legacy that she will leave behind.

They're disappointed that they won't be able to attend a public memorial, at least, not tomorrow anyway, but fans here, for the most part, do understand privacy. Today, however, might be the very last day they're able to get this close to the church because police are already starting to block off streets. The fans may only be getting as close as two blocks away from here.

Now, we spoke with Reverend Joe Carter here, the pastor of this church, just yesterday. And he talked about the family's need for privacy, and he also talked about being a lot of singing going on and a lot of crying, no doubt. Listen.


REVEREND JOE CARTER, PASTOR, NEW HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH: This is a church, and we're going to have some church in this celebration. And, once again, thank you for respecting the privacy of the family and the sanctity of our church campus. And, we are asking that you continue to pray and thank all the fans for all of their support. Continue to pray for the family.


CANDIOTTI: And so, that's why fans will have to be content with watching the proceedings, watching the funeral on television, and they'll be able to see a lot, they should, because they'll be seeing all kinds of, oh, singing going on, the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder. Oprah will be here.

Kevin Costner, who, of course, was Whitney's co-star in "The Bodyguard" will also be speaking in the funeral. So, there will be a lot for everyone to see. And of course, CNN's coverage starts at 11 o'clock Saturday morning hosted by Piers Morgan, Soledad O'Brien, and Don Lemon.

BANFIELD: It's amazing. I was looking at that list, and it does read just remarkably with the confirmed performances of Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, and I just have this feeling that it's still sort of a work in progress, too, that there could be a whole lot more to it that we don't know.

And you're right, Candy, it is -- Susan Candiotti, it is a much better idea to watch this on television than try to go anywhere near the church. And just to remind our viewers, we do have that hosted program with Soledad O'Brien, Piers Morgan, and Don Lemon coming up, and it's going to start at 11 o'clock eastern on Saturday morning.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour here. Still ahead on EARLY START, Rick Santorum is surging in Mitt Romney's home state of Michigan. Have you seen those ads that have been airing in Michigan as well? Our political panel is going to weigh in on that.

BANFIELD: Also, some brand new federal guidelines are out there to stop this kind of thing. He has no idea we're even filming him. Look at him. Text, phone, driving along. That is dangerous. Folks, it's not just dangerous, it's deadly. So, what's the government doing about it? We're going to tell you.


BANFIELD: Another anthem. Republica with new app (ph) is "Ready To Go." And that's a good song to wake up to. I will say that. So, why would we say ready to go?

SAMBOLIN: Because --

BANFIELD: Politics season. SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: You've probably been wondering why John King is on vacation, Wolf Blitzer is on vacation. We're in a bit of a lull.

SAMBOLIN: They're going to hit it hard, though.

BANFIELD: Are they ever -- no contests this week, right? So, you may have thought it was slow going for the GOP candidates, too?

SAMBOLIN: No way. All are working out really hard here. They're looking forward to Michigan and Arizona, and a new poll in Michigan has Santorum leading Romney by four points. Kind of within that margin of error, right, but just barely.

So, joining us to talk about this, we have Joel Sawyer, Republican strategist, Goldie Taylor, independent political analyst and managing editor of the Goldie Taylor Project, and Linda Forbes, Democratic strategist here.

All right. So, I'm going to do something different today. I want you all to weigh in on everything. So, we're going to get started here. This week, we had big ad wars in MICHIGAN. Romney struck a nostalgic tone. So, let's listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I grew up in Michigan. It was exciting to be here. I remember going to the Detroit auto show with my dad. That was a big deal.


SAMBOLIN: Santorum attacked Romney.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and his Super PAC have spent a staggering $20 million brutally attacking federal Republicans. Why? Because Romney's trying to hide from his big government Romneycare and his support for job killing cap and trade. And in the end, Mitt Romney's ugly attacks are going to backfire.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Linda, you're going to chime in first. How do you think the people in Michigan will react to these two very different approaches?

LINDA FORBES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think that the people of Michigan will remember what Mitt Romney said and that was let Detroit go bankrupt. So, I think that he's trying to really connect with the state, but I do think that his policies, which the state does not embrace at all, will -- is what will really come through. And with Santorum, Santorum is pointing out exactly what Romney has been trying to do here and that's getting into a whack a mole strategy. Romney has the most resources, and what he's doing is using them to try to beat down his opponents one by one by one.

And I think it says a lot about the health of the Republican Party that the presumed frontrunner here, Mitt Romney, who everyone still believes will be the nominee, that his toughest opponent right now is a senator who lost his last campaign for re-election by 18 points.


JOEL SAWYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean look, this race is kind of shaped up as, you know, Mitt Romney versus not Mitt Romney. And whoever the leading Not Mitt Romney is has changed throughout the race.

You know, ultimately, it just depends on how much resources is put behind these individual ads, but if you look at what happened in Florida, you know, I'd agree that the anti-Gingrich ads versus the pro-Romney ads were about 65 to 1. So, you know, Romney's hope at this point is just to tear down one of his opponents rather than he's had a lot of trouble building himself up.

SAMBOLIN: Goldie, do you think anybody will be offended by a gun-toting Romney?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, MANAGING EDITOR, THE GOLDIE TAYLOR PROJECT: No, actually, I don't think so. I think it's an interesting strategy, a preemptive strike on negative campaigning, sort of to insulate yourself. You know, but Mitt Romney has put down quite a bit of money in Michigan, the "Saving Our Future" PAC has put down an extraordinary amount of money in Michigan to really, you know, push -- try and push up Mitt Romney's positives.

But that's going to be really, really tough in the state, even though the entire GOP establishment around Michigan is backed up around Romney. It's going to be tough for him to win. I think to connect with, you know, blue collar auto workers who he wanted to go, you know, bankrupt over the last couple of years. I just think it's going to be tough for him to pull it out. Good point margin is not enough.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Let's get to the payroll tax extension. The House and the Senate could vote on it today and the president says that he's going to sign it, but let's take a look at this poll. Americans support the payroll tax extension, 54 percents to 42 percent. So, clearly the American people here win, right? But politically, who comes out on top, Joel?

SAWYER: You know, I think in this case, the president probably does. You know, he got what he wanted. I think, you know, the conservative Republicans in Congress are wanting some permanency to this. And I think that they have a great point, that, you know, that business owners are looking for some permanency. They're not looking for a situation where the rules are going to change on a mid-stream. So, you know, I think that the president wins on this one by putting Republicans in a box and saying, you know, if you're against at least a temporary tax cut, that you're against tax cuts in general.


TAYLOR: I think he's absolutely right about that there was a bit of a fist to cuff around this at the close of last year. The president came on top -- came out on top there, and he's done it again.


FORBES: I would say that the Republican Party is the winner here, only because they've averted a complete disaster for their party the way that they did in December. I think they learned a lesson from the hit they took with how they handled this in December and decided to definitely avert that kind of problem again. So, it's a short-term win for them, because they've learned something from their mistakes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Joel, Goldie, and Linda, thank you for joining us this morning.

And the GOP candidates will return to the debate stage next week for the Arizona Republican presidential debate, Wednesday night at eight o'clock eastern time. We will have that. We'll be right back. You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 48 minutes past five o'clock in the morning on the east coast. Good time to get you caught up on your Friday morning top stories.


BANFIELD (voice-over): This one is sad for us to report. "New York Times" reporter, Anthony Shadid, has died at the age of 43. This happened in Syria. He suffered a fatal asthma attack while reporting on the military resistance in that country, and his photographer carried his body outside and over the border into Turkey.

Also making news, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, is defending his decision to fly flags at Half Staff in honor of his hometown girl, Whitney Houston. Critics on Twitter are saying she was no hero. Instead, some of them calling her a junky. Chris Christie is firing back saying he believes that addiction is a disease.

And still, with Chris Christie, he has promised a swift veto of a bill that's headed to his desk, a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey. The assembly in that state just approved the bill setting up a confrontation with the governor. SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Hall of Fame catcher, Gary Carter, has died after a battle with brain cancer. Carter played 19 seasons and won a world series with the New York Mets. That was back in 1986. He played with such enthusiasm that teammates called him "The Kid." Gary Carter was only 57 years old.

Mariah Carey's husband, Nick Cannon, reportedly hospitalized for the fourth time in three months. He's diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs. Cannon has also been diagnosed with acute kidney failure and underwent surgery just last month.

And Hollywood's most famous bachelor says, listen to this news flash, he is open to marriage.


SAMBOLIN: George Clooney telling "The Hollywood Reporter" he has not ruled out getting hitched once again.

BANFIELD: And you know who really likes hearing that?


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): His current girlfriend, Stacy (ph).

BANFIELD (on-camera): Yes, uh-huh. And everybody else who's watching right now who's not male.

All right. So, still to come, the feds want to make distracted driving a thing of the past. I can't get over this picture. You know that you've done it, too. Well, at least, many of you. So many of us guilty, and now, the government may figure out a way to stop you from doing this but still give you your gear. We'll explain.

SAMBOLIN: Whitney Houston's funeral will be a star-studded affair. We're going to talk with the entertainment director for "Essence" magazine and get more details maybe that you haven't heard before. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: All right. That is creating fist pumping in our studio by Miss Ashleigh Banfield. It's true. We are live in New Orleans here.

BANFIELD: Come on. You can't listen to "Slow Ride" by Foghat and not, at least, do sign of the horns or little fist pumping. I'm just saying. I'm just saying. It's a bit of an anthem.

SAMBOLIN: It is 61 degrees now there for you, showers and 65 later. You know, my boy said to me yesterday, five weeks left of winter.


SAMBOLIN: Not enjoying that 65 degrees. I hope it heads in our direction.

BANFIELD: Is he a groundhog?

SAMBOLIN: This is what he said, because I don't know if he's right or not, but I liked hearing it, so I didn't fact check it.

BANFIELD: So, Foghat is a great musical tribute to bump in on with slow ride because some of us need to be going a lot slower with the things that we're doing behind the wheel.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. No kidding. And I'm really guilty. I'm really guilty here.

The National Transportation Safety Board has already called for a nationwide ban on using cell phones. We all know that and text messaging while driving. So, now, the feds are proposing new rules to cut down on distracted driving. It's all about the high-tech gadgets in your car, though, not necessarily while you eat and stuff like that distracts you, as well.


SAMBOLIN: Kids in the background, right?

BANFIELD: And you know what, because we get so many more of these, you know, pieces of gear every year, it's becoming more and more of an issue and that's why our Lizzie O'Leary is on it. He's a CNN aviation and regulation correspondent. I love that you're working with us, because this is really where it's all going.

You're live in Washington, D.C. with us. There are all sorts of details about what the government is looking at, what kind of regulations that they're considering, drafting, along with the industry. Could you just kind of break it down and make it make sense for us.

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION & REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, where this starts is the stuff that's being built into cars because this is becoming a bigger and bigger trend if you've got a car like a Chevy Cruze that can actually check Facebook for you. This is what the government is looking out right now. What they want to do is cut down on people's distractions that are already built into the car.

So, these are voluntary guidelines the government wants carmakers to adopt so that you wouldn't be able to say, use two hands while you were navigating. They want it to be something that could only take two seconds, only use one hand, and then, these voluntarily guidelines might go a little farther to say well, then, the car shouldn't be able to be rolling while you text message or make a phone call, do anything like that.

They actually want automatic shutoffs to be something that could be in place, and this is because the backdrop is this is pretty deadly. We know about 3,000 people were killed by distracted driving in 2010. At any point, there are 13.5 million people doing something behind the wheel that they shouldn't be doing that they are distracted by it technology.


O'LEARY: Yes. It's a big number.

BANFIELD: Those stats are sick. I mean, I don't think a lot of people know. They know it's bad, but I don't think they know it's that bad, Lizzie. So, here's the thing. I was reading all of these guidelines thinking terrific. Great idea. How wonderful. Can't wait. Then, I saw voluntary. So, how much of this do you think we're actually going to see implemented?

O'LEARY: Well, some of this you will see in part because carmakers sort of knew this was where the government was looking. Ray Lahood, the transportation secretary, has made this a big priority of his. They've put a lot of money in there for education. It's voluntary now. And so, they are trying to say, all right, car companies, you've got an economic incentive to make sure that you're a little safer here.

We're kind of putting you on notice that we're going to take a harder look at this, and right now, the industry says that's fine. They recognize people want these embedded features, because frankly, it also makes driving easier for people if it is less distracting.

BANFIELD: Yes. Toothpaste is out of the tube. We're not going to put our stuff away. We're not going to get rid of it. We're so going to want our services. We just all want them to be safer, too. So, Lizzie, good stuff. Thanks for that. Appreciate it.

O'LEARY: Thanks.

BANFIELD: Lizzie O'Leary joining us from Washington.

SAMBOLIN: It is just about six o'clock here. Ahead on EARLY START, midair drama played out as a small plane flew near President Obama's helicopter and was escorted by two F-16s, and you won't believe what they found when they finally got the pilot to the ground.

BANFIELD: Also, we've got some new information on Whitney Houston's final days. Was she trying to reconcile with Bobby for the sake of their daughter, Bobbi Kristina? The entertainment director for "Essence" magazine is going to join us. You're watching EARLY START.