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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Remembering Whitney Houston; Houston's Journey "Home"; U.N. Inspectors In Iran For Talks; Three Dead In Washington State Avalanche; Lin Scores 28, Knicks Beat Champs; Lin Responds To Racial Headline; Santorum Leads Nationwide; Iran Halts Exports to U.K. and France; Romney Must Win Michigan; Americans Detained in Egypt; Colbert To Resume Taping Show; Super Skier Lindsey Vonn

Aired February 20, 2012 - 05:59   ET

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


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

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And we've got the news from A to Z for you this morning. Six o'clock in the morning on the East Coast. Let's get you started.

One of the only television producers in the church was our CNN producer, invited to Whitney Houston's funeral and is reporting to us what the mood and the scene was like inside, very different from the images seen on TV. And also some insight into why Bobby Brown bailed and left.

SAMBOLIN: Iran is fighting back against sanctions. It is holding oil hostage now. Particularly from France and the U.K. as U.N. talks takes place in Tehran.

BANFIELD: They were swept more than 1,000 feet down a mountain. It was a deadly avalanche in Washington State. We've got the details. Three dead, but many survived. We've got the story.

SAMBOLIN: And making the sale, candidates trying to connect with voters even having trouble in their home states. We're taking a look at how they are trying to win overall the doubters.

BANFIELD: Whitney Houston's journey home ending Sunday with a private burial in New Jersey. She was laid to rest next to her dad at a cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey.

SAMBOLIN: And the private moment following the family's home going service on Saturday. CNN producer, Raelyn Johnson was actually inside at the funeral. Raelyn, thanks for joining us this morning.

RAELYN JOHNSON, CNN PRODUCER: I have to say it was one of the most touching days that I've ever experienced and one of the most touching stories I've covered here at CNN.

But as you're watching right now, that moment when Whitney Houston's body was being carried down and sound track to her life, to so many of our lives "I Will Always Love You" playing, it was a moment I can't fully describe to you.

Because for so long it was such a joy use, happy, service, clapping, singing, dancing, until the casket was raised and it came down the aisle and Cissy Houston was completely broken up. And the entire church just lost it at that moment.

SAMBOLIN: And I know we talked to you earlier in the hour and you said there was a distinct difference in being there live and for us watching it live from home. So I want to play a little bit of it and I want you to chime in on what was different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TYLER PERRY, ACTOR: What I know about her is that she loved the Lord. And if there was a grace that carried her all of the way through, it was the same grace that carried her home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: How was it different? When you came back and you watched it like we were watching it from home, how was it different?

JOHNSON: Well, what you can't see are the tears, the people who were consoling each other or the moments when people were laughing because someone, you know, recounted a funny story of Whitney.

Those are the moments that you can't see. You know, on TV, there's just one angle. I sat about 20 pews behind the Houston family and there was so much to take in and absorb.

And for a minute -- it took me a while to sort of grasp the fact that here is one of the brightest stars in the world in a Newark church who is surrounded by dilapidated buildings. There was nothing around in the area.

For seven days the whole world has been on Newark, New Jersey, and Whitney Houston and from the inside, it just felt like we were having church for three hours on a Saturday morning for this girl who was skinny nicknamed Nippy and she had whole lost host of friends and family.

SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you as we were watching it, you know, I have never been to this church. I've never been to that community and Cissy really kind of introduced the world to this church and put it on the map now. Was that in an effort to try to keep it small because she really made it global?

JOHNSON: Well, I don't think that was Cissy's effort. I think in many strong families or Baptist communities, people who grew up in the church, I certainly did, my brother is a reverend.

There is a tradition that when -- when you go back home, as we say, or go back to Lord, you know, you want to come back to the church, the place that has kept you for so much of your life.

Whitney Houston was brought back to the place where she was born. She learned to sing at New Hope. That choir, she's been singing with those people in that choir for years. Her mother is still the choir director there.

So Cissy Houston shared her daughter with the world for so long. I think she just said, I'm bringing my baby back home to her church, to her town, and this is just where we're going the celebrate the end of her life right here.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Raelyn, we really appreciate your perspective being inside that of church and sharing all those special moment. Thank you.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: And coming up at 7:00 Eastern, we're going to talk to Reverend Jesse Jackson about the funeral and how the Houston family is doing. He's going to sit down with Soledad O'Brien for that on "STARTING POINT."

BANFIELD: Other stories making top headlines. With Iran cutting off oil to the U.K. and France, and the United States urging Israel to back off, don't attack, officials at the U.N. nuclear watchdog are going to start a second round of meetings with Iranian officials about that country's nuclear program.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is live in London. So, Matthew, we've been watching this cat and mouse game been going on for, well, for decades, but certainly of late, things are ramping up.

In November the IAEA issued a report that seemed pretty critical suggesting that these were not efforts that medicine or energy, these nuclear efforts.

And now we hear that they're coming in for two days of meetings. Does anybody think they're going to get any traction or make any headway?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, in fact, the IAEA has said quite clearly that they don't believe that these meetings that they're engaged in for right now for two days, second in this month, remember, are going to clear up all of the questions that have been posed by the U.N.'s atomic agency and others about the nature's of Iran's nuclear program.

There are, questions, of course, which center around is the nuclear program focused on the developments of a nuclear weapon, of course, that's what it boils down to. Certain questions need to be answered by the Iranians.

The inspectors looking for access to a military site in Iran where they believe a detonation device may have been tested by the Iranians. They also want to look at -- speak to some nuclear scientists inside Iran that they believe is closely linked with a possible weapons program.

That's not been forthcoming from the Iranians, but you know, at least these visits are under way, which I think indicates there may be room for negotiation to perhaps bring Iran back to the negotiating table. So that, you know, perhaps in the future some kind of conflict can be avoided with these.

BANFIELD: So Matthew, some people think that perhaps this is just Iran's way of buying some time, you know, that critical time that it needs to really shape up its reactors and process uranium. Is that sort of a reality? Is this something the IAEA feels is potentially on the horizon for them?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, certainly the Iranians have been dragging their feet when it comes to negotiations. But I think it's important to stress that what they say that very clearly is that they have no intention of building a nuclear weapon device.

They are merely engaged in, you know, generating a peaceful nuclear program. They've been enriching uranium for 20 percent. They've made these fuel rods, which they've inserted into their research reactor in Tehran to manufacture medical reactive devices to cure cancer and things like that.

But they stopped short, of course, of going for highly enriched uranium that is necessary for construct a nuclear device and there's a lot of, you know, concern and questions being asked as to whether they would ever do that. Certainly, they've said they won't -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Matthew Chance live for us in London. Thanks very much for that.

SAMBOLIN: It is 8 minutes past the hour. Three skiers are dead after an avalanche in a resort in Washington State. The skiers fell about 1,500 feet. These were all experienced skiers. Dozens were buried in the snow. They actually had to dig themselves out.

All the skiers we understand are accounted for now. As I said, the authorities say that they were not only well experienced, but they were also well equipped. That area we understand was out of bounds for skiers at the resort.

A lot of heavy snow in the area overnight, 19 inches in just 24 hours. Listen to this, a fourth skier was saved by an inflatable device that kept her from going under. The victims include Jim Jack, the head judge for the Free Skiing World Tour.

BANFIELD: That is the second time in a month I have heard about the inflatable device saving someone in an avalanche. It's remarkable new units. It's not just, you know, devices that you wear so someone can find you.

These are devices that keep you up on top of the snow and it allows you not to get buried so really remarkable stuff. We'll continue to follow that.

We're also following this story. It's on the front page of every paper in the live in the New York area. King Lin, Linsanity, defending NBA champs getting a taste of Linsanity.

Jeremy Lin had his most solid game yet at the New York Knick as they knocked off the Dallas Mavs yesterday at Madison Square Garden. Are ready for this? Madison Square Garden, 28 points, look at him.

It's like it's just natural. Just every single time he goes up to the basket, it goes in. Nobody's around you. Look at this stuff, 14 assists as well. He also responded to an ESPN headline that used a racial slur when talking about him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEREMY LIN, NEW YORK KNICK, GUARD: ESPN has apologized and, you know, there's no -- I don't think it was, you know, on purpose or whatever, but, you know, at the same time, they've apologized. So from my end, I don't care anymore. You know, I've had to learn to forgive and I don't even think that was intentional, or hopefully not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And that, my friend, is what you call class with a capital "C." ESPN ended up firing the employee who wrote the headline and suspended another that actually announced that slur on the air.

SAMBOLIN: You know, this guy is an overnight sensation. We rarely hear him complain, right, but he has asked the media in Taiwan to leave his family alone because they can't do anything without being followed around, trying to get their hands on anything that is Lin- related. What a superstar? Love him.

BANFIELD: Yes, he deserves all the great headlines.

SAMBOLIN: It's 10 minutes past the hour. Still ahead, a new nationwide poll shows Rick Santorum pulling away.

BANFIELD: And not only that, we've got a guy who pulls away every day, ahead of the pact, ahead of the curb, his name is Rob Marciano. He'll get you ready for your day. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. This snowstorm that rolled across Virginia now beginning to pull out to sea. Hear a look at the totals from yesterday. Most of it stayed south of the D.C. area, 9.8 inches in Covington, Melboro, Virginia seeing 8 inches and Roanoke seeing almost 6 inches of snow with this system.

There it is on the radar. We're still beginning to see it to tail off. So we're looking at quiet conditions today across I-95. It will be chilly, though, or at least chilly compared to the rest of the year.

And a storm rolling across the mid section of the country. Temperatures 40s in Chicago and 45 degrees in New York City. That's a quick check on weather. EARLY START is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: There is a new poll out and it kind of shows what it's been showing all along, that Rick Santorum is doing really well.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, Santorum is now leading by eight points. So that's a bit of a shift there. It's higher than last week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: There is a new poll out and it kind of shows what it's been showing all along, that Rick Santorum is doing really well.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Santorum is now leading by eight points. So that's a bit of a shift there. It's higher than last week.

New Gallop Poll numbers show Santorum at 36 percent; Romney at 28 percent; Gingrich at 13 percent; Paul at -- 32 percent, excuse me, Gingrich; and Paul at 11 percent.

So let's talk to our political panel. Republican Strategist Trey Hardin; Political White House Reporter, Joe Williams; CNN Contributor and Democratic Strategist, Maria Cardona.

If we could put those poll numbers back up again, so we can talk about those. I'm going to begin with you, Trey. So we have got -- oh, those numbers are wrong there, folks. So we got Santorum with an eight-point lead at 36 percent; Romney, 28 percent; Gingrich, 13 and Paul 11 percent. Those are the official numbers.

So with Santorum at eight-point lead, is this a sign that the message is resonating with Santorum and should Romney be worried? We're going to start with you, Trey.

TREY HARDIN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, VOX GLOBAL: Yes. What it's a sign of is that Rick Santorum has run a very disciplined campaign from a message standpoint. And Mitt Romney has been a little inconsistent on that front.

The electability -- the electability argument or the electability message speaks for itself. And Mitt Romney does not need to spend much time on there. He needs to get back to three to five good points that he just keeps hitting home and shows some discipline and not get too distracted on the -- on some of the other issues.

SAMBOLIN: So Maria, I want to talk about that electability, particularly among women when it refers to Santorum. Santorum made some comments this weekend, the prenatal testing while he was in Ohio. Let's listen to it and then I want to talk to you about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Prenatal testing, amniocentesis does, in fact, result more often than not in this country in abortion. That's a -- that is a fact.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: So he said it twice this weekend. And, you know, this comes after many controversial comments that were made by Santorum. And Politico just had an article out saying that he's having a problem with women. So do you think that this alienates women?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, there's no question about that, Zoraida. We were actually talking a little bit about this in the green room where you have those kinds of comments be the focus of Rick Santorum it might help him among the key religious and most socially conservative voters in the GOP, but it's doing absolutely nothing to make him electable in the general election.

In the general election, independent women are the biggest block of voters. And when you have more women than men voting this is not a voting bloc that you want to alienate. And every one of those comments women are looking in that and saying this is not somebody who understands women. This is not somebody who is going to fight for equal rights for women and not somebody who understands women.

So I don't think it's a good stand for him to take if he's really looking to be electable in the general election.

SAMBOLIN: Either one of you gentlemen want to weigh in on this?

JOE WILLIAMS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, it's certainly some call out to their base. I mean, these are the sort of issues that they like hearing Rick Santorum talk about. He sounds authentic when he does it. He's garnering crowds. He made some equally questionable statements about the president that the White House took issue with and certainly fired back.

This is the sort of thing that he's trying to do to win the nomination. So far it's working. What happens after that remains to be seen. And if Romney can get back on track, Santorum is going to have another series of problems and another set of hurdles to get past.

SAMBOLIN: Trey?

HARDIN: Yes. Zoraida, I would say, listen, we are seeing the largest registration of independent voters all time. To Maria's point, she's right-on that you have an enormous independent voting bloc out there, especially among women.

Rick Santorum has zero chance of winning a general election against Barack Obama. Zero chance. It's going to be a lot easier for conservatives to go to Mitt Romney than independents to go to Rick Santorum. So again, Mitt Romney, he's got a lot of work to do to get back on message, but he's got the money. He's got the electability arguments, so he's just got -- he's got to fight for a little longer.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I got to --

WILLIAMS: And a certain amount of time, yes. So it's -- we're talking also that it's a lifetime between now and the general election. Even a lifetime between now and the next primary.

HARDIN: Absolutely.

WILLIAMS: So there's plenty of --

CARDONA: And there's another debate coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. We have that debate coming up. All right, I've got time for one final question for you. And here's my rule. Only a one-word answer. So I'm going to have you take a look at this first, Romney with his wife Ann back in October.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: I'm thrilled to let people also know the other side of Mitt, which you might not all get to see. And that's -- oh, dear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: I saw that again this week and I thought it was just so funny.

So given his recent polling nationally in Michigan, is this what Romney needs to do to connect? And it's a yes or no answer here. And Trey, I'm going to start with you.

HARDIN: No. He needs to focus on three to five messages.

SAMBOLIN: One word answer. Maria?

HARDIN: Sorry.

CARDONA: Desperately.

SAMBOLIN: And Joe?

WILLIAMS: No.

SAMBOLIN: No. All right. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

And of course --

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CARDONA: Thank you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: -- do not miss the last presidential debate before Super Tuesday, CNN's Arizona Republican Debate on Wednesday at 8:00 P.M. Eastern.

BANFIELD: It's now 20 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast. Time to get your top stories to you this morning.

U.N. weapon inspectors in Iran for another round of nuclear talks. Not inspections, talks. It comes as Iran fights back against the E.U. sanctions by cutting off oil, at least to U.K. and France.

A rebel commander in Syria says their fight against the Assad regime is, quote, "an orphan revolution without foreign support." All of this as the U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman says it is, quote, "premature to decide whether or not we should help to arm the Syrian opposition."

And a small plane clips a helicopter midair in Northern California. It happened Sunday. And get this, both pilots walked away from this with only minor injuries. Both of them, bringing their aircraft down to the ground.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty minutes -- or 21 minutes past the hour here. Still ahead, paying the highest gas prices ever on President's Day Weekend. So that is what you are doing. What we're all doing, I suppose.

The news from Iran is making it even worse this morning. We're going to get some more details on that in our money report.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: You know, it just seems a day doesn't go by without a story about Iran, whether it's war, oil, money, problems, inspections.

It's announced now that it's stopping its shipments of oil to France and the U.K. That is in retaliation for what the E.U. did. All 27 E.U. countries put sanctions on Iran's oil exports. And that's starting in July.

SAMBOLIN: So Alison Kosik is here with us this morning filling in for Christine Romans. We're happy to have you.

And Alison, could these problems with Iran's oil experts hurt our U.S. recovery? Because it seems everything is always tighter.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It can't just hurt. According to at least one analyst, it could actually stop the recovery in its tracks right now.

That's according to Peter Beutel, he's a top oil analyst. He says this higher oil prices hitting the gas pump are not going to help, especially with the way demand is these days. Demand for gas is actually at an all-time low. And those higher oil prices mean that cost to power these machines to manufacture the goods that you and I buy, those costs will go up higher.

It means companies can wind up passing those costs on to us. That means that it's going to cost more for them to transport those goods to the retailer as well thus costing us more if they in fact those companies pass those prices down to us.

Now there's a back story to this and you touched on this, that prices -- oil prices are spiking overnight because Iran said it's not going to sell oil to Britain and France. It's in retaliation for sanctions that have been put in place going into effect July 1st. Because the European Union, the U.S., they want more information on Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

So what we're seeing happen overnight is oil prices are spiking to $104 a barrel. Although, you know, although what Iran is doing wouldn't hurt our oil and gas supply, we don't get any of our oil and gas from Iran. There's that fear factor in the trade that you see happening with oil prices, that these traders really trade on the fear of what could happen.

And this is in addition to what's happening with oil prices already. You see oil prices are up in January, already six percent. So this is not going to help things. It's not going to help consumer's pocket books because any extra cash they have is going to go to filling up their cars.

BANFIELD: So we just did a story from "Houston Chronicle" last hour about how our domestic production is way up, that we're going to be energy dependent soon. Why aren't Britain and France calling the U.S. saying we need some of your oil?

KOSIK: Well, they actually don't get a lot of oil from Iran. Britain gets I'd say one percent. France said they got four percent at the beginning of last year from Iran. It's more of a saber rattling. It's more sort of symbolic at this point as far as what Iran is doing to Britain and France.

BANFIELD: They're shaking the status quo --

KOSIK: Yes.

BANFIELD: -- which is never a good thing. All right. Alison Kosik --

SAMBOLIN: Alison Kosik, thank you for joining us this morning.

BANFIELD: And still ahead, the battle for Michigan. It's every year, right? Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. But this guy, oh, does he want Michigan, and so does this guy and Rick Santorum happens to be the front-runner, this guy.

So we're going to take a closer look at how the candidates are connecting with voters or maybe more importantly, not connecting with voters.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's nice to have you with us.

Let's check your top stories this morning, get you going in the morning.

U.N. weapons inspectors in Iran for yet another round of talks -- talks with Iran this time. It comes as Iran fights back against the E.U. sanctions by saying -- all right, you want sanction? Fine, we're going to cut off your oil supply, at least to the U.K. and France.

Also in the news, Whitney Houston laid to rest. The singer buried Saturday after what the family called a private home-going service. Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey among the celebrities who attended that service.

President Obama's top adviser, military adviser, says it is, quote, "premature" to be arming the Syrian rebels. Rebel commanders say their fight against the Assad regime is, quote, "orphan revolution without international support." Nearly two dozen people were killed in just the latest round of violence there.

And three skiers killed in a deadly avalanche. This is in Washington state. Authorities say a dozen skiers were buried in all. The rest have been accounted for.

And the U.S. Coast Guard says it has drained and moved a tanker barge that spilled almost 10,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River. It collided with another barge Friday near the coast of New Orleans, causing that spill.

And Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin leading his team to another win over the defending champs, Dallas Mavericks. Lin is also saying that he accepts ESPN's apology after a racial slur for Asians was used in an online headline.

BANFIELD: Well, Michigan is certainly the next big GOP battleground next week. It is 6:32 in the morning, folks. If you need more proof that this is a killer state for these two, listen up.

The polls have the man on the right leading the man on the left. Trouble is, man on the left, born in Michigan. Not good.

Also, the polls have Rick Santorum ahead in Ohio. That is also a swing state. Also a Super Tuesday state.

Michigan goes without saying is a must win for Romney -- home state, dad was governor.

So what are the candidates doing to try to fix this or keep going?

Joining me now is Michael Maslansky, his company Maslansky, Luntz and Partners, studies what works and what doesn't when it comes to candidates connecting with voters. And they regularly do the testing on TV.

I've seen you and Frank Luntz, your partner, doing this. I'm always fascinated by this. I don't know if it's science or if it's just really, really cool.

But let me ask you about this, Michael -- is connecting with voters a state-by-state endeavor in a campaign? Or is it something much bigger than that?

MICHAEL MASLANSKY, CEO MASLANSKY, LUNTZ AND PARTNERS: Well, it can be state by state depending on the makeup of the state. But, really, It's a larger issue at play which is how can candidates connect in general, what they're good at, what they're able to communicate in a credible way, what the voters are going to give them permission to talk about.

And often, that's where candidates go wrong. And they decide to do something they're not comfortable in doing, they're not strong when doing it and it gets them into a lot of trouble.

BANFIELD: Or what if they have the right idea but then they just don't execute it to right way?

MASLANSKY: Well, it's often actually easier to get the right idea than it is to execute it. And I think we're seeing that with Romney now. Also with Santorum in some respects when we talks about some of the socially conservative messages that he likes to talk about. It can hurt him with independents and women, certainly.

BANFIELD: Well, let me scoot you back to Romney because I tell you what? I don't know that a lot of people expected to see what we've been seeing transpire in the polling in Michigan. We kind of just thought that was a place he might not have to campaign. It turns out not so much.

Here is a piece of a commercial that I want to play for you from Mitt Romney, trying to basically remind the people of Michigan -- hey, I'm just like you. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A little history. I was born and raised here. I love this state. It seems right here. The trees are the right height.

I like -- I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes, just something very special here. The great lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan.

I love cars. I don't know -- I mean, I grew up totally in love with cars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I love cars, too. I really like that.

I thought that was a commercial. I apologize. I misspoke. It was an event that he was at Friday night.

So, here's what I don't get, Michael. That seems pretty darn clear. I'm one of you, I like cars, I'm a Michigan boy. What was wrong with this?

MASLANSKY: Well, he sounded a little like a kindergarten at show and tell. I mean, it was a very unsophisticated message. But, you know, I mean, something in his polling said that the likability factor, his ability to connect with people, is really low.

And so, what he did is he said, let me figure out how I can connect with people.

BANFIELD: Well, what was the problem? Those words are right. Is it robotic, or not believe? What was the problem?

MASLANSKY: It's not believable. It is a little bit robotic. It's just not him.

I mean, his strong suit is talking about being a businessman, talking about solving problems. He can do that in Michigan. And when he does, he's going to connect with the voters in an authentic way.

When he tries to be somebody he's not, which is the handshaking, kissing baby kind of politician, it just doesn't feel right.

BANFIELD: Yes, he was opening up a can of whoop you know what at one of the last debates just basically hammering away at Newt Gingrich. And it seemed to be all about the record about his ability to be a businessperson. It seemed to suit them fairly well, didn't it?

MASLANSKY: Yes. And that's where he's going to win. And so, you have to learn to stick at what you're strong at, what the voters are going to give you permission to talk about.

BANFIELD: Well, was that just advised? Why does he do what he's doing, if you and I can figure this out, why does he continue to do what he's doing?

MASLANSKY: Because I think it's what often happens. You see numbers in the polls that say you've got a deficit somewhere, people don't like you. And your response is to try to make people like you. But you have to understand who you are. I mean, you go back to Dukakis in the tank or John Kerry trying to be personal --

BANFIELD: Or Howard Dean, woohoo -- sure, sure.

MASLANSKY: Some people just have to know what they're good at.

BANFIELD: Can I ask you a quick question? I got to wrap it up and I got to ask you. Is it too late to pull it back and maybe get Michigan under his belt?

MASLANSKY: No, but I just think he's got to get back on message. He's got to figure out how he's going to paint the picture of a vision for a better Michigan economy. That's where he's strong. That's what people are going to respond to him about.

BANFIELD: Michael Maslansky, I hope you'll come back, especially if things start to change, I want to ask you what your thoughts are and why things might change.

MASLANSKY: Great, thank you.

BANFIELD: Good to talk to you this morning. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: It is 37 minutes past the hour.

Still ahead, Senator John McCain is in Egypt. He's trying to resolve the crisis involving American workers that are facing criminal charges. We're going to have a live report from Cairo. Stay tuned for that.

You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It is 6:40 on the East Coast. Welcome back to EARLY START. We got a lot going on.

SAMBOLIN: Senator John McCain is in Egypt. He's leading a congressional delegation. They're actually three senators total there that are meeting with military leaders over a case of 19 American workers to be tried as part of a crackdown on non-governmental organizations, also known as NGOs.

CNN's Ian Lee is live in Cairo.

I want to start by talking about these NGOs because Ray LaHood, who's transportation secretary, and his son Sam is one of those in jail right now, says that this is a bit puzzling to him because NGOs have been part of a democracy-building effort and they thought that they were well within their right to do it.

So what is the problem?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're hearing, Zoraida, is that under the Mubarak regime, there was no problem with NGOs working openly. But after the revolution, there's been a tide of anti-Americanism and more just fear of foreign elements trying to influence the country.

And there's been certain politicians that have come out and called these NGOs foreign spies. They're trying to work against Egypt's transition. They're working against the revolution. So, right now, in Egypt there is a lot of animosity towards these sort of groups as they're seen as spies.

So this took a lot of people by surprise though because these groups have been working here for years.

SAMBOLIN: And they're actually facing a criminal court. Now, I was reading here is that Senator McCain says that he is not going to negotiate the release of the prisoners. So what is on his agenda?

LEE: Well, what his agenda is, is more building close economic ties, close economic ties with Egypt. He was here this summer with Senator Kerry, and they were promoting American businesses. He was -- he met with the American Chamber of Commerce this morning with Egyptian and American businessmen to promote close economic ties. He said that the success of Egypt's revolution depends on its economy and that America should have close economic ties with Egypt, and he hopes to expand that as the transition continues.

SAMBOLIN: I find it difficult to understand though why on his agenda would not be securing the release of the prisoners as, you know, most people think he should.

LEE: Well, what we're thinking is that he's not trying to get people's hopes up that this -- that a rescue mission will happen. He is here to build close economic ties.

But you're right. This is something that is, you know, on the agenda. People are talking about it here and in the United States. This is a big news story. So, there will be talk about that.

But talking to his office, they are insistent that this is not a rescue mission, that it is to build close economic ties. But in building close economic ties, they do hope that this is -- the two countries to kind of move through this political crisis and come to an understanding. And also be able to work together better -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ian Lee live in Cairo for us -- thank you for that.

It is 44 minutes past the hour. It's time to check stories that are making news this morning.

BANFIELD: U.N. inspectors in Iran for another round of nuclear talks. It all comes as the U.S. and Great Britain urge Israel not to attack Iran over its advancing nuclear program. It also comes as Iran fights back against the E.U. sanctions by cutting off oil to the U.K. and to France.

Also in the news, oil prices hitting a nine-month high because of that move in Iran, of course. Trading there $105 a barrel this morning. Gas prices in the U.S. are the highest they have ever been on a Presidents Day weekend.

Also, Syria continues its assault on opposition forces. Twenty- three more people killed in the latest round of violence. A rebel commander says there is an orphan revolution without foreign help at play here. U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman say it is just premature to consider arming Syrian rebels.

Authorities say they were in an out-of-bounds area when the snow came crashing down.

And a brand new Gallup tracking poll showing Rick Santorum now with an eight-point lead over Mitt Romney. Just a few days ago, the two were in a statistical tie.

And Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" expected to resume production today. The show shut down last week after Stephen Colbert's mother became ill. Colbert sent a message on Twitter that he was grateful and touched by his fan's concern.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: We're glad he's back on the air.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): I hope his mother is doing well.

BANFIELD: Wishing his mother well for sure.

Soledad O'Brien doing the duty, joining us now live with a look at what she's got coming up. Hi.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, ladies. Good morning to you. Coming up in roughly 15 minutes on "Starting Point," we're going to talk about Whitney Houston. As you know, she was laid to rest over the weekend with her funeral, and then, her burial was yesterday. We'll talk with Reverend Jesse Jackson this morning, and also, talk a little bit about what exactly happened in that Bobby Brown controversy.

Also, SNL pokes some fun at the Jeremy Lin racism controversy. It's pretty fun (ph). We're going to share that with you.

And it's if 50th anniversary of the first U.S. spaceflight. We're going to chat with Senator John Glenn about that. That's all ahead on "Starting Point." EARLY START is back right after this commercial break. We'll be back in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I found through design a way to tell stories, a way to bring people to new places.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no reason why designs can't be attainable, why a great design can't be something that everybody can have. I mean, that's something that I truly believe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A little Van Halen to wake you up this morning, "Standing on Top of the World." That's a good way to wake up, a little Van Halen.

SAMBOLIN: "Standing on Top of the World" is a good way to wake up also.

BANFIELD: It is. And there's a reason --

SAMBOLIN: The fears (ph), yes.

BANFIELD: Yes. There's a reason we're playing that for you. A fabulous 27-year-old American who just happens to be a fabulous downhill skier named Lindsey Vonn has clinched her third straight super comfy title -- that's a super combined, folks -- on Saturday. She won her fifth consecutive World Cup Downhill title. And if you're counting, she has won 50 World Cup races.

She joins us now live from Moscow. Lindsay, I know you're in Moscow, because that is where you've been racing, in Russia, but I'm so glad that we can go halfway across the world to talk to you. Right off the bat, congratulations. You must feel awesome.

LINDSEY VONN, AMERICAN CHAMPION SKIER: Thank you so much. It's been an amazing season. A great career, I mean, to have 50 World Cup wins is something I never thought I would be able to do. So, I'm really excited.

BANFIELD: And what is this all about, you're just 27?

(LAUGHTER)

VONN: Yes. I feel a little bit older, but I'm the World Cup tour for a couple of years now, but 27 is still young. I have a lot more years of racing left in me. I'm just extremely proud of what I've been able to do so far.

BANFIELD: Might be a reason why you're feeling a little old. I happen to have done some things like you. I used to race downhill as well on a league about this much of yours, really, zero compared to you, but you take some big spills. You get hurt a lot. That is fast. How you ski, it is faster than how most cars drive. And people don't realize how much it hurts when you go down.

VONN: Yes, it definitely is not that much fun when you crash, but it's a part of the sport. You know, I have had some major spills in my career, especially in Torino Olympics and right before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. So, I've had my share of spills. But I always try to get up as fast as I can and keep racing. You know -- yes, it doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. No kidding. I'll tell you what, you do it and you look gorgeous doing it, too. As if you didn't feel good enough just with your win, I want to read something to you from the "New York Times" regarding your 50th World Cup race win. "The Times" is trying to explain it to the non-skiing reader.

And they said it this way. "It's kind of like a baseball player hitting 600 homeruns" which, Lindsey, puts you in the leagues of the Babe Ruths and the Hank Aarons of the world. That is a big, big deal. Do you feel that?

VONN: That's a huge statement. I didn't actually know they said that, but I'm very honored. I mean, it's kind of hard to really keep things in perspective. You know, I'm still racing and I'm still trying to win more World Cup races. But, you know, I think after the 50th World Cup victory, I look back and see what I've done so far, and I'm definitely really excited and really proud.

I don't know -- I don't know -- I -- it's hard to compare myself to other people that I've looked up to my whole life, you know, like Alberto Tomba has also 50 World Cup wins, and he's a legend in our sport. So, it's just -- I don't know. It's really surreal. BANFIELD: Then, that's cool just be able to sort of say you're in the likes of Alberto Tomba. That's great. I mean, that guy revolutionized skiing. I remember the Tomba turns. We all had to re- learn how to ski because of Alberto Tomba.

Let me ask you this. You know, your personal life for a famous skier works its way in no matter how much you don't want it to. Your husband, you divorced him recently, but he was your coach. I mean, this is a big deal. You lost your coach, but still no change in your juggernaut? How did that not affect you?

VONN: You know, it was definitely tough. You know, whenever you get divorced, it's tough, but especially if, you know, your husband is your coach. But, you know, something that I've really realized is that, you know, no matter who my coach is or who is surrounding me, I'm still the racer that's in the starting gate and no one else is skiing for me.

You know, I'm ski for myself. And I think I've really come into my own and skid exceptionally well despite everything that's gone on. I mean, it may not always be in the media every day about the divorce, but it's something that I continue to struggle with every day.

BANFIELD: Sure.

VONN: But, you know, skiing is what I love to do and I really feel, you know, peace and quiet when I'm on the mountain, and it's really been the best therapy for me. So, --

BANFIELD: I'm sure it's nice to be mentioned among all those top athletes. There's one more athlete you're in the headlines about and that's Tim Tebow, about dating Tim Tebow. Do you want to set the record straight? What's going on between you two?

(LAUGHTER)

VONN: I'm not dating Tim Tebow. I'm just friends with their family. I'm really good friends with his brother, Robbie. You know, they're just a great family really obviously amazing athlete. And, I've gone to a couple of their games, and I'm definitely a big fan, but I am not dating him.

BANFIELD: Well, there you go. There's the headline. Hey, you know, I'm a skier, like I told you before, so you're a real hero of mine. Congratulations. I would love to meet you in person. So, when you get back from Moscow, maybe swing through New York, we can say hi and maybe one day we can do some turns.

VONN: OK. Definitely that would be awesome.

BANFIELD: Lindsay Vonn, just a joy to talk to you. Congratulations and thanks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 55 minutes past the hour here. Still ahead, Reverend Jesse Jackson remembers Whitney Houston. He attended, as you very well know, Saturday's funeral. And happy golden anniversary, John Glenn. Fifty years ago today, he became the first American to orbit the earth. He is going to be here. He is joining Soledad O'Brien on "Starting Point." You are watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: We are at the end of our program, and I never got the world of the day in vagabond. Oh, I just got it in.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: It's not right. Yes. It's kind of cheating.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Soledad O'Brien, "STARTING POINT."

O'BRIEN: Don't you have to work it into a sentence or something?

SAMBOLIN: How about you do it for us?

O'BRIEN: Well, here, I feel like a little vagabond on my own little island over here as "STARTING POINT" gets under way.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Adorable.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, ladies. Appreciate that.