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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Western Journalists Killed in Syria; Interview with Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth; Obama Corporate Tax Plan Revealed; Interview with Jon Huntsman's Daughters; New Clinton Documentary; Overturning Race Ruling

Aired February 22, 2012 - 07:59   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, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning is breaking news coming from us overnight from Syria. Two western journalists have been killed there, one who reported on this network about the killing of a Syrian child just hours ago, and now, she is reported dead.

A desert showdown tonight, final face-off before Arizona and Michigan, and Super Tuesday. The first debate also where Rick Santorum is pretty much the front-runner. That's going to change things. We're going to talk about what the strategy is there.

And also, what could be the end of affirmative action as we know it. The Supreme Court takes up race as a factor in college admissions. We're going to talk with someone who is against affirmative action.

President Obama crooning again. There he is.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

O'BRIEN: He's pretty good, actually. That's a tough crowd. I think Mick Jagger's in that audience. B.B. King is in that audience. Buddy Guy is in that audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great crowd.

O'BRIEN: Some people like to sing and they can't sing. You're like, OK, OK. Move it along, he can sing.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: And welcome, everybody. We start with breaking news this morning.

Two Western journalists, including an American, have been killed in Syria. Syrian activists say they were killed during the heavy shelling in the city of Homs. American Marie Colvin, she wore an eye patch after she was wounded in Sri Lanka. And Frenchman Remi Ochlik, he also is dead.

Rupert Murdoch, News Corp chief executive, released this statement today, says this, "It is great sadness I have learned of the death of Marie Colvin, one of the most outstanding correspondents of her generation. Our photographer, Paul Conroy, was with her and is believed to have been injured. We are doing all we can in the face of shelling and sniper fire to get him to safety, and also to recover Marie's body."

It's just the latest to die in the slaughter. Opposition is now reporting that 106 people were killed just yesterday.

Last night on "A.C. 360," Marie Colvin was talking about a murder that she says, as she describes what's happening in Homs every single day. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE COLVIN, LONDON SUNDAY TIMES (via telephone): Every civilian house on the street has been hit. We're talking about -- this is kind of poor popular neighborhood. The top floor of the building I'm in has been hit. In fact, totally destroyed.

There are no military targets here. The -- there is the Free Syrian Army heavily outnumbered and outgunned. They have only Kalashnikov and rocket propelled grenades. But they don't have a base.

There are more young men being killed. You see a lot of teenage young men. But they're trying to help get the wounded to some kind of medical treatment.

So, it's just a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists. There are rockets shells, tank shells and anti- aircraft being fired in parallel line into the city. The Syrian army is shelling the city of Homs, starving civilians.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Marie Colvin, I know it's impossible to stay safe. But please try. Thank you for talking to us.

COLVIN: Thanks very much, Anderson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's the last conversation she had with Anderson Cooper last night.

Michael Holmes is live in Beirut following the story for us.

Michael, of course, what a devastating story to have to report the deaths of the journalists and others who have been injured as well. What's the very latest in Homs?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The shelling is continuing. You know, 19 people at least have died there this day in this one suburb Baba Amr, where Marie was, along with Remi as well.

As you said, it's a great tragedy. I've known Marie for years. I've first met her in the Ramallah, in the West Bank, in 2002, when we both came under fire, along with other journalists and bundled into an armored vehicle together.

She has covered wars from Sri Lanka, as you said, where she lost her eye. That was the year before I met her for the first time. She was recently in Libya reporting fearlessly from Misrata.

No one do, all of us who cover these hot spots, extremely well. She was more than courageous. She was a real -- she was a teller of truth. She's somebody who had a remarkable sense of humor at the same time. But almost had that sense of responsibility to go to these places and to report these stories.

My colleague Arwa Damon who just came out of Baba Amr a day or two ago was with Marie, riding in the back of a truck together as they left one of these hot spots and almost laughing about the danger they were in. She knew very well what she was doing, as do all journalists who go into those areas. But it's really cast a poll over the journalistic community.

You know, Marie would want everyone to know that Syrians were killed in that same attack which is on a house that is being used pretty much as a media operations center by Syrian activists. They have live feeds from there. They stream video from there. Very courageous locals doing their job as well and dying every day -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, what a terrible story as we continue to cover it.

All right. Michael Holmes for us this morning -- thank you, Michael.

There are other stories making headlines. Christine has a look at those.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Let's go to Kabul first in Afghanistan. The American embassy there in lockdown right now. This is protest rage across Afghanistan over the mistaken burning of the Koran at a military base. Thousands of Afghans demonstrated outside the base, setting fires and venting their outrage.

An official says some of the religious material was removed because detainees were writing on these documents to exchange extremist messages. The U.S. is apologizing, saying it was an honest mistake.

More nuclear defines from Iran. The country's supreme leader said sanctions won't change the course of its nuclear program which he insists is peaceful.

Meantime, the top military general is threatening a preemptive strike against anyone who threatens Iran's national interests.

The U.S. and Israel have not ruled out strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

A Christian college in Louisiana is suing the federal government over its birth control mandate. The lawsuit from Geneva College specifically targets the so called Plan B or morning-after emergency contraceptive. That suit claims that a mandate ensures provide Plan B violates both First and Fifth Amendment rights.

Geneva's president says the school rejects an FDA finding that Plan B is a form of birth control. He said the contraceptive, which is taken after intercourse is designed to induce abortion.

It's official. President Obama has the singing bug. First, Al Green. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing): I'm so in love with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, he's crooning for a second time. Little more hesitant. Singing "Sweet Home Chicago" with blues legend Buddy Guy, and B.B. King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(OBAMA SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It seemed like he got more confident as he went on, you know? That's a little scary.

O'BRIEN: You know what? I think once you commit, you have to fully commit and just sing it, right?

Was that -- that is Mick Jagger, right?

ROMANS: I think it must be. It looks like him.

O'BRIEN: Wow. That's a tough crowd. We are earlier pictures of President Bush drumming.

I love to watch that stuff. All right. Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Let's re-introduce our panelists to you this morning.

Brett O'Donnell is joining us. He is a debate savant.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, that's fair to say. I want to talk about the debate as we head into tonight. It's going to be a big deal.

Farai Chideya is with us again. She's a fellow at IOP, Institute of Politics in Harvard.

And Cathy Aru (ph) joins us.

Nice to have you all.

Let's get right to it because tonight in Mesa, Arizona, it really is a high stakes debate.

You know what's funny? It's a high stakes for everybody, right?

It's a high stakes debate for Mitt Romney. It's a high stakes debate for Rick Santorum because now he's kind of the front-runner. Newt Gingrich, he's been off the map for a little while. So, it's a high stakes debate for him. Ron Paul hasn't had a victory yet so it's a high stakes debate for him.

So, it is fair to say it's make or break for everybody. And it is, of course, just six days before Michigan and Arizona's primary.

And there's a new poll that underscores just how important the debate is tonight. It's a CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll. And it shows a statistical dead heat in the states of Arizona -- 36 percent for Mitt Romney, 32 percent for Santorum. The reasons that's a statistical tie, of course, is the margin of error is roughly -- error, is roughly -- that was (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: That kind of slipped out -- 4.5 percent. So they are literally neck in neck.

The former Arizona Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth has endorsed Newt Gingrich for president. And he joins us now.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

Let's begin with --

J.D. HAYWORTH, FORMER CONGRESSMAN, ENDORSED NEWT GINGRICH FOR PRESIDENCY: Soledad, good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. We were playing your music earlier. We liked it a lot.

HAYWORTH: Yes, Marshall Crenshaw. That's good stuff, huh?

O'BRIEN: Yes, we got to work that more into our playlist.

I want to talk about Newt Gingrich. We said it really a lot at stake for everybody clearly. For Newt Gingrich, he has sort of dropped off the radar. People don't talk about him as much as they were, certainly after South Carolina.

What is the strategy to try to re-insert him and, you know, revive his campaign right now?

HAYWORTH: Well, first of all, Soledad, let's acknowledge that for once it truly is a volatile race. You know, we've talked about volatility and presidential politics since we've been involved in this or at least since I've been involved, both as a voter and later as a member of Congress. But you've seen the tremendous changes in the field. And I think that will continue.

I think for Newt Gingrich, it's basically back to the future. In other words, focusing on the big ideas, the major policy pronouncements, and looking back at a resume of solid accomplishments.

I was there. I understand, with that Republican majority, we were able to pass welfare reform that required work. We were able to work with Bill Clinton, get the first tax cuts in a decade and a half, including meaningful tax cuts with capital gains. And, of course, we were also able to deliver four -- count them -- four consecutive balanced budgets.

That's a record of success. I think you'll see Newt try to build on that. Basically, you have a dynamic where Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum will concentrate, fire on each other while Newt will move back to ideas.

O'BRIEN: So, the debate -- Brett O'Donnell is with us. So, I'm going to ask him that.

Do you see that same thing? Do you see the two, you know, kind of front-runners going at it and Newt Gingrich is able to step out and say let's talk ideas?

BRETT O'DONNELL: Well, certainly, Newt has been at his best when he's debating the media or the moderator. It's not when he is actually going at it with the other candidates. I think when he mixed it up with Mitt in the Florida debates, he got the better of him.

O'BRIEN: Right.

O'DONNELL: And so, that's got to be his strategy.

I question whether or not, you know, it'll actually be the way that J.D. describes it. I'm not sure that Mitt and Rick will mix it up that much. You know, it would be great if it was like NASCAR where, you know, the front-runners wrecked each other and the third place guy drove through the smoke.

But, you know, the problem is Newt hasn't had a victory in a long time. And this race has been both about advertising, about debates, and about momentum. And I'm not sure how Newt gets back into the race.

O'BRIEN: So, let me play a little clip of what Rick Santorum had to say because it certainly sounds like he's bringing it to two fronts. He's bringing it to Romney and he's also bringing it to Gingrich. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not a manager. I'm not a visionary. I'm a guy from a steel town who grew up -- who grew up understanding what made this country great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So I'm going to translate that for the audience who maybe didn't catch it.

I'm not a manager. That would be a slam at Mitt Romney.

I am not a visionary. That would be a slam at your guy, sir, Congressman Hayworth, visionary being I'm not Newt Gingrich looking at the big, big, big picture. I'm just a guy trying to make America great.

Do you think that strategy will be a winning strategy for him?

HAYWORTH: Well, I think, let's face it, everyone who gets involved in this, none of us suffer from a shortage of self-esteem. I appreciate Rick trying to claim that he's truly a man of the people.

But, again, it's back to a record and resume. It is Speaker Gingrich who as a leader of the Republican Congress was able to achieve real results. Rick was part of that team and we appreciate that. But there are also some troubling aspects of his voting record in terms of not really standing up for right to work, in terms of some questionable votes along the way, and I think everyone's record is fair game.

But I believe in final analysis, the speaker's solid record of accomplishment down the road as we go through a more complete picture will result in his nomination.

O'BRIEN: Some degree though. You don't get the more complete picture until everybody's focused on you. And you can't get everybody to focus on you until you are really the front-runner, right?

The minute that Newt Gingrich was a front-runner after South Carolina, everybody piled on. You've never seen more articles about Newt Gingrich probably except for in the '90s.

You know, now, really the risk of not winning is that you start losing the ability to draw the focus of the media. It's a cycle that can help you.

O'DONNELL: He's not going to -- you know, he's not going to win Michigan. He's not going to win Arizona. And so, the narrative coming out of those two states is going to be that either Romney or Santorum has momentum and, you know, Newt's going to get excluded from the conversation.

I mean, it's just -- elections are about winners win. The more someone begins to pile up victories, the more that person gets put out in front. That happened with Santorum when he scored four victories a couple of weeks ago. I don't know how --

(CROSSTALK)

HAYWORTH: At the risk of debating --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Congressman.

HAYWORTH: At the risk of debating the debate coach, I realize it can be hazardous to my rhetorical health, this is a long process. I know there's been an effort -- and, Brett, I appreciate what you did trying to roll up some things with Mitt Romney very early on. But the fact is: this is a fight to the finish. You are going to see a process that will go on until and through the California primary.

And so, I think it is way premature to write-off Speaker Gingrich and I would say to everyone, especially those who may be endorsing other candidates, they do so at their own eventual risk, but I think for the country's eventual reward.

O'BRIEN: Congressman J.D. Hayworth joining us. He's a former Arizona congressman.

Nice to talk to you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

HAYWORTH: Soledad, thank you.

O'BRIEN: I love when politicians say and we appreciate so and so's service but -- he's very good at that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, there are some new warnings to tell you about about Iranian agents hiding bombs in cheap electronics. We're going to update you on that story.

Plus, Romeo Santos, he's going to join us. He's packing the house (INAUDIBLE) and he also, though, is really trying to send a message to his fans about voting. He wants Latinos to turn out and vote. We'll discuss that as well and show some great videos of this handsome young man. He's going to join us live.

Plus, the Huntsman girls are going to join us as well, their dad's former secret weapon. We sat down and talked to them before he dropped out of the race. We'll see if they're still able to help the GOP with what they're planning to do. And here is a track from their playlist, Florence The Machine, "Shake It Out."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Sigh. Romeo Santos singing "Promise" with Usher. I love this video. It just kicked of his nationwide tour promoting his first solo album, "Formula Volume 1." Now, he's partnering with Latino (ph) to work to register voters at all those concert dates, and there are lots and lots of people filling up Madison Square Garden.

The Pew Hispanic Center is estimating that 21.7 million Hispanics are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, the most ever, but of course, the truth is a very small percentage of those who are eligible to vote will. So, thanks for talking with us. It's great to have you. We appreciate you coming in early when we know you're like doing concert tours at night. I'm sure you're not usually up this early.

So, why was trying to get folks at your concerts to register to vote and be involved in the voting process important to you, to join vote in (ph) Latino.

ROMEO SANTOS, MUSICIAN, A.K.A. "KING OF BACHATA": Well, I receive a lot of e-mails, you know, for many things. And, you know, most of them, I'm not going to lie I ignore.

O'BRIEN: We all do, yes.

SANTOS: But, you know, I thought this was a good cause and I could encourage, you know, my young fans, you know, the majority of my young fans and Latinos to vote. And I felt like, you know what, I want to get involved.

O'BRIEN: So, is it -- do you feel like people are open to that message, you know, because if you look at -- you're 30 years old, a Latino male. The only like half of people like you are voting who could vote, who are registered to vote.

SANTOS: Well, that's what I find interesting. You know, and I found like, well, me, as an artist, you know, like a lot of people look at me like a role model. And, I guess, you know, I looked at it from a perspective like if Romeo's doing it, you know, we're his fans, we're going to do it as well. So, I thought it was a good way of getting my young fans, Latinos, majority to vote.

O'BRIEN: Many of the stories that we've covered, you actually see where there are large Latino populations and could move the needle on some Latino issues often just don't go to the polls.

(PHONE RINGING)

O'BRIEN: Excuse me. I'm getting a phone call.

(LAUGHTER)

FARAI CHIDEYA, FELLOW, INST. OF POLITICS AT HARVARD'S KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Wait, wait. I'm voting.

O'BRIEN: I'm Soledad.

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: My mother.

CHIDEYA: You know, the reality is a lot of people don't vote, particularly in mid-terms, but even in presidential elections. And younger voters are not as likely to turn out. And, you know, I mean, I think what you're doing is great.

You know, I'm teaching this semester and I'm having someone from MTV come to my class next week, because I think it's really important to figure out how to motivate younger voters. So, I just have to congratulate you ont that.

O'BRIEN: You're the King of Bachata, and a lot of people don't know what Bachata is. But, really, I mean, how would you describe it? It's like the songs of longing and emotion, right?

SANTOS: The best way I can describe it is, all right, it's not like country music, but it's very soulful. It's very Caribbean, very tropical. It comes from Dominican Republic. The main instruments in this genre would be bongos --

O'BRIEN: Some of these songs are about immigration. I mean, they're really about, I miss the place that I came from and I miss the people around me. Do you feel like it's time to get Latinos, are you interested and encouraging them into the conversation around immigration or is the big message, just go to the polls?

SANTOS: Well, actually, my music is more about love, you know, depression, and you know, like men like begging their girls to please come back. Like I said, you know, when you reach a certain crowd, you know, with love, music, whatever the case may be, they already see like a role model, and then, you can probably get them to do a lot of things, and this is a positive thing. So, I felt like, you know what, let's definitely get involved.

O'BRIEN: In the commercial break, if you want to serenade any of us about love and depression and longing for women, we are open to that. I don't know if you are.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: But we are. Romeo Santos, it's nice to have you. Good luck at Madison Square Garden. We appreciate you joining us this morning.

SANTOS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: And still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, President Obama's corporate tax revamp unveiled in just a couple of hours. We're going to tell you about that. Election year battle is shaping up. Christine Romans is going to join us to break it all down for us.

And this is from Romeo's playlist. It's "You."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Some of us are going to start singing through the segments. This is Rihanna. We found love in a hopeless place.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Depending (ph) on the weekends.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I might do that. Can I bring the kids?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk this morning about some new details that are being unveiled. It's going to happen in just a few hours about President Obama's corporate tax plan. Politicians on both sides agree that when it comes to corporate taxes, the U.S. cannot compete with the rest of the world. Christine Romans breaks down the president's plan today in "Smart is the New Rich," also the name of her book, by the way.

ROMANS: She always plugs it for me.

O'BRIEN: I know. And I get five percent of the --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: All right. So, talk about the president's plan. How is it looking?

ROMANS: OK. This is what we expect is going to come out today. The president wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from that advertise 35 percent rate, which, you know, everyone complains as among the highest in the world. It would eliminate dozens of loopholes and subsidies that allow companies to pay less than that 35 percent rate.

It would also reduce the effective tax rate on manufacturing to 25 percent and put a new minimum tax on foreign earnings. What the White House wants to do here, they want to incentivize companies to keep jobs and profits and investment in the United States. Now, here's the thing. The United States has a 35 percent tax rate.

When you compare that with the rest of the country, as you can see, we're right up there, right, you know, among the highest in the world. When you add in local and state taxes, it's more like 39 percent. But take a look at this chart from the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office.

It shows you that in 2011, companies actually paid 12 percent of their profits last year in taxes. So, take a look at that. Over the past, I think --

O'BRIEN: So, let me stop you there. So, even though sort of technically it's a 35 percent rate --

ROMANS: It isn't.

O'BRIEN: -- in actuality, it's a 12 percent?

ROMANS: It isn't. Right. And you can see that's been falling. Most recently, it's been falling pretty dramatically. Now, one of the reasons is they've got cash in the bank. You know, a lot of money sitting on the sidelines. They have all of these tax loopholes, subsidies, and deductions that they use, because it's legal to do so and because some of the highest paid lawyers in the country are tax attorneys at major companies.

So, what you have here is a very complicated corporate tax structure. The president is going to lay out sort of his framework for how to make it more simplified. And we'll also be hearing from Mitt Romney, and I think his tax plan, another tax plan from him again today as well.

O'BRIEN: So, is the president's strategy in undermining Mitt Romney's big announcement because we've been waiting to hear about Mitt Romney's tax strategy as they held -- you know, people have their eyes focused on Michigan.

ROMANS: Just last week, you know, Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, came under fire, remember, from folks in Congress who were like, what are you going to do about taxes? What are you going to do about the corporate tax rate? What are you going to do about, you know, refining our taxes and then fixing our taxes?

Now, privately, people in the administration are saying, Soledad, look, you know, in this environment, this is not going to happen in the near term. The only thing you can count on your is own taxes, and this is where I'm going to pivot to the "Smart is the New Rich" part of this thing, because the National Retail Federation says if you're going to get your tax refund this year, most of you are going to save it.

Isn't that interesting? The highest percentage of people are going to save their tax refund than we've seen in nine years. So, corporate taxes, look, this is in the political realm. This is something that is all going to be election year -- election nearing, but in terms of what you're doing with your money, you're saving it, you're paying down debt, and that's what you should do. You can only control your own taxes --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks, appreciate that update.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, new documentary about the Clinton White House. Some people say it focuses too much on scandal.

Then, the Huntsman daughters are going to join us. We'll ask them why they're still engaged in politics when their dad's out of the race.

From Bret's playlist, the Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris." Look at you, the Goo Goo Dolls. I like that. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: STARTING POINT, new documentary about the Clinton White House. Some people say it focuses too much on scandal. Then the Huntsman daughters will join us. We'll ask them why they're still engaged in politics when their dad's out of the race. From Brett's play list, the Goo Goo Dolls. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: You know what, you cannot hate "Otis" by Jay-Z and Kanye. That is the huntsman girls' pick. We act as if you are one person, and together do a joint iPod list, is that true?

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF JON HUNTSMAN: Yes.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF JON HUNTSMAN: Basically.

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN: We all added our own favorite songs.

LIDDY HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF JON HUNTSMAN: Based on iTunes.

O'BRIEN: You're the cool girl.

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN: Of course.

LIDDY HUNTSMAN: Up to date.

O'BRIEN: I love it. We're going to get to a conversation with the huntsman girls. Should I say women?

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN: We're in the in between phase.

ABBY HUNTSMAN: Almost women.

O'BRIEN: Tweens. They're joining us as soon as we get through the headlines. Christine has got that. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad. Breaking news this hour. At least 250 people hurt in a train crash in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The state media reporting this accident happened as the train entered the station. Authorities have not said what caused the crash, but witnesses claim the train didn't brake or didn't slow down while it was entering the station and smacked into the platform.

Authorities in Thailand reportedly busting an Iranian hit squad armed with bombs hidden in cheap radios. According to ABC News they were planning to use them against Israeli targets in Bangkok. The $27 radio is packed with tiny ball bearings and magnets to maximize the damage.

Paul Babeu is getting the attorney general's investigation. The top investigator is looking into allegations that he threatened to deport his immigrant ex-boyfriend. Babeu resigned from the Mitt Romney campaign after his ex publicly accused him of abuse of power. He denies the claim and he continues to run for Congress.

Primaries in Michigan and Arizona are critical contests for the two leading Republican candidates. A new NBC News, Marist Michigan poll shows Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are in a virtual tie, 37 percent backing Romney, 35 percent going for Santorum. The two are also deadlocked now in Arizona. Primary voters in both states go to the polls in six days.

A Motor City melee caught on camera. This brawl involving nearly a dozen women broke out inside a restaurant at Detroit's Motor City casino hotel. The women can be seen throwing fist, pretty much throwing anything else they can get their hands on. At one point they were standing on tables and jumping over chairs before security guards moved in to break it up.

Christians around the world are celebrating Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent. Many will go to mass to receive ashes on their forehead. It's a symbol of penance that sets the tone for the entire season of lent. Last night of celebrations before lent begins. Mardi Gras revelers partied in typical fashion. It's going to happen one of these days, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That was the Zulu float. I was Mrs. Big Stuff on that. That was so much fun.

ROMANS: Next year let's take it on the road.

O'BRIEN: We should do that. It's so much fun. There's no way you'd get up the next morning and do the morning show. We'll have to pre-tape the whole thing. Thanks, Christine.

Tonight CNN is hosting what could be the final Republican debate. A lot's happened in the month. It's been nearly a month since the last debate. Arizona is next on the primary list. A new CNN ORC poll is showing Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are statistically in a tie there.

Jon Huntsman's daughters join me now. Would he have Abby Huntsman Livingston joining us, Liddy huntsman and Mary Anne Huntsman. The last time we spoke we were in a diner with a lot of craziness going on. It's like climate controlled, all very nice. Nice to have you.

Your dad's out of the race. He is throwing his support to Mitt Romney. You guys could have just sort of said, we're done now that dad's out. Why stay in the race?

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF JON HUNTSMAN: We want to keep the conversation going. And I think at this point I think we're realizing that there really isn't a clear front-runner.

O'BRIEN: You think?

(LAUGHTER)

ABBY HUNTSMAN: It's important to keep our generation involved in the conversation to feel like they're part of it because it affects them so much. So there's so many ways to reach out to people, through technology. It changes every day. So it's really fun to be part of it.

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN: Yes, so we thought about what do we do with our twitter account? We kind of went on hiatus for two weeks. I think we're having fun just staying in the game.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think there is no front-runner? Why do you think Mitt Romney is struggling at this point when he was the front- runner? I know everybody's been the front-runner for a minute in this race?

LIDDY HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF JON HUNTSMAN: You know, I think there's that silent majority who hasn't really -- they haven't spoken out if they've been silent, but I think a lot of people don't feel like they have a home. I think especially our generation, the younger generation, we don't care a lot about the silly issues. One thing we care about is jobs. Graduating in 2010, 67 percent of kids didn't have jobs. That is like a huge issue. So I think the majority of people just don't feel like they have a home. At the end of the day they want solutions and a job and a better life.

O'BRIEN: Much of the conversation has focused on social issues. It was either about religious freedom or contraception. You are young women. If you look at Rick Santorum's numbers it seems like women are not as engaged in his campaign certainly as much as he would like. What do you think that's due to?

LIDDY HUNTSMAN: I think it has to do with women feel like it's their right to have the right to say if they want contraception. I think the fact that some candidates are coming out and stating that they believe it's not right or moral, then I think a lot of women take it offensively. A lot of women do use that in their daily life.

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN: I think contraception is an important issue obviously for women, but I think the more that we spend talking about it, it takes away from getting the economy back or, you know, foreign policy. So I think it's been interesting to watch how contraception has become such a huge issue the last couple of weeks.

O'BRIEN: It's been really interesting. Some of that is really the candidates, Mitt Romney actually jumped back into the conversation. I'll play a little clip of what he said. He's been focused economy, economy, economy. But I think as Santorum's seen his numbers rise talking social issues. Here's what he said groping in the social issues. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm pro-life. I'm in favor of protecting the sanctity of life. I'll cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.

Unfortunately perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with and their agenda, a secular agenda, they have fought against religion. I can assure you as someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance and religious freedom and the right to one's own conscience I will make sure that we never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America if I'm president.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: You guys are all in your 20s. Is that a message that's going to resonate with young people, talking about the secular agenda of the president's people? No, you don't think so?

ABBY HUNTSMAN, DAUGHTER OF JON HUNTSMAN: I really think every second that you talk about the social issues is a second away from talking about jobs. I can tell you when we're out with our friends it's about jobs, the economy. The social issue is a way for Mitt Romney to feel like he's gaining some traction over Santorum, but I think at the end of the day I really think that Republicans are -- there's one-third with Romney, one-third with Santorum.

I think what they like about Santorum, they may not agree with everything that he says, but with president Obama there were promises made that I feel probably were kind of gipped on that. And Santorum is someone that embodies someone that sticks with what he says.

And I think people feel lost. The longer that this continues to go on the more it will hurt the Republican Party, because there will only be four months if it goes to the convention before the general election.

O'BRIEN: Do you get word from the campaign? Do they say, listen, ladies, don't say this, don't say that? Do you have those conversations? Do they have to approve stuff?

ABBY HUNTSMAN: We do. We're very independent women. We're very strong women.

LIDDY HUNTSMAN: We speak our mind.

O'BRIEN: Which can be terrifying for a campaign manager as you well know. We love having you in. We hope that you'll come back and join us any time. My studio is your studio.

MARY ANNE HUNTSMAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Literally. So I can go on vacation. No, I'm kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about a new documentary that has some inside information about the Clinton White House. In it someone describes Bill Clinton as a used car salesman. We'll also talk about what happened the moments after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. That story is ahead when we continue. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And welcome back, everybody.

A new PBS documentary on the Clintons is out. Critics say it focuses too much on scandal, roughly 40 minutes out of four hours, including some moments that happened after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK MORRIS, DICKMORRIS.COM: When the Lewinsky scandal broke the President paged me and I returned the call. And he said, "Ever since I got here to the White House I've had to shut my body down, sexually I mean. But I screwed up with this girl. I didn't do what they said I did, but I may have done so much that I can't prove my innocence."

And I said to him, "The problem that presidents have is not the sin, it's the cover-up. And you should explore just telling the American people the truth." He said, "Really, do you think I could do that?" And I said, "Let me test it. Let me run a poll."

So I took a poll and I tested popular attitudes on that. And I called him back and I said, "They will forgive the adulterer but they won't easily forgive that you're lying."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well that was Dick Morris talking about what happened when the scandal broke. What I thought was interesting and that little creepy, he said, "We should explore what would happen if you just told the truth," which is such a political statement.

This is the -- this is the mud pit that you play in, sir.

BRETT O'DONNELL, ADVISED MITT ROMNEY ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: Well.

O'BRIEN: Yes, come on, in politics. "Let's poll it."

O'DONNELL: That hurts.

O'BRIEN: "Let's poll it." No, that's said with love. But I mean, really, you're going to poll to see what the response might be should the truth be told in a conversation. O'DONNELL: Well, I think there's a couple of things there that are pretty interesting. I mean, first of all, it's part of the narrative. It was a story that consumed the Clinton White House for a very long time, but second of all, you know, it was a criticism of the Clinton White House, that everything was poll tested.

And the fact that we're finding out that they even poll tested how to respond to the Lewinsky matter was -- is pretty fascinating, I think. And I think it's also fascinating that the President didn't take Dick Morris's advice and instead, you know, pursued the lie for -- for a good bit of time until he confessed.

O'BRIEN: When -- when we talked to Lanny Davis, he said that what really outraged him was that so much time was spent on the scandal part in this four-hour documentary and sort of also investigations that ended up really going nowhere and less spent talking about the -- President Clinton's very high approval rating, 65 percent when he left office, which certainly is a headline.

But really people often talk about the scandal.

FARAI CHIDEYA: Yes, I mean, I think that it's part of the hallmark of our time, particularly politically. I mean, you have to remember that at the time that President Clinton was going through the impeachment, Newt Gingrich was pursuing him, and Newt Gingrich himself was having an affair. He didn't lie under oath about it, but he was also -- I mean it's so -- politics is always incredibly messy.

And I think we're fascinated in some ways more with the bedroom personas of politicians sometimes than their legislation. But it's -- it's messy all around.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it certainly is. I said messy.

O'DONNELL: Politics is a lot like -- a lot like NASCAR, you know? People -- people go to the races to see the race but they also go to see the wrecks. And the messy part is what -- is what interests us. And I think that's why PBS chose to post it. They knew it would draw an audience.

O'BRIEN: And certainly we're still talking about it.

All right, coming up this morning on STARTING POINT, the Supreme Court is deciding whether race can be a factor in college admissions. We're going to talk to someone who is against affirmative action. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

The Supreme Court is going to reconsider a case using race as part of the admissions process at public universities. It was a 2003 decision and has allowed race to be used. In a new case the student is suing the University of Texas. The policy there automatically admits students who are in the top 10 percent of their high school class, that's roughly 80 percent of the school's freshman class. The remaining 20 percent are judged on other factors and some of those factors include race.

Todd Gaziano is with the Heritage Foundation and he filed a brief in the case saying that he believes affirmative action actually hurts the intended beneficiaries.

It's nice to have you talking with us. Thanks for being with us.

How do you think affirmative action hurts the people who get the opportunity to, in some ways certainly in education, potentially change their lives, get an opportunity they might not otherwise have?

TODD GAZIANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, since 2003 there's been a lot of research that has shown where there's a significant mismatch where minority students are convinced to attend a university where their SAT scores might be 150 to 200 points lower than the mean, that it's much harder for them to get the grades. There's a lot higher dropout rate if they didn't go to the university or the college where they really fit in. And --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: There are some competing studies that would disagree with you on that, that would say that that's not actually the case. And I'll tell you this, my mom used to have a little saying, which was you know better to get into Harvard because you're black than not to get into Harvard because you're black which obviously was the case many, many years ago.

So do you think that this affirmative action is just bad policy overall?

GAZIANO: Well, I disagree with you that there are studies that refute the ones that I'm saying. That the overwhelming -- there's really no contradiction that the extreme preference that University of Texas showed by bringing Hispanics from 21 percent of the student population to 25 has a devastating effect on minorities.

There really is no dispute of that. So it is better to get A or B average at a university that's outstanding than to go to an Ivy League school and drop out.

O'BRIEN: Ok. So do you think that -- and you know the court can go numerous ways on this. Do you think -- are you feeling very confident that the court's going to decide in your favor and we're really talking about that 20 percent of the student body at the University of Texas.

GAZIANO: Well there's two ways the Supreme Court could go. In 2003 the Supreme Court said you could use a little bit of discrimination to get a critical mass of minorities for 25 years. What Texas has done with its extreme use of racial preference is say, we want to engage in massive amounts of discrimination as much as we want for as long as we want. So the Supreme Court could either say, we really meant just a little bit of discrimination and for a little bit of time. Or the Supreme Court could say, we were wrong back in 2003. That wasn't -- that wasn't a decision that's workable. And so we really need to eliminate any preferences.

O'BRIEN: Or the Supreme Court could look very closely at Texans and have a ruling that doesn't really even have an implication for anything outside of the University of Texas.

Farai, I only have a few seconds left.

CHIDEYA: Yes, yes well -- I mean, I think that there are books like one by Bowen and Bach who are both Ivy League presidents that points out that affirmative action has benefits not just for students of color but for white students in socializing them to live in a multi cultural world.

And you know when you talk about the Ivy Leagues, Harvard, for example, graduates something like 97, 98 percent of its students. I think it's a question of support at some of the other schools that don't have as much infrastructure.

O'BRIEN: We're going to have to leave it at that. We appreciate you having this conversation. I'm sure we'll continue it when we actually see what the Supreme Court comes down with. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

GAZIANO: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Our "End Point" is up next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point" which means it is the end of our program. Cathy, you get to start for us.

CATHY AREU, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST" MAGAZINE: Well, in honor of the debates I am going to (INAUDIBLE) Rick Santorum. I feel that he needs to pay attention more to women who are not liking him very much. He needs to stop being so extreme. Let's not say that amniocentesis causes abortion for every woman who has it. Many women have amniocentesis and other pre-natal testing for many reasons. Rick Santorum, calm down being anti-woman.

CHIDEYA: I have to follow up on that. I do think that, you know, these debates tonight are going to be fascinating to see what social territory is staked out because I'm going to be really interested to see how the entire Republican Party pivots after this kind of bruising social issues fight and tries to appeal to the general election population.

O'BRIEN: With no front-runner it makes it -- there are lots of front-runners maybe is a better way to put it. What do you think as our final word to "End Point" today. No pressure at all Brett.

O'DONNELL: First of all, Happy Ash Wednesday to those of you who observe that.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: But also, you know, tonight's debate is really the biggest debate of the entire season. It's the last debate before the candidates observe Lent and no debates for some time, I think. So the pressure is on all three of them, I think. You know the pressure is not as much on Ron Paul --

O'BRIEN: The stakes --

O'DONNELL: -- but the stakes could not be higher. Mitt Romney's got to re-assume the role of front-runner. Rick Santorum has to defend that role and Newt Gingrich has to get back into the conversation.

O'BRIEN: And we end as we started. The stakes are high.

Let's get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips. She begins right now.

I'll see everybody back here at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Hey Kyra, good morning.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning Soledad. Great to see you.