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Mitt Romney Takes Lead in Recent Polls; Interview with Representative Eric Cantor; BP Settlement: $7.8 Billion; Violent Storms Kill 39 in Six States; Deadly Tornado Damage; U.K. Journalist Blasts "Butchery" In Syria; Santorum Slams Obama; Tackling The Saints Bad Behavior; Hero Cop In River Rescue; Gingrich's Southern Stand; Romney Gets Key Endorsements; Pressure Builds Against Rush Limbaugh; Tornado Survivors Discuss Ordeal

Aired March 5, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: President Obama is less than three hours away from a showdown which we are expecting, of course, at the White House. He's going to be talking with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They'll be talking, obviously, about Iran. We'll bring you up to speed on what's going to happen there.

Overseas, there've been lots of developments to get to. Iran going toe-to-toe, as we mentioned. Also, is Iran underwriting Syria? We'll discuss that as well. We're going to talk to Senator John McCain this morning about that.

And Rush Limbaugh. Listen.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: What does it say about the college coed, Susan Fluke, who goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?


O'BRIEN: Yes, well, Rush Limbaugh has sort of apologized for that, kind of sort of, not really, exactly. Did you buy his apology? Some of his advertisers did not. Our "Starting Point" for Monday, March 5th, 2012.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, well, Rush Limbaugh has sort of apologized for that, kind of, sort of, not really exactly. Did you buy his apology? Some of his advertisers did not. Our STARTING POINT for Monday, March 5th, 2012.


O'BRIEN: Oh, AC/DC "Back in Black." That's how we're going to start off this Monday morning. Welcome, everybody. Let's introduce you to panelists this morning. Congressman Loretta Sanchez is a Democrat from California joins us. Good morning. We also have Naftali Bendavid, a "Wall Street Journal" political reporter, nice to have you. And Abby Livingston, she's been on the show a couple of times before, but with her sisters. She's the daughters of presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. She joins us without her sisters.

Let's get right to our STARTING POINT this morning. Mitt Romney a clear frontrunner once again. He's leading Rick Santorum by 16 points in the latest national poll. Very big endorsements as well ahead of super Tuesday, tomorrow, the highest ranking Republican member of Congress Eric Cantor, giving his support.


REP. ERIC CANTOR, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: I look to Super Tuesday, I look to Mitt Romney winning all of Virginia's delegates. In fact, I cast my vote already in Virginia for Mitt Romney. And I'm here today to tell you that I'm endorsing Mitt Romney in his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.


O'BRIEN: Majority Leader Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia joins us. Nice to see you, sir. We appreciate it.

CANTOR: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about that endorsement. Give me the reasons why you decided to support Mitt Romney over the others in the field.

CANTOR: Mitt Romney is really the only man in the race who has a plan, a bold pro-growth plan to create jobs and get this economy back on track. And this is an essential issue for this election. It is about how we're going to make the economy better, how we're going to get small businesses back in gear to begin to grow jobs.

Mitt Romney unveiled a plan last week that is pro-growth, it brings down tax rates for everybody paying income taxes. It fills the loopholes in the tax code, makes it a more fair kind of tax code. And, frankly, we'll lend itself to the competiveness to our country so we can start to lead again in is what I believe the country really, really needs after they look at the failed policies that have been in place over the three years from the White House.

O'BRIEN: Sounds like you're saying the economy, the economy, the economy. I'm curious to know if you're also saying that by your support it's really Mitt Romney who is the true conservative here.

CANTOR: Mitt Romney, again, Soledad, not to be repetitious, but he's got a plan. There is no plan like his. There's certainly no plan like his coming out of the White House. We need a pro-growth bold plan to help create jobs.

O'BRIEN: I hear you on that. I'm just -- let me just -- forgive me -- but interrupt you for a minute. As you know last week a lot of conversation was, you know, who is the true conservative? Does this mean that you've answered this question and the true conservative in your mind is Mitt Romney?

CANTOR: Soledad, what I believe is this election is about how we're going to make our country have a much brighter economic future so we can continue to lead and let America be America. I mean, this is the issue here. I think what the American people are looking for are more certainty as far as your economic future is concerned and right now we know that there's just not enough job creations going on.

We've got red tape holding back small businessmen and women. You look at the rate of number of business start-ups in America over the last three years, that rate has declined by 23 percent. We've got to do something to get us back on track. And Mitt Romney is the only person in the race who has ever created a job. He is the one who understands how to run a business, how to get fiscal affairs of the country straight so we can start growing the economy again.

O'BRIEN: OK, so I'm just going to note that you are not going to answer that question for me, but I'm happy to move on. I get you, economy, economy. But when it comes to being a true conservative you're not going to answer that for me.

Let's move on. There are a couple of schools of thought of how the fight is going to move on for the nomination. There are some people, like Reince Priebus who would say, listen, the fight has been good for us. Here's what he told me on Friday.


REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I feel good about this and I know that people argue over whether, you know, having a tough primary is a good thing or a bad thing. I just happen to believe that it's good for a party as you and I have talked about many times.


O'BRIEN: As you well know, there are many others who would say actually it's been damaging, a protracted fight has been a very bad thing for the party and if you look at numbers of negativity, if you look at numbers of independents who look at un-favorability, all of those numbers are high, which is a bad thing. What side are you on in that?

CANTOR: Soledad, what I believe has happened is we have had a very robust, hard fought debate in our primary. What we're beginning to see is a crystallizing of the party's position for the election against Barack Obama. and that is, we are pro-growth, bold, individual liberty and economic freedom party. So what we're doing is we're coalescing around Mitt Romney's plan to actually address the economic challenges we have so we can see a growth oriented future. And it's very -- Soledad, it's very similar --

O'BRIEN: I get it. You want to talk economy. I hear you. I get it. I'm just trying to get my questions answered.

CANTOR: It's very similar to what we're doing in Congress right now. We're trying to find ways to work together and to bring people together and to set aside the differences. We've had a solid year plus of areas that we deliver.

O'BRIEN: Was that bad or good, I guess is my question? Bad or good?

CANTOR: Whether it's bad or good, we're at the point now that I think people are tired of the differences and let's see if we can produce results. That's what Mitt Romney's candidacy is about, coalescing about the things we can agree on, it's not just for Republicans, it's for dependents, like-minded Democrats to come together to see how we can fix this economy and get people back to work.

O'BRIEN: OK, we have the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" which has also given an endorsement to Mitt Romney. Throw it on the screen. "As Ohio Republicans prepare to vote in Tuesday's primary, they need to remember the ultimate prize, winning in November. Doing so requires more than energizing the base, the conservative base. The GOP needs a nominee who can appeal to swing voters and disaffected Democrats."

The whole entire endorsement, I thought, was very similar to the Detroit endorsement, which was kind of like a, you know, if he can do this and this and this, we will sort of not very enthusiastically give our support. Is this a problem, do you think, I mean, something that has to be overcome for Mitt Romney?

CANTOR: I don't, because I'm very excited about his plan to fix the economy. That's the issue, Soledad. I know you don't want to hear that.

O'BRIEN: I do. I love talking economy. I guess I just want you to specifically answer my question. I feel like that's a lukewarm, half-hearted endorsement. Do you feel the same way?

CANTOR: No. I mean, again, I disagree with anybody who said, you know, that there is not energy surrounding Mitt Romney's campaign. When people take time to look at his economic plan, I think they'll get excited about it. You already see him gaining momentum, a double digit lead and a win in Washington, the state of Washington the other night. We had several wins in a row last week. And will have Super Tuesday, tomorrow. I know that he's going to do really well. My prediction is he will take all Virginia's delegates and I'll he will have a good night overall on Super Tuesday.

O'BRIEN: And a double-digit lead when it comes to the national polls.

Let's talk about the APIC meeting because you will speak today. I think it ends tomorrow. The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, and President Obama is going to sit down and have a conversation as well. The president has said this about options on the table. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table. And I mean what I say.


O'BRIEN: When you look at the Republican candidates talking about Israel and Iran, they've said this.


OBAMA: When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table. And I mean what I say.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's pretty straightforward in my view. If Barack Obama gets re-elected Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change if that's the case.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No Israeli prime minister could responsibly allow the Iranians to get nuclear weapons because Israel is a small country, it is so compact, that two or three weapons will be the same thing as a holocaust.

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It doesn't make any sense to bomb a country that is no threat to anybody just because they might get a weapon, and try to point out that containment worked pretty well with the Soviets and they had 30,000.


O'BRIEN: You got to hear from President Obama twice there. Who do you think is right?

CANTOR: Soledad, what is going on and why we're having this discussion and debate is there's a real question of resolve on the part of the American people towards the White House. And I think also in my conversations with foreign leaders, there's equally a question of whether America is really going to maintain its leadership and influence in the region. That's what's going on here.

I was at the president's speech yesterday when he delivered it, and he did say that he doesn't accept the policy of containment, that he wants to make sure that Iran doesn't get a nuclear bomb. And so that is a positive step.

But what I'm concerned about is the commitment to follow through. And what we've seen and what the other governments and allies in the region are seeing is that White House whose commitment has not been consistent. If you look at Iran's other actions in the Middle East, whether it has to do with Syria, whether it has to do with Egypt, or its support of the proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah, the question is where is the American injection of influence to try and address these situations? There's been a lot of rhetoric coming out of White House, but, yet, the follow-through is questionable. And that's why I think we're having this discussion. There is doubt cast on where the president is going to go on this. And I know that we have got to make a decision here and there has to be some clarity coming out of White House in terms of this direction.

O'BRIEN: So final question for you. Mitt Romney seems to say that if Barack Obama is reelected that Iran will get a nuclear weapon. Do you agree with that?

CANTOR: Well, I think the issue here is the fact that president has said he doesn't want Iran to become a nuclear power.

O'BRIEN: That is a yes or no question, sir. Do you agree with Mitt Romney? He says that if Obama is reelected -- go ahead.

CANTOR: And I think -- I think it's a question, are you going to accept Iran's nuclear capability or are you going to wait until it has the weapon? And we can't wait until it has the weapon. That's a threat to U.S. interests, not just to our interests in the ally region. That's the construction of the debate going on right now. And it's seems to me that we've not had a clear statement by the White House that it is willing to make sure that Iran does not develop the capabilities because if we don't stop that, it will be too late.

O'BRIEN: That is the longest answer I think I've ever heard. Eric Cantor is the House majority leader, thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.

CANTOR: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: At 8:30 this morning, the former House speaker Newt Gingrich is going to join us live right here on STARTING POINT.

I'm worn out. Lots of other headlines to get to. Let's get to Christine for those. Hey, Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad, good morning to you. And Indiana toddler who was the only member of her family to survive a tornado, she has died. Fourteen-month-old Angel Babcock was discovered in a field about 100 yards from her home. She suffered head injuries and she was taken off life support, her grandparents and her pastor at her side.

The death toll from Friday's tornadoes now stand at 39. Indiana state police say the tornado destruction is so extensive they have no idea how many people are left homeless. 21 tornadoes struck Kentucky alone. Some 400 National Guard troops have been deployed. The governor he's requested a federal disaster declaration.

The U.S. Justice Department planning to answer for the targeted killing for a U.S. citizen with alleged links to terrorism. Anwar al- Awlaki was targeted by U.S. drone attacks in Yemen last year. He and another American citizen were killed. Sources say Attorney General Eric Holder will layout legal arguments to support the administration's use of lethal force. Vladimir Putin is headed for a historic third term as Russia's president, but was it fair? Putin got emotional as well, tearing up at a celebration last night. He crushed his rivals with nearly 65 percent of the vote, with most districts reporting. But rivals are claiming election fraud, and international monitors say they observed ballot stuffing and other irregularities. Anti-Putin protests are set to happen today.

Call it a comeback -- Lindsay Lohan returning to "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, and the fourth time host didn't shy away from her bad girl reputation, spoofing her trouble with the law in her opening monologue.


LINDSEY LOHAN, ACTRESS: You know, this studio feels like home to me. Wait, the alarm goes off if I leave the stage? I thought it was only if I left the studio. I thought you guys trusted me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how is it going?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. So good to see you back. I forgot how beautiful your eyes are.

LOHAN: Thanks, Keenan.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, can I see your eyes, please?


LOHAN: You know --



ROMANS: She'll return to the small screen starring in Elizabeth Taylor biopic for Lifetime. That filming begins in May. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: She looks really different.

ROMANS: Is she 24, 25? She's quite young, but, yes.

O'BRIEN: OK, moving on. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Rick Santorum has an attack on Obamacare. He likened President Obama to a drug dealer. Some people say that's a little bit too far. We're going to talk about that this morning.

Plus, BP's multibillion dollar deal. The oil giant is agreeing to settle with thousands of victims from the 2010 gulf oil spill. Not everybody is happy about it, though.

And stop thief! I love this story. This might be my favorite of the day. We'll tell you what happens when someone tried to rip off some girl scouts selling cookies. That's our get real this morning. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

BP is saying it will pay an estimated $7.8 billion to settle a lawsuit with some of the victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The money will resolve the economic loss claims and medical claims as well. The company's deep water horizon drilling rig, you recall, exploded nearly two years ago. It killed 11 people and sent nearly five million barrels of oil into the gulf.

Joining us this morning is Dean Blanchard. He's the Louisiana shrimper. He's also the president of Dean Blanchard Seafood. He's in D.C. this morning because he's going to be meeting with Ken Feinberg who led the BP compensation fund. Good morning. It's nice to see you, Dean. Thanks for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: I'm well. Thank you. How are you doing? What do you think of this deal that's now being announced?

BLANCHARD: Well, we don't know all the specifics of it yet. We're still waiting to find out. So, I guess, it just another step in the process.

O'BRIEN: Why are you meeting with Ken Feinberg?

BLANCHARD: He called me a week ago and said he'd like to meet with me. And, I respect the job he done. And, I think Ken's a nice guy. He did about as good a job as he could, I believe.

O'BRIEN: So, your company, at one point, was supplying 11 percent of all the shrimp in the United States. Is that correct?

BLANCHARD: That's pretty much. That's pretty close.

O'BRIEN: OK. And what are you down to now?

BLANCHARD: Oh, we probably down to about two or three percent. It basically our area, we was in what they call ground zero. Basically, our area is a dead zone down there.

O'BRIEN: So, there's no shrimping for you anymore? BLANCHARD: There's no local shrimp. The only shrimp we get is coming from 70 to 100 miles away from our facility. Basically, where the oil went, there's nothing left living.

O'BRIEN: I read that at one point you had 80 employees, and now, you're down to eight. Has that number gone back up at all?

BLANCHARD: No, ma'am.

O'BRIEN: Wow! OK! So, if you had to estimate how much money you've lost, what would you guess?

BLANCHARD: I'll figure I've lost $8, $10 million, but it's more than just money. It's peace of mind. Where's the end of this thing? You know, we don't see an end in sight. You know, everything got a beginning and an end, but for some reason, nobody can tell me where the end's at. And you know, what the future is going to bring.

NAFTALI BENDAVID, POLITICAL REPORTER OF WALL STREET JOURNAL: Dean, this is Naftali Bendavid with the "Wall Street Journal." I just wanted to ask, do you feel like you've been treated fairly? Do you feel like BP has had the right attitude toward the people of your region and has done what it could or do you feel like they have not been responsive?

BLANCHARD: Well, I feel like they want to make it a one size fits all, and it's not. You know, they got certain people in our industry that's profited from the oil spill and certain people who have been hurt by the oil spill. I don't believe BP is taking the time to come and investigate our industry and determine who is injured and who is not. They just want to make it a one size fits all, and I don't think it's fair.

O'BRIEN: How much money have you been offered?

BLANCHARD: The last correspondence I had with Feinberg, they offered me $25,000, which I just through that in the garbage with an insult, more or less.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Wow. All right. Well, Dean Blanchard, we're going to check in with you again and see how your meeting with Ken Feinberg goes and what you think of this deal when you have some more information. Obviously, it's not a done deal. The government could still and is expected to continue to -- continue with its own lawsuits as well. Dean, thank you. We appreciate it. Dean Blanchard, he's a shrimper from Louisiana.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the NFL is investigating this bounty program. Cash incentives for players, for example, New Orleans Saints players, to take out opposing players, and they're thinking it might be even more wide spread.

Also, talk about a really bad dude. Girl scouts get robbed in Texas. I love these little girls. They fight back. We're going to tell you about that in our "Get Real" right after this commercial break. Stay with us. Your you're listening to Anita Baker. This is a song to sing along with right now if you want to, "I Apologize."


O'BRIEN: I've been so impressed with the Congress people on our program. Really, like cool music? I don't know. That's, what, Flo Rida?


O'BRIEN: Flo Rida. Sorry. See. What was it called? Scroll back down, I missed it.


O'BRIEN: "Good Feeling." See, I don't have that, but now I'm going to get that.

Our "Get Real" this morning is a new low for a robber. Here's what happened in -- right outside of Houston, Texas, I believe. Girl scouts selling cookies outside of a Wal-Mart. Man pretending to be interested in buying the cookies instead walks up and then runs off with their cash box which had about $200 in it.

He took of in a waiting car with another person inside. And the two girl scouts, instead of just sort of hanging back boo-hooing, chased him and jumped on the car. Here's what happened.


IRAVIA COTTON, WHO CHASED DOWN AND HIT THE ROBBER: I started hitting the boy that was in the passenger seat. So, I think he got, you know, learned his lesson a little bit. And then, they dragged my friend, Rachel, across the street, you know, driving off real fast.

RACHEL JOHNSON, GIRL SCOUT DRAGGED BY CAR: I hope you're face hurts from where Iravia punched you, jerk. I'm serious. No, one of our girls ran up, bam. Yes. So, I hope your face hurts. I hope it leaves a scar.


O'BRIEN: Wow! Yes, they're mad. You don't want to mess with those girl scouts. Unfortunately, the two guys actually did get away with the cash. Under girl scout rules, of course, they're responsible for any lost money. So, they lost $200. So, here's we're going to do. We're going to buy $200 worth of Girl Scout cookies this morning. Where are they from?

SANCHEZ: Thin Mints.

O'BRIEN: Fort Bend County, Texas.

SANCHEZ: Thin Mints?

O'BRIEN: All of them. What's not to love? It's like what we love for breakfast. SANCHEZ: Isn't it 100th birthday this year of the girl scouts?

O'BRIEN: I know. I know.

SANCHEZ: It's so exciting.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's very nice. And when you ask people how many -- leadership positions how many have been girl scouts. Oh, were you a girl scout?

SANCHEZ: I was a girl scout.

O'BRIEN: Nice, nice with you.

All right. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Rush Limbaugh is apologizing for calling a Georgetown law student a slut. His advertisers are saying, see you. Anyway, we'll talk about that.

Plus, Newt Gingrich says Georgia or bust. Is there a southern strategy where you can really just win one state in the south?

Plus, a daring rescue. A cop (ph) risks his own life to save another. He dives into the freezing waters. We'll tell you what happened there. STARTING POINT continues right after this break.


O'BRIEN: This is Abby's playlist. This is Sean Paul "Got To Love You." Let's get right to our headlines this morning. Christine has those for us. Christine, good morning again.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad. Those violent storms that struck the south and Midwest are now blamed for 39 deaths. The latest victim is 14-month-old Angel Babcock. The tornado killed her parents and her two siblings in Indiana.

She was found in an open field after being thrown from her mobile home. She was alive. She suffered serious head injuries and was taken off life support yesterday. Her grandfather talked about that agonizing decision.


JACK BROUGH, ANGEL'S GRANDFATHER: Pastor was going to go in with me, we're going to pray there and I'm going to tell that little girl -- I'm going to tell her that it's time for her to meet her mommy and daddy.


ROMANS: Meantime, a small town of West Liberty, Kentucky is one of the areas hardest hit. This morning they're dealing with snow now. Rob Marciano is live there in Kentucky. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. Unbelievable, I mean, if it wasn't difficult enough to clear out the debris that was left by this EF-3 tornado with 140-mile-an-hour winds and now they're saying the survey showing it was a mile wide.

That's reason that virtually no building in this town was left untouched. Now the snow comes. Look behind me. This is such an odd scene. We're overlooking the main street, which is still shut off to the residents.

It's completely destroyed. Demolished rooftops of the buildings there and beyond that, across the valley, you see snow- covered trees that have been snapped like toothpicks. It's something like I've never seen.

But it gives us an illustration of just how intense the contrast was in this air masses and why it's such a terrible outbreak. And this is going to down as the worst March tornado outbreak since at least 1994. As mentioned, 39 people dead, 21 of those are in the state of Kentucky.

Yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell came out to survey the damage. He assured people that he's going to do what he can to make sure that they get the federal funds they need.

FEMA is coming out today to get the ball on that rolling as far as damage assessments is concerned. But they didn't let residents come back in yesterday and I'm not sure they're going to do it again today.

Because this is making everything cold, wet, nasty, and flat out dangerous, one more obstacle these poor people have to overcome is snowing now in Eastern Kentucky -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Rob, thanks. Rob Marciano in Kentucky.

Meantime, let's go to Syria where violence is raging. Opposition leaders say military forces are now targeting cities across the country in an effort to crush the popular uprising. The Assad regime has been pummelling the city of Homs.

British journalist, Paul Conroy, speaking to CNN. Conroy escaped that city after being wounded in the shell that killed veteran American war correspondent, Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlick last month.

He recalls being trapped in Baba Amir under attack from regime forces and he remembers the moment he lost his colleagues.


PAUL CONROY, JOURNALIST, ESCAPED SYRIA: One of activists started shouting get out, get out. We took another direct hit, which obviously increased the pressure on the situation. We were trying to get out of this building.

Remi and Maria got what they need and started to make their way out of the apartment, out the front door. The fourth shell that landed is the one that killed Marie and Remi instantly.


ROMANS: Conroy says he's speaking out against what he calls Syria's murderous regime. Speaking out as a tribute to those killed in the uprising.

Rick Santorum stirring up voters in Oklahoma by suggesting the Obama administration is trying to get Americans addicted to entitlements. Here's what he told voters while campaigning yesterday in Broken Arrow.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's all they see, is people to get hooked like a drug dealer, someone to become dependent upon them. And once that happens, they got you.


ROMANS: Santorum went on to say he believes the GOP nomination may not be settled until the Republican convention in Orlando because Mitt Romney has failed to close the deal.

New details emerging in the bounty program used by the New Orleans Saints. Investigators say the players themselves paid into a pool that the provided cash incentives for injuring other players, making interceptions and causing fumbles.

The fund run by then defensive coordination, Greg Williams, reached as high as $50,000. Players received $1,500 for knocking players out of the game and $1,000 for a cart-off. The NFL is also looking into other teams that may have taken part in a bounty program.

A police officer in Massachusetts is being called a hero for risking her own life after an out of control car plunged into a freezing river. Police Officer Bree Krasnianski says saw a man struggling to get out through a smashed windshield. He had blood coming from his face and arms.


OFFICER BREE KRASNIANSKI, REHOBOTH POLICE DEPARTMENT: A little hesitation, the water was cold, but I did what I had to do and got right in there.


ROMANS: Firefighters arrived, tossed a rope to the cop and pulled both of them back to shore. Officer Krasnianski says she is just doing her job. I'm afraid I probably didn't say her name right and she deserves it.

O'BRIEN: She's a hero.

ROMANS: She deserves it.

O'BRIEN: Awesome. What a great story? ROMANS: I know.

O'BRIEN: Although, you know, she's like, it was kind of cold. I thought about it twice for a minute. Good for her. That's great news. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Well, while Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were battling it out in Arizona and Michigan, Newt Gingrich went south to his old stomping ground, Georgia.

It was a state he's represented for 20 years and a state that Gingrich says is critical to his campaign. Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey joins our panel this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking to us. We appreciate it.

REP. PHIL GINGREY (R), GEORGIA, SUPPORTS NEWT GINGRICH: Good morning, Soledad. Glad to be with you.

O'BRIEN: The big news of the morning, thank you, is Senator Coburn endorsing Mitt Romney. Eric Cantor is endorsing Mitt Romney. How devastating do you think those endorsements are for your campaign?

GINGREY: Well, I wouldn't use the word devastating at all, in fact, not really surprising. So many of the leadership of the Republican Party, Senator Coburn I have great respect for. Obviously, Majority Leader Cantor is my majority leader and a great friend.

But so many want this to be over with, want to get on to the safe candidate. I, quite honestly, Soledad, I think that's a mistake. I think that someone like a Newt Gingrich, someone like a Rick Santorum who has strong conservative credentials and will stand very clearly and state those, in particular, in the case of former speaker Newt Gingrich.

He doesn't just talk the talk. He has walked the walk. I mean, he was two heartbeats away from the president from four years, balanced the budget, had welfare reform, and worked with President Clinton. So he's my man.

O'BRIEN: I believe that when you say some want to get it over with or that he's a safe candidate, is safe candidate really mean electable candidate and that's what they want to coalesce behind?

GINGREY: Well, here again, Speaker Gingrich has said many times on the campaign trail, do you want someone to just be there and manage the decay or do you want someone who is really going to make the changes necessary to get this country back as that shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan so adequately described years ago?

That's the way I feel about it. I think that's the way a lot of Georgians feel about it. I think that's the way a lot of American people, not just Republicans but independents, as well, hopefully some conservative Democrats feel that way. It's time for change. We don't want to just continuing managing the decay. NAFTALI BENDAVID, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Congressman, this is Naftali Bendavid with the "Wall Street Journal." Isn't there some virtue in getting it over with in the sense that right now it seems like you guys are expending all of your firepower at each other instead of at the president? So when you say some people just want to get it over, isn't there a good reason for that?

GINGREY: Well, I'm not sure what the reason for that is except, as you say, get rid of end the personal attacks, which always occur in any primary. Certainly, Hillary and Barack Obama when they were running the first time in that long drawn out Democratic primary that didn't end until June, they had some pretty ugly things to say about each other and then came together.

The RNC designed this. It wasn't certainly my input, but I think they had some rhyme or reason to wanting this thing to be competitive for a longer period of time. And indeed they have gotten what they designed.

ABBY LIVINGSTONE, POLITICAL REPORTER, ROLL CALL: Congressman, this is Abby Livingstone. Some would argue that why not get out on a high. You know, take your home state, try to unite the party. What do you see as a strategy to become the nominee? Where do you go after you take -- when you take Georgia, where do you move from there?

GINGREY: Well, Abby, I think that Newt has said very clearly that he feels that he has to win Georgia. I agree. I think he does have to win Georgia just as Romney had to win Michigan and Santorum will have to win Pennsylvania.

And beyond that, and I clearly believe that Newt, if you believe the latest polls, will win fairly handily in Georgia, although Romney will certainly get some delegates and Santorum, as well.

But then we go out on the 10th of March, I believe, Alabama and Mississippi are holding their primaries. Newt will do well in Tennessee. He will do well in Oklahoma. He will pick up some delegates in Ohio.

O'BRIEN: He's not leading in the polls there. You know, like, if this is a southern strategy and let's say he's leading by, what, 38 to Romney's 24 points in Georgia so let's -- let me give you that one.

But in Tennessee, he's not winning the polls. Santorum is ahead. In Oklahoma, it's Santorum who is ahead in the polls. So let's play a what if. What if he only wins Georgia? As Abby says, is that it and you consider getting out?

GINGREY: No, I don't think you should consider getting out if he wins only Georgia because I say with Alabama and Mississippi coming up four days later, he will win both of those states. And he will do well, as I say, Oklahoma, J.C. Watts is supporting the speaker.

I've realized that Senator Coburn is well respected. He's a good friend of mine, a fellow physician. But you know, all of these endorsements all across the board, and I think it's really the Republican and independent voter who is going to make this decision.

And so I don't think it means that much. Inside baseball, we all understand it and all the pundits and everything. And you count these different high-profile Republicans that are endorsing one or the other.

But I don't think John Q. Public, Tea Party voter, real conservative, who wants to see a distinct change from this failed presidency. They're not worried about who's endorsing, they know in their heart who they want.

O'BRIEN: Tea Party conservatives, they won't going to say I want the endorsement by a guy who is loved by the Tea Party, the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?

GINGREY: Well, there are a lot of people that are loved by the Tea Party including Eric Cantor. I hope they love me. I'm not running, of course, but, you know, when you go across my district, Cherokee County will be in my new district, the 11th of Georgia.

And Cherokee is really ground zero for the Tea Party Movement. Jenny Beth Martin is the executive director of the Tea Party Patriots and someone that is a real good spokesperson for the organization.

And what they care about, that's where Newt has spent his time in the last week in the outpouring of support in Cherokee and, indeed, in Cobb County at the Cobb Chamber Speech the other day was unbelievable.

O'BRIEN: All right, Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it. It doesn't matter unless it matters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think that Newt has real character flaws. I think that when you're talking about Joe Public, that that's what they see.

O'BRIEN: It's a challenge.


O'BRIEN: All right, I've got to toss it to a commercial break. Going to continue to discuss this during our next hour and a half or so.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Rush Limbaugh is now apologizing for calling a woman a slut. Sponsors though have pulled ads, eight sponsors he's lost.

The couple who lost their brand new business in the tornado, inside a restaurant when the twister hit, they saved themselves and nine of their customers, but lost absolutely everything else.

They're going to join us and tell us their story. Straight ahead, you're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Pressure building against conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh. Last week, he said this about a Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress about health insurance for female contraception. Listen.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: What does it say about the college coed, Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.


O'BRIEN: I think what she was she would like is her contraception underwritten. But, whatever.

He kind of apologized this weekend saying this. "In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke."

Of course, part of the reason he's saying that, because here's the short list of advertisers who have ditched him: Quicken Loan, Sleep Number, the Sleep Train, Legal Zoom, Citrix Systems, Go to Meeting, Carbonite, Pro Flowers.

And the Carbonite CEO said this, "Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Ms. Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. We hope that our action along with the advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse."

Think that happens?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ, (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I mean, I would hope that Limbaugh would just get off the air, quite frankly. I mean, this is not the first time that he's personally attacked people. It's really sad to see him use the kind of words. But if you go back and look at his -- hear his shows, he has attacked a lot of people. Public people, OK, we're used to it. But somebody who has come before a committee and said, listen, this is important to college students.

O'BRIEN: Here's my story.

SANCHEZ: Here's my story. You know, contraceptives are really important. If you think about it it's an investment for Americans because contraceptives are very expensive. And whether we like it or not, young people in college and everything are having those types of experiences. They need --

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: You don't want to say sex on TV?




O'BRIEN: Just like my mother. You know that kind of thing that we don't mean. That thing that goes by a name that we don't name and talk about in public discourse.

You're not shocked. Obviously, Rush Limbaugh is a person who constantly pushes the line.

LIVINGSTON: He's an entertainer. He gets paid, what, $50 million a year.


O'BRIEN: But it crosses a line.

LIVINGSTON: It is. I think it also dumbs down the political process. And I think this is why so many people are disenfranchised today. Because let's talk about the real issues. These are personal attacks, and it goes way overboard. When you have a platform, when you so many people -- I think he is the top-rated radio show in the country right now. You know, you have a platform, there's a certain amount of respect that you have to have.

O'BRIEN: Do you think if you're getting rid of advertisers that will make a difference? My sense was that the apology only followed when the advertisers said we're going to yank our support.

NATALY VAN DAVID, WALL STREET JOURNAL: No doubt that's a big factor. That's what these guys rely on for their livelihood. But there's another aspect, which is this is not where the Republicans wanted this conversation to go. This started as an attack on President Obama's policy regarding contraceptives.

O'BRIEN: Freedom of religion spin.

VAN DAVID (ph): Yes, freedom of religion. And that's what they wanted it to be about, when it's about contraception, access to birth control, women's rights. And statements like Rush Limbaugh's is not where they want it to be.

SANCHEZ: The phones have been ringing off the hook, especially to women, Democratic women, members of Congress, by women who say this is such a personal attack. Where do I send money to campaigns? How do I get more women candidates in who understand this issue of contraceptives?


O'BRIEN: You have seen your campaign coffers grow? SANCHEZ: I've seen it. And I've talk to other women. We are here in New York today to have a woman's forum on policy issues. It completely sold out. You know, we are turning away people. And the big reason is this has really energized women. And women across the board. I mean, Republicans, Independents, people who have never contributed to my campaign in Orange County. It's a very conservative area, who --


O'BRIEN: And you say it moves the conversation. As we were talking to the House majority leader, talking about the economy. Only wanted to talk about the economy.


VAN DAVID (ph): Democrats are seizing on this. President Obama has now said he's going to speak at Barnard's commencement address. And Democrats are doing everything they can to seize on this issue to try to bring women and Independents into their corner.

O'BRIEN: All right.

Let's get right to commercial break. Still ahead though this morning on STARTING POINT, they were right in the middle of that terrifying tornado. Lived to talk about it, though. We'll hear a couple's story of survival.

Look at that bus. Went right through the window of -- that's their restaurant they used to own.

That's straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. FEMA officials are set to begin surveying tornado damage today. It's from that second wave of deadly tornadoes that struck across the Midwest.

Take a look at some of this footage that was submitted by one of our viewers. This is an EF-4 tornado striking Henryville. Look at that. This thing is just blowing right through this small town. It has a population of about 1,900 people. It just shreds the entire town.

The owners of a small restaurant survived that twister because they were able to take shelter in the basement of their restaurant. That's the restaurant there. Yes, a bus blew right through the window. That came from a nearby high school and then plowed in. You can see the damage there. It went right through the front window.

The owners of Budros (ph) Family Restaurant, Sherman Sykes and Maureen Williams are with us this morning.

It's nice to see you. Thank you joining us. I'm looking at that damage. Oh, my god. I can't believe you guys survived. Tell us a little bit about how much warning you got before you headed down to the basement.


O'BRIEN: That was it?

SYKES: The radio came on and said everybody in Henryville have 14 minutes to take cover. And we started telling the people that was in there to get in the basement.


O'BRIEN: So it was just after 3:00, right?

SYKES: Right.

O'BRIEN: So you gathered everybody up?

SYKES: And one man we just had to --


SYKES: We got everybody up, got everybody in the basement. And that was it.


O'BRIEN: I just cut you off there for a second. You were telling me one man you had to do what to?

SYKES: One man we had to take by the shoulders and just put him down in the basement. He just froze. He wouldn't move. He didn't know what to do. He just stood there.

O'BRIEN: Wow. He must be looking at the damage to your restaurant today.

SYKES: He was paralyzed like.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and he must be saying thank you so much for saving my life. Does he realize how close he came?

SYKES: Yes. And the next day, he thanked us. His wife did too.

But, you know, I just want to add one thing to this. This was a business. People here in town lost their homes. It's where they sleep and eat. We have a business. But they lost everything.

O'BRIEN: That's very true.

SYKES: Their home and the whole nine yards. That's bad.

O'BRIEN: And some people lost their lives too.

SYKES: That's very bad.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask Maureen a question.

SYKES: Right.

O'BRIEN: Maureen, behind you, I see this big giant bus going through the window of your brand-new restaurant, which my understanding is, you put $100,000 in to build it and you are not insured. What's the plan now?

MAUREEN WILLIAMS, STORM SURVIVOR: Don't know. I know we have to go forward. And wherever that road takes, we'll soon find out. But like he said, it's these people that have lost their homes, you know. They have nothing.

O'BRIEN: When you look at the damage to your town, Henryville, which is, what, only about three-square-miles big and fewer than 2,000 people live there, the town is really -- how much would you estimate, you know, percentage-wise has been lost

WILLIAMS: From what I've -- well, I've only seen this area right here. But pictures I've seen on the television -- uh-oh.

Go ahead.

O'BRIEN: We've lost it.

No, I hear you still. Can you hear me?

It sounds like we just lost them.

SYKES: Can you hear my --

WILLIAMS: I'm sorry.


O'BRIEN: We just lost here, I think. That's OK, Maureen.

WILLIAMS: I'm here.

O'BRIEN: OK. You're back?

You know what? I think we're having a hard time with your audio, so we'll just wrap up the interview.

I want to say thanks. I see the devastation behind you and how much you guys have lost. Even though you're right, other people have lost their lives and others have lost everything they owned. You guys are facing a big road ahead of you as well as the other folks in Henryville, Indiana, this morning.

I thank you for your time. Good luck to you. We'll keep in touch and see how the cleanup and the rebuilding goes. We appreciate it. That's Sherman Sykes and Maureen Williams joining us there from Henryville, a town of about 2,000 people who, as you see from the bus that went through their front window, has a massive job ahead of them. And they're not insured.

That's going to be a --

SANCHEZ: Soledad, may I say something here? This points to why we are a united states. We're going to have a fight now about how we try to rebuild what we're seeing going on here.

O'BRIEN: That's true.

SANCHEZ: We had a fight, remember, when there were the floods and the rains in the northeast. And some of the new Tea Party members of Congress and stuff said, you know, no, we're not going to bail people out. Well, there's a reason why we are a United States. To help each other. And this is going to be another issue that comes up.

LIVINGSTON: And that couple really represented that. They're willing to say other people are suffering more than they are.

O'BRIEN: It's so sad.

Well, ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to talk about President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They're meeting to talk about Iran. We'll talk to Senator John McCain.

Plus, 10 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Newt Gingrich is going to join us live.

Then SNL gearing up for Super Tuesday as well. They showcase the Romney boys. Did you see this?

You're watching STARTING POINT.