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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

GOP Presidential Candidates Prepare for Super Tuesday, Interview with Representative Jason Chaffetz; Interview with Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Super Tuesday; Gunfire and Explosions In Damascus; Colvin's Body Heading Home; Former Gitmo Detainees Resume Terrorist Activity; Holder Defends Targeted Killings; Robertson On Deadly Midwest Tornadoes; Video Games Good For You?; Florida Redistricting; Palin: Representative West for VP; Sam LaHood, NGOs Bailed Out, Return from Egypt; Are Rush Limbaugh's Comments Wake- Up Call for Women?

Aired March 6, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. It's Super Tuesday, the biggest payout of primary season.

The polls are opening right now along the east coast. There are ten states in play today. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are neck and neck in the state of Ohio, and Newt Gingrich is hoping that his home state can save him.

Plus, out of Egypt, Sam Lahood, the son of transportation secretary, Ray Lahood, will talk to me for the first interview, television interview, since his arrest and his interrogation in Cairo. We'll bring you that this morning as well.

And then version 2.0, another apology comes from Rush Limbaugh for calling a law student, Sandra Fluke, all kinds of nasty names. This latest apology, though, is sort of interesting. Rush is blaming the left for those names. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: I descended to their level when I used those two words to describe Sandra Fluke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Yes, whatever. Not enough to keep two radio stations from now yanking his show all together. Those are our "Starting Points" for March 6th, 2012. Here's the show.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: That's Rolando Laserie, "Hola Soledad". That was my -- the guy who drove me in to work this morning, he's like, I have a new song for you. Of course, he's Cuban, you can tell. He's Cuban from that song.

Good morning. Let's get right to our panelistS this morning. Brett O'Donnell is back. He of course is the former adviser to Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. We welcome you. Nice to see you again. Pra (ph) Shaday (ph) is with us as well. She is a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. And Steve Moore is with us for the first time. He's an economics writer for the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page. Thank you for being with us.

So our STARTING POINT is Super Tuesday, of course. Ten states will go to the polls today. There are 419 delegates up for grabs and potentially two presidential campaigns on the line. If you look at the map of today's super Tuesday, contest, Newt Gingrich says he's going to win Georgia, and the polls are supporting him on that. Rick Santorum says he's going to do well in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and the polls are supporting him in that. Mitt Romney says he's going to win Massachusetts and Vermont and Idaho, and the polls support him on that. He also is planning to win Virginia, partly because he's the only person on the ballot along with Ron Paul. So that's probably a pretty good guess. He's leading by a lot of the polls there.

But really what everybody is focused on this morning of course is the battleground state of Ohio. There it is a dead heat between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Now, Mitt Romney says he believes he will win the Republican nomination if, in fact, he can carry the state of Ohio. But Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say making Mitt Romney the nominee would be a big mistake. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He will be the weakest candidate we could possibly put forward on the most important issue of today.

(APPLAUSE)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He can't close the deal. And he can't close the deal in part because people inherently don't trust what he's saying and think that he isn't always very candid with him and sometimes frankly isn't straight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: All right, no shocker there to see Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich saying he would be a terrible nominee. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah is a Romney supporter. He's joining our panel this morning. Nice to see, you sir. We appreciate it, as always.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: So Mitt Romney has said I hope I get the support of the people in Ohio. And I believe if I get the support of the people of Ohio e., I win, I can get the norm nation. Do you think that's right?

CHAFFETZ: It certainly would move him in the right direction. Look, if you're Mitt Romney you wouldn't trade place places are anybody. Certainly Ohio would be a big win for anybody. But I think the governor has always understood this is a national campaign and he's done exceptionally well. Take all the Santorum, all the Gingrich support and delegates that they have and you add them together and you still don't come close to Mitt Romney. So I think if people focus on jobs and they want more jobs, they want less debt and want smaller government, if that's your main objective then you're going to support Mitt Romney today.

O'BRIEN: So if he wins Ohio, regardless of what happens in the nine other states, you believe he becomes a nominee?

CHAFFETZ: I think he's going to become the nominee even if it goes one direction or the other by a few thousand votes. I just think the party is starting to understand it needs to coalesce behind somebody that what does unite us is beating Barack Obama and that Mitt Romney has by far the best chance of beating Barack Obama in November.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think that coalescing has just started? It sounds to be one of the new, you know, conversation of the week is we're coalescing, we're coalescing. Why is that?

CHAFFETZ: Well, because you need to get up and down the ballot from coast to coast people united. You've got to raise money. You've got to build an organization. And certainly Mitt Romney has shown he's got to do that. Remember it wasn't until June that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were duking it out and then they did come together and get united. But the sooner we do that the better off that we get. I think that's partly what you're going to see because everywhere from Alaska to Vermont you've got people out there voting.

O'BRIEN: What's interesting on that is their unfavorable numbers never went far down. They never went below 70 percent for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, even in June. If you look at the unfavorables for the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, his numbers are, you know, 39 percent favorable -- unfavorable. Isn't that sort of a oranges and apples on this one?

CHAFFETZ: Yes, we all tend to pick certain numbers that we like to make them convenient. I think certainly though there has been a steady drumbeat when you look at Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney that Mitt Romney is in the best position to beat the president. But we probably look at those numbers too much on a day to day basis. I think again once you get through this process Republicans will not unite because what drives us more than anything is beating Barack Obama.

O'BRIEN: It's my experience that politicians love the polls if they work in their favor.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAFFETZ: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: And not at all if they don't work in their favor. Yesterday when I was talking to Eric Cantor, of course, I was trying to get some insight from him on whether he thinks that the coalescing is because they've now are supporting the true conservative and that true conservative is Mitt Romney. Here's what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: 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.

REP. ERIC CANTOR, (R) HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Mitt Romney, again, Soledad, not to be repetitious, but he's got a plan.

O'BRIEN: But does this mean that you've answered that 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.

O'BRIEN: I'm just going to note that you are not going to answer that question for me, but I'm happy to move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Which he never actually answered that question. So I'll ask you that question. Is this support now, I mean, you get, what were you telling me the other day, you're like 99 percent highest rating in --

CHAFFETZ: Second highest -- second most conservative person in the House.

O'BRIEN: So you're way up there.

CHAFFETZ: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that Mitt Romney is the true conservative in this race? Yes or no.

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. Absolutely. I totally absolutely believe that. Look, if we put as our nominee a Washington, D.C. insider, somebody who has based their career on being a Washington, D.C. insider and worked as a lobbyist on K Street, do we think that's the winning formula? No. But that's where Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are. You want somebody from the outside who has had success in the business community and the Olympics, who governed a state as a conservative in Massachusetts, who issued 800 vetoes. I could go on and on and on.

O'BRIEN: Please don't. Got it.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely, I believe that. O'BRIEN: All right, great. You have a question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely. Representative Chaffetz, do you think that proportionality elongated the race and in retrospect do you think that's been a good or bad thing for the Republican Party?

CHAFFETZ: It's probably too early to tell but it has elongated the race because when you have a winner take all such in Florida where Mitt Romney dominated, you are ready to move on. And so when you start parsing it up that's certainly going to stretch it out. Even if you kind of ran the table, you could never lock up the nomination until April. So I think the media is very quickly trying to say, oh, it's taking time, and, look, you can't physically get to the number of delegates that you need until April. And so let's also remember that John McCain lost 20 states on the way to becoming the nominee. But, look, if you're Mitt Romney you wouldn't trade places with anybody at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congressman, you know, if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee, which still seems quite likely, there will be people who do not support him. I have heard this from voters who just don't belief that he is their choice, often conservatives, evangelical white Christians. Is there going to be a messaging that can triangulate between the swing voters that need to move over in the general election and some of these core voters?

O'BRIEN: How do you get everybody under the same tent, I guess would be the question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.

CHAFFETZ: Again, when the focus is defeating Barack Obama or having him for another four years, if it's about jobs, if it's about the economy, if it's about how do we make government smaller? Then I think Mitt Romney would do exceptionally well. Let's remember that he ran as a conservative in Massachusetts and was able to attract that middle 10 percent, the independents that will probably truly decide the election in November, Mitt Romney does exceptionally well in drawing them together. As a conservative, I think he's Tea Party safe, the right guy for the job, I think he's uniquely qualified. That's why you can tell I'm just a little bit enthusiastic about his candidacy.

O'BRIEN: We can tell. Congressman Jason Chaffetz joining us this morning. Usually we come in with his music, which was Devo the last time.

CHAFFETZ: She spared everybody this time.

O'BRIEN: No, good taste usually. I mocked you on my blog a little bit about that.

CHAFFETZ: I know I don't have good taste.

O'BRIEN: We'll give you another chance next time. CHAFFETZ: OK.

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

Other stories making headlines this morning. Christine Romans has those for us. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad. That teen who admitted to the deadly school shooting in Ohio will appear in juvenile court today. T.J. Lane is accused of killing three students and injuring two others. Prosecutors are planning to use his case to adult court. They're also trying to block the release of more information about Lane's past. Officials have already revealed that when he was 15, lane was charged for the violent assault of an uncle.

Russian riot police violently breaking up thousands of protesters in Moscow. About 20,000 demonstrators tried to take over the Pushkin Square yesterday. They're angry about Vladimir Putin's victory in the recent presidential election. They're claiming widespread fraud. About 250 people were detained.

North Korea conducting live fire military drills near an island in disputed waters where four South Koreans were killed in 2010. And while those drills are taking place, the North is criticizing the U.S. and South Korea for conducting their own joint military exercises. All this as U.S. and North Korean envoys prepare to meet tomorrow in Beijing. They will be talking about a deal that provides the North with food in exchange for all nuclear activities being suspended.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preparing to meet with Republican Congressional leaders this morning on Capitol Hill. He met yesterday with President Obama. The two leader trying to reach an agreement on how to deal with Iran and its nuclear program. Netanyahu warning the U.S. and Israel are running out of time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: For the sake of our prosperity, for the sake of our security, for the sake of our children, Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Mitt Romney also weighing in. The Republican presidential candidate has an op-ed piece in the "Washington Post" today. He writes, "While Obama frets in the White House, the Iranians are making rapid progress toward obtaining the most destructive weapons in the history of the world."

It's been another night of violence across Syria, reports of explosions and gunfire rocking the capital city of Damascus. The massacre of civilians prompting Senator John McCain to urge the U.S. to lead an international effort to carry out air strikes on Syrian forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: If we want to stand by and watch Syrians being massacred in the most brutal and incredibly genocidal fashion, then that is a decision we can make. But please don't tell me we can't do it. We can if we have the will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: McCain is also calling on the Obama administration to begin arming Syria's opposition forces. The White House disagrees.

A last minute change of venue for the upcoming G8 economic summit here in the U.S. It was supposed to take place in Chicago on May 20th and 21st. But president Obama will host those world leaders at Camp David instead. The White House says security and likely protests were not factors in this decision. Officials say the Maryland retreat setting is going to allow for more intimate discussions. The NATO summit will remain in Chicago.

And Paula Deen's culinary empire under fire. A lawsuit accuses Deen and her brother of sexual harassment and making racist comments. The suit was filed yesterday in Georgia from former manager Lisa Jackson. Uncle Bubba's in Savannah, Georgia. Jackson claims that Deen's brother Bubba brought pornography to work all the time and also looked at porn sites online at work. The suit alleges Bubba asked Jackson to bring pictures of herself to work, telling her she has nice legs. That's just the stuff that we can tell you about, Soledad.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I was going to say, wow, that even kind of goes for the you think you might want to go first thing in the morning. All right, Christine, we will be watching that, appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, President Obama is not going to let the GOP grab all the headlines today. The White House announcing he's going to hold his first formal news conference of the year today, on super Tuesday. We're going to talk to the DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz about the timing of that. Interesting.

Also, does the constitution protect homegrown terrorists? Attorney General Holder is going to talk about when it is OK to target Americans overseas.

And our "Get Real" this morning, a guy who is a movie buff wanted to have snacks at the concession stand now has a lawsuit because he thinks concession stand snacks are extortion. Truly. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll dig into that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. That's Stephen Moore's play list, "Sherry Darling." Nice photo there. You can send us your picture. Nothing crazy, people. You can send it to us on twitter. If it's crazy I'm not going to put it on TV. I should mention we have our new blog starting today as well that I wrote this morning, because in all the free time I have, why not also do a blog, right?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: But let's move off of our talk about Super Tuesday this morning. The White House wants you to forget all about it. In fact, what they would like you to do is focus at 1:15 p.m. eastern time on the president's first solo full length news conference, the first one since October. Is it strategic timing or a coincidence? DNC chairwoman Florida Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz joins us this morning. Nice to have you.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIRWOMAN: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk timing. Hmmm, Super Tuesday, or a big long press conference starting at 1:15 eastern time. It's not coincidence, right?

SCHULTZ: No, it's not coincidence. I mean, I think we have got a lot of really important issues going on in the country right now. President Obama just hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House yesterday. There are so many different things going on in terms of jobs and the economy and the discussion of where we need to go with this country and moving our economy forward. So this is a perfect day to -- for the president to hold a news conference.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but that's not what I meant. Isn't it a perfect day because it's a busy news cycle, it's a perfect day because everybody should be talking about the GOP nominees. That's intentional, right?

SCHULTZ: The world doesn't come to an end just because it's Super Tuesday for the Republicans. I mean, we do have a president of the United States, Barack Obama, who is singularly focused on continuing to get this economy turned around and making sure that he's able to communicate his efforts and his policies to the country. And that's what this news conference will be all about.

O'BRIEN: So then that's yes, we're going to make sure to steal some of the fire from all the conversations about Super Tuesday and insert the president into that conversation. That's how I read that, am I right, before I move on? I'm having a hard time getting people to answer my questions this week.

SCHULTZ: No, I'm answering your question straight up. The world does not come to an end or screeching halt because the Republicans have a primary. While they seem singularly focused on outright winging each other, president Obama has been focused on trying to make sure we can continue to create jobs, fight for the middle class and working families. And by the way, yesterday, he hosted the prime minister of Israel at the White House.

So he's continuing to do his job and that's the job that the American people elected him to do and sod is a good day to make sure that he can check in with the American people and give everyone an update on where we've been and the progress that we've made and the direction that he'd like to see this country go.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about these conversations with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They spoke yesterday. They have both given speeches at AIPAC. Let me play you a little clip of what Benjamin Netanyahu had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NETANYAHU: I appreciate President Obama's recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. And these sanctions are hurting Iran's economy. But unfortunately Iran's nuclear program continues to march forward. My friends, Israel has waited, patiently waited, for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney had an op-ed in "The Washington Post" this I think morning. He says, "I will take," if he were president, "I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. I will buttress my diplomacy with the option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that it at the end of the that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for peaceful resolution." To what role is conversation going this going to play in the re-election?

SCHULTZ: On Sunday, president Obama's speech he made it very clear to the 14,000 AIPAC activists that he is singularly focused on -- in terms of Iran policy -- on making sure they do not attain their goal of achieving a nuclear weapon and that he is using every tool at his disposal and leaves no option off the table. And so the difference between president Obama's policy and Mitt Romney and what he said in his editorial this morning is exactly none except for the bellicose language and telegraph that Mitt Romney is doing and the characterization that President Obama laid out in his speech to AIPAC which is that you should speak softly and carry a big stick.

And, you know, when it comes to strategy, when it comes to making sure that we can actually achieve our goals, President Obama's focus is on making sure that the Iranian regime understands that we are deadly serious and that he has consistently backed up his words with actions. We have only to look to the demise of Osama bin Laden to see that or to the demise of Gadhafi in Libya to see that.

But we need to make sure that the time and space that has been created by those economic sanctions is utilized to its fullest extent and that at the end of the day a military option is necessary, that option remains on the table. So the prime minister and President Obama are on the same page.

And let me just also add, Soledad, that President Obama also emphasized that -- in his speech, that Israel is a sovereign nation and has the ability and the responsibility to make sure that they make decisions about options that they would pursue on their own.

O'BRIEN: OK, that was a long answer and I don't want to run out of time.

SCHULTZ: It's a tough issue.

O'BRIEN: I totally agree on that. Here's a question for you before I let you go. I want to talk about the treatment of women in politics. You're a woman in politics, a mom in politics. Michele Bachmann was talking to Piers Morgan last night. She says for sometimes people on the right it feels like they get all upset when it's somebody on the left is who is attacked and you don't get that same sense of outrage when she was being attacked. Do you agree with that?

SCHULTZ: It's not OK to attack anyone, but it's not OK to use the language that Rush Limbaugh or that any prominent figure would use that is derogatory towards women. But Rush Limbaugh really crossed the line when he went after a young law student who is not a public figure, who simply took a stand.

And she did not deserve the treatment that she got from Rush Limbaugh. He called her a slut. He said if she wanted contraception, that in exchange she should post sex tapes on video. I mean, this is outrageous talk. And it's not talk that's humorous or appropriate. And as a mom of two daughters, and as a public official, that conduct and that commentary should be called out.

O'BRIEN: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thanks for talking with us.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: President Obama's news conference held on super Tuesday is going to be at 1:15 eastern time right here on CNN and CNN.com. We're going to carry that live. That's CNN.com/live.

I want to talk to you more about women, especially Michele Bachmann's campaign that you were involved in and maybe a little Bill Maher. Sometimes it's outrageous on both sides. That will be ahead.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Gitmo detainees released to fight another day. There's a disturbing new report that shows an increase of just how many return to what they're doing.

Also, our "Get Real," price of popcorn too high? Go ahead and sue the movie theater. This is crazy.

And our STARTING POINT play list comes from Brett O'Donnell. Look at you, Billy Joel, "Longest Time." (MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our "Get Real" this morning, it's so crazy. I guess everybody has their moment when they're done. For Joshua Thompson, a movie fanatic, he was just done when his Coca-Cola and box of popcorn cost him $8. He's filed a class action lawsuit against his local AMC theater in Michigan because he says they are charging grossly excessive prices at the concession stand. He says the prices of snacks are three times as high as they are down the block in the drugstore. The suit accuses AMC theaters of violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. AMC will not comment.

So here's my question. Why, why not just go to the drugstore, stuff your bag full of candy that's cheap, which is what we used to do, by the way, as a family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or buy the DVD. Popcorn at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because men don't have purses. If he had a purse, it would all be worked out.

O'BRIEN: Stuff that candy bar in your pocket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no substitute for movie popcorn. I'm willing to pay for it. If it gets too expensive, don't go.

O'BRIEN: Bret, I'm surprised you're on that side. I think it's a frivolous lawsuit and I don't support it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I support a constitutional amendment for free popcorn.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, television evangelist Pat Robertson is known for his controversial comments. He says them a lot and often. He says people could have prayed away the deadly tornadoes in the Midwest.

And Sarah Palin says she thinks Congressman Allan West could be our next VP. We're going to talk to the congressman about that. See if he will accept or not. First, though, from Congressman West's play list, a Little Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: What are we listening to? Who is this? Is this yours? This is Rihanna. I like this.

You know what, what are we looking at? This is voting. This is -- I can't see that far away. We're looking at -- they've moved -- people, they've moved the prompter a little bit.

It's Struthers, Ohio. It's where the polls are now opened as I what I was trying to say. Thank you for the support. It's early. It's early. It's early, Mr. Moore. Relax.

We're going to get right to headline. Look, my panel is going crazy already. It's 7:34 in the morning. Let's get right to Christine for a look at some other stories making news. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there, Soledad. No let-up to the slaughter of civilians in Syria. We're getting reports of gun fire and explosions overnight in the capital city of Damascus.

The government troops are widening their attacks throughout the country. Senator John McCain is calling on the U.S. to lead international air strikes against the Syrian regime while arming Syria's opposition forces. The White House opposes that idea.

And nearly two weeks after she was killed by a rocket attack in Homs, the body of American journalist, Marie Colvin is expected to arrive in the U.S. today.

A funeral mass is planned for Monday in New York. The bodies of Colvin and French photographer, Remi Ochlick were formally identified by French and Polish diplomats in Damascus before being flown to France over the weekend.

A new report from the government says a growing number of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay have resumed terrorist activity. That report from the director of National Intelligence shows nearly 28 percent of Gitmo detainees who were transferred to other countries as of the end of last year, 28 percent are either confirmed or suspected of returning to the battlefield to fight western interests.

Attorney General Eric Holder answering for the targeted killing of an American accuse of terrorism. Holder says U.S. citizens can legally be targeted in a foreign country if they're involved in high-level terrorism and they pose an immediate threat of deadly violence to Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: If the nation were to have terrorists act, where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture United States citizen terrorists who presents an imminent threat of violent attack. In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: American-born Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed in a targeted U.S. drone attack in Yemen last year.

Television Evangelist Pat Robertson offering up some interesting views of last week's devastating tornados in America's heartland. Listen to what he said on "The 700 Club."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, EVANGELIST: God doesn't send tornadoes to hurt people. We call them acts of God, but they're not. So all I can say is that why do you build houses in a place where tornadoes are apt to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the bigger issue for people spiritually is always not so much why did God send them, but why didn't he intervene?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Robertson is well-known for making controversial remarks. In 2010, he blamed the earthquake in Haiti on that country's, quote, "packed with the devil." He also suggested Hurricane Katrina was God's way of punishing Americans.

"Minding Your Business" this morning, the U.S. market opens in about two hours. Stock futures are lower right now suggesting that stock markets could open lower today at 9:30 Eastern.

Dow futures are down about 85 points at the moment. Its concerns about growth in China as well Europe pushing stocks lower here and overseas this morning.

A new study says video games change your brain and that may be a good thing. Researchers say video games can improve creativity, decision making, and the ability to multi-task.

The study found people who play action-based games make decisions 25 percent faster than others without sacrificing accuracy. And regular gamers can pay attention to more than six things at once without getting confused. Wow.

O'BRIEN: That video was so hilarious watching people playing the Wii.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They paid for that study.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Apparently not, it was an independent study. That's what they said in the report. All right, Christine. Thank you very much.

Of course, today is the day that could change the shape of GOP presidential race. Ten states are voting today. They're going to be deciding on 419 delegates. A dead heat in what is the big prize, the state of Ohio.

Mitt Romney and Santorum are tied there. Two big congressional endorsements came to Mitt Romney on Sunday. The House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn both endorsed him.

But whether those endorsements will give him a boost, of course, still remains to be seen. One man who is saying mum though on endorsing anybody is Congressman Allen West of Florida. He joins us this morning.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. As always, we appreciate it.

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Usually I say to you, so who are you going to endorse today. My question today though really is, why not endorse? It's late in the game. Is it just you're just not going to endorse?

WEST: Well, once again, as I have talked to you about, Soledad, I think that most important thing for me to focus on is my duties up here as a congressional representative and I don't see any endorsement of mine being that important in this race. I think it's most important for the American people out there to decide in this primary, not worry about my endorsement.

O'BRIEN: As I mentioned, Congressman Cantor, Senator Coburn have both now endorsed Mitt Romney. Those are two Tea Party favorites. You know, with strong conservative credentials, obviously. So my question is, does that mean that Mitt Romney is now considered to be the true conservative in this race, would you say?

WEST: Well, I'm not going to get into labeling. I think that what you see is certain individuals that are definitely influential within the GOP, aligning themselves so that we can move toward having an eventual nominee.

I think that's the whole point of it. And of course, you know, up here in Virginia, you're only going to have two individuals in that race. And then I guess Senator Coburn sees Mitt Romney being the best person to move forward and that's why he offered his endorsement ahead of the Oklahoma primary.

O'BRIEN: Most of the debate over the last couple of weeks is focused on social issues especially if you look at Senator Santorum. H was talking about gay marriage. He was talking about contraception. He was talking about separation of church and state.

Do you think -- you know and that correlates with a decline in the polls. Do you think that that was a mistake for him?

WEST: Well, I think you need to understand what are the most pressing issues for the American people right now and I think maybe he did make a mistake in going down the wrong rabbit hole and following some of the media, which took him down that way.

You've got to continue to talk about the debt and deficit situation. You've got to continue to talk about the right type of tax and regulatory policies that will create the conditions for job growth in the United States of America.

As I sat there and listened to Prime Minister Netanyahu last night in AIPAC you cannot forget our national security as well.

O'BRIEN: So the only thing I would add to that, though, and I do agree with you that the media can lead you down the rabbit hole. But, you know, over the weekend, he could start off saying, basically, I've been led down the rabbit hole.

And then he would gave a speech that really was all about social issues. So in all fairness, I think that in that particular case, that's not fair to say. Mr. Moore had a question for you. Go ahead, sir.

STEPHEN MOORE, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Hi, Congressman, Stephen Moore here. Great to see you. Just a question of obviously Ohio is the battleground state, but your state is probably the biggest prize of all in November.

And you know the scuttlebutt in Washington is that no matter who the nominee is, that the best vice presidential nominee would be your state -- senator from the state of Florida, Marco Rubio.

Why do you think whether you put -- whether it's Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich, if they put somebody like Marco Rubio on that ticket.

Do you think that would help the deliver the key state of Florida because as you know, Republicans can't win if they can't win the state of Florida?

WEST: Yes, I think there would be a good selection. Senator Rubio was the speaker of the House there in the Florida legislature. He has a great story. He is well known across that state. I think he is someone who brings a new and vibrant energy to the GOP and also to the race. I think he has a great vision for this country as well.

O'BRIEN: Sarah Palin says it should be you. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: You know, who I would like to see considered for the VP slot is Colonel Allen West. You know, in this very tumultuous time across our world, someone who has served in our military or at least has intimate knowledge of the way the military works and should work by perhaps having a close family member serve, someone like that, like Colonel Allen West.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: All right, well, she supports it. What do you say? What say you, sir?

WEST: You know, you guys, that was a pretty good set-up.

O'BRIEN: That wasn't even -- I met Mr. Moore about 48 minutes ago. Before he said --

WEST: Yes, you ambushed. I'm in military. I can recognize an ambush any day. O'BRIEN: That really wasn't. I was going to ask you that question. I had no idea what he was going to ask you. All right, here is a set-up and here is an ambush. This is you singing, sir.

Let's see if he can sing. We need to hear if he has a good voice. Hang on. Where is the singing? Wait for it. Wait for it. OK, he can sing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps he should run for president. He can rival President Obama's singing. You're not so bad.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say. You're not so bad.

WEST: This is good early morning comic relief for you guys.

O'BRIEN: No.

WEST: As far as the vice president thing, you know, who knows what the future lies because it wasn't too long ago, you know, I was sitting in the desert of Kandahar, Afghanistan, and now I'm here talking with you. But, you know, I am always willing and ready to serve my country in whatever capacity that the American people would desire.

O'BRIEN: Duly noted, sir. We hope you will keep talking to us and join us.

WEST: Always.

O'BRIEN: When you're vice president as well.

WEST: And singing.

O'BRIEN: And keep singing. You're pretty good. We like that.

WEST: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: It's nice to see you, sir. Appreciate it.

WEST: Pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to Sam Lahood. He is, of course, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood.

He's just been released from being held in Egypt and he is talking to us in his very first television interview. The dark signal he says that this sends for the democracy in Egypt is very strong. We'll discuss that.

And is it too early to write off Rush? He's lost so far 13 sponsors, two stations, and counting, but he still has his biggest ally on his side, Clear Channel. We'll discuss that straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: A high-profile standoff is threatening to derail U.S./Egypt relations. Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, was among seven American pro-democracy workers who were detained in Egypt until late last week. These are images of six of them on their flight home. Millions of dollars were paid in bail to free them.

Sam LaHood is joining us now for his first television interview.

Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Back in December 29th, your offices were raided. By January 21st, when you were headed to the airport, you discovered that you couldn't go. You had a ban on leaving the country. And finally, that travel ban was lifted and you and six other Americans were able to leave the country on Wednesday. Bail, I understand, was roughly $300,000 per person. So start with me, first and foremost, how does it feel to be back in the United States?

SAM LAHOOD, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INSTITUTE: Well, I'm thrilled on the home and reunited with my family and my wife. I'm excited just to be able to reconnect with people who sent me e-mails and were praying for all of us and looking forward to our release. And my wife is excited that we're going to finally get to have our honeymoon. I was married in September.

(LAUGHER)

And we weren't able to actually have a honeymoon, so I'm looking forward to that. We're also just were very concerned about our Egyptian colleagues who remain on trial in Egypt. And we're hopeful that this can all be resolved for them, as well.

O'BRIEN: We will get to them in a moment, but first, I want to ask you about the circumstances. No one ever really used the word "hostage" when you were banned from leaving the country. But do you think -- were you held hostage? Is that fair to say?

LAHOOD: That's the analogy that our attorney used. I mean, he felt like to some degree it was -- he equated it to a hostage situation. And we were prevented from leaving the country. It was a de facto detention in the sense that we were prevented from being able to leave the country of Egypt.

O'BRIEN: Talk to me about the official charges. Some of them include operating non-governmental organizations without a license, receiving millions of dollars in elicit foreign funding, they said. Also, you were accused of promoting unrest. So tell me a little bit about your -- the institute, the International Republican Institute, and what does it do and what do you think of those charges?

LAHOOD: Sure. I mean, the International Republican Institute, we work in more than 60 countries around the world. We work to advance democracy at large. We do that by working to provide technical assistance to institutions that support democratic transitions and democratic bodies within a country. And so we work with political parties on very technical issues. We work for civil society organizations about how to work on election issues, election- related issues.

The charges, as you mentioned -- I was accused of two things, which was managing an unregistered NGO and bringing money into the country illegally. Those charges are different than some of the allegations that were made against us about trying to sow unrest within Egypt and more serious things that have been alleged by former elements of the Mubarak regime. But the two charges are serious charges. They're the same charges that me and all my colleagues face. It's basically related to not being registered within Egypt as an official NGO.

O'BRIEN: So then, what happens now to yourself and your colleagues, many of them who are still in Egypt? Do you go back to Egypt to face the charges? Because you've paid bail.

LAHOOD: Sure. Sure. We're working with our lawyers to try to figure out what's next for myself and my other American colleagues. But as we said, we're hopeful that this issue is going to be resolved within Egypt and there will be a positive outcome for our Egyptian colleagues as well. The trial is expected to go on for some time. And we're hopeful for a positive resolution or that the case will be dismissed.

O'BRIEN: In the big picture then, what does it mean about post-Mubarak Egypt? What does this say, do you think?

LAHOOD: That's a little bit above my pay grade. From our experience in working in places that are like Egypt, they're going through a transition like this, oftentimes these transitions are uneven and there's bumps in the road. In our case, what we're seeing here is, as I said, former elements of the Mubarak government that are pushing their own agenda that we think is inconsistent with the transition that's going on in Egypt right now, the democratic transition that's going on.

O'BRIEN: We'll watch the case. Obviously, you'll be watching that as well.

Thank you for talking with us this morning.

That's Sam LaHood, who's the director of the International Republican Institute, Egypt Program.

We appreciate your time this morning. Glad to see you back safe.

LAHOOD: Thanks a lot.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Rush Limbaugh backlash. Are his controversial comments against women a wake-up call for how women on both sides of the political aisle are addressed? We'll discuss that straight ahead on STARTING POINT. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO SHOW HOST: I descended to their level when I used those two words to describe Sandra Fluke. That was my error. I became like them. And I again sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for using those two words to describe her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOLEDAD: The "them" is the left really, is what he's saying in his apology. And he's apologizing there for a second time. That was on his show yesterday, and points out that it was really the left's fault after he called Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student, a slut and some other words that were not very nice. Twelve companies have now pulled their ads from Limbaugh's show and two radio stations have stopped airing his program all together.

No surprise, I think, the backlash. What I'm more interested in talking about, and you've worked a lot, very closely with Michele Bachmann. She was on Piers Morgan last night. She said, everyone -- human cry when it's an attack on the left, but on the right, when she was attacked, she didn't feel the same sense of outrage. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, (R), MINNESOTA: If you're a conservative woman, it seems like there is no level of vitriol that's beyond the pale. I've been on the receiving end of it. We know Governor Palin's been on the receiving end of it. You don't see this level of outrage. You certainly don't see advertisers cutting back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Think that's true?

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENT, O'DONNELL & ASSOCIATES: I do think that's true. I remember during the campaign, I believe it was in July, Bill Maher used some pretty strong language against Michele. It's language I can't even use on the air.

O'BRIEN: No, you really couldn't.

O'DONNELL: And, you know, he didn't get suspended. He didn't really get chastised by the left or any of the media.

O'BRIEN: There wasn't really a lot of outrage at all when you think about it.

O'DONNELL: No. No. So I do think that sometimes that happens. And --

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Why is that, Brye (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think that there are a number of reasons. I do think that Rush Limbaugh, first of all, he's been saying incendiary things for years. With Bill Maher -- and full disclosure, I've been on his show many times -- I think you saw during the politically incorrect-era, he was on ABC. They thought he was too hot to handle. He moved to HBO. That's a paid channel.

Rush Limbaugh has, through Clear Channel, in particular, the air waves to any number of people driving around in their cars with their kids any day. And I think that really this is a money issue. What's happening is people are making a judgment based on Rush Limbaugh's audience as to what he can and cannot say to a broad advertiser base. I certainly don't endorse anybody slandering anyone else. But I think that there's also a question of, in what context was Rush Limbaugh speaking. And what he said was unconscionable.

MOORE: I can guarantee you this is not the end of Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh arguably -- and I've been friends with Rush for 20 years. I'll say that in full disclosure. He is, in my opinion, still the most conservative voice in America. He has six to eight million listeners every day.

You mentioned that some of the -- and by the way, I'm not in any way excusing his behavior, because I've told Rush I thought it was out of bounds. But I do think that his show will continue to be extremely popular. And in terms of the advertisers, he'll have no problem replacing them.

O'BRIEN: Replacing them.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I agree with you on that one.

We have to take a short break. But still ahead on STARTING POINT, in our second hour, voting is now underway. It's Super Tuesday, of course. Mitt Romney's hoping to lock up the nomination. A key supporters of his, Illinois Congressman Aaron Shock, is going to join us. He says Romney is the man to beat, in his eyes.

Plus, the former first lady, Barbara Bush, says the GOP race is the worst campaign ever. We'll talk about her harsh critique and what's behind that straight ahead. Stay with us.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)