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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

"Million Hoodie March" In NYC; "It's Almost Like An Etch-A- Sketch"; Report: France Standoff Suspect Dead; Report: France Standoff Suspect Dead; "Million Hoodie' March Protests Teen's Shooting

Aired March 22, 2012 - 06:15   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN HOST: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. We're happy you're with us. It's 6:00 a.m. in the east, so let's get started here.

We have new developments this morning. Three loud explosions heard a short time ago outside the building where a shooting suspect has been in a standoff with police in France.

They're meant to rattle the suspect, Mohammed Merah, out of his hideout after more than 24 hours. But authorities are starting to wonder if he is already dead. We'll have a live report from Toulouse, France coming up here shortly.

A million hoodie march in Manhattan protesting the shooting death of an unarmed Florida teenager. Demonstrators demanding an arrest and there's new trouble this morning for the chief of police that is in charge of that case.

And a major flood threat is pushing east across the deep south right now. The storm, dumping close to a foot of rain in parts of Louisiana. It's sending rivers over their banks into roads and homes in that area.

And the NFL, showing no mercy on the New Orleans Saints for paying bounties for big hits. The league suspending head coach, Sean Payton for the entire season. The general manager for eight games and defensive coach, Gregg Williams, who is now with the Rams, was suspended indefinitely for running that bounty program.

And did you hear? Tim Tebow is taking his act to the big apple. He has been traded to the New York Jets. A lot of fans and analysts are saying it's not exactly a match made in heaven -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Zoraida, thank you so much.

Up first now, national outrage certainly building this morning after that shooting death of an unarmed Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch captain.

In New York, hundreds of people attended what was called a million hoodie march. It happened in Manhattan last night. Trayvon Martin's parents were there. This is what they had to say to the crowd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: Trayvon Martin did matter. And I just want New York to know that we're not going to stop until we get justice.

SYORINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: Our son was not committing any crime. Our son is your son and you've got to stand up for justice and what's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: In Washington, the Justice Department is now investigating whether the shooting by that neighborhood watch captain, whose name is George Zimmerman was, in fact, a hate crime, potentially a civil rights violation.

And in Florida, Sanford City commissioners are voting 3-2, that they have no confidence in their police chief, Bill Lee, who has been on the job for less than a year.

CNN's George Howell is live in Sanford, Florida where the Reverend Al Sharpton is planning to hold a rally tonight. George, this investigation seems to be continuing on several fronts at least at this point.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, the investigation continues. As you mentioned, this story puts a big focus here on the city of Sanford. We are expecting hundreds, if not thousands of people to arrive here for that big rally scheduled later today.

This comes a day after that 3-2 vote of no confidence by city commissioners. That is a big deal, because it puts a great deal of attention and focus on the mind of the city manager here.

Norton Bonaparte says that he will not make a rush decision, not make any major decision until he hears from federal investigators as they look through this case and also look through his police department to look for problems.

Situations where the police department has issues with the black community here in Sanford, but he says there are issues about this case that even trouble him. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORTON BONAPARTE JR., SANFORD CITY MANAGER: If this took place in another city, certainly, Mr. Zimmerman would have been arrested. It did not take place here. I'm being told it's because of the Florida law. That, I think, needs to be looked at.

HOWELL: Do you believe your police department acted appropriately that day?

BONAPARTE: Based on what they felt, I believe they acted on what they thought was appropriate. Now the question is, did they?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: So, there is a big focus on the police department and, of course, a focus on George Zimmerman. In fact, we have this new picture of Zimmerman. We spent some time trying to find family and relatives, but Zimmerman has not been seen since.

This picture was taken in 2005 when he worked as a security guard at a party. Clearly, he was the watch captain of this neighborhood that night when he claims he acted in self defense. Many in this community feel, indeed, it was murder. Back to you.

BANFIELD: So George, just quickly, what do we know about George Zimmerman? His dad made a statement, talking about how he believes his son is innocent of all of this. At the same time, there are people all over the country, not just Florida, calling for his head. So, where is he?

HOWELL: At this point, you know, he's not at his home. We checked there. He's not at relatives' homes or friends' homes. We checked around the city of Sanford.

Again, people are just waiting to see what happens with this investigation as federal investigators look into the case to determine whether he will be charged. Of course, this is also being turned over to a grand jury on April 10th.

BANFIELD: And then what about the local police? Because in all of this, it seems as though everything is completely stalled, but because of this national attention and the outcry, have they changed their tune?

Are they backtracking? Are they going back to look for forensic evidence, maybe interview him? Do anything to advance sort of the fact pattern in this story?

HOWELL: From what we've been able to gather, it seems the police department right now everything about this case has been turned over to federal investigators.

And it's been turned over to this grand jury, will be turned over to the grand jury. That's really where we will find out if George Zimmerman is charged in this case.

But at this point, you can tell the city's mayor is looking into the police department as is the city manager, trying to find situations where they can improve the connection, their connection here with the community.

BANFIELD: All right, George Howell live for us in Sanford, Florida, this morning. Thanks very much for that. Also quick reminder to you as well, at 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien, Soledad is going to talk about the Trayvon Martin case with Benjamin Jealous, who's the president and CEO of the NAACP.

And she will also have on her program the person you just saw speaking with George, Norton Bonaparte Jr., he's the city manager of Sanford and the guy who can yank that police chief's rights to be chief. Those conversations will be fascinating later on -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you for that. We're going to totally switch gears here.

It's damage control in the Mitt Romney camp this morning. The GOP frontrunner insisting he will not flip flop on his positions if he wins the Republican nomination.

Those remarks are coming after one of Romney's top aides made a now infamous etch-a-sketch comment on Soledad O'Brien's STARTING POINT show yesterday.

In case you missed it, here is what adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom told CNN when he was asked how the Romney campaign might change in the fall if his candidate is the nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an etch-a-sketch. You kind of shake it up and we start all over again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: It didn't take long for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to pounce on that remark and they even used props for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: You have to stand for something that lasts longer than this. People aren't stupid and so we have a real challenge. I need your help this Saturday.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An etch-a-sketch. He said you just turn it over and shake it and then you start all over. Imagine, had Mitt Romney been around at the time we were drafting our constitution. He would have just shaken it, shook it up after it was approved to rewrite it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So reporters were quick to confront Romney for an etch-a-sketch reaction. Here is what he says his communications director really meant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Organizationally, a campaign takes on a different profile. The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same. I'm running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee -- hopefully at that point, nominee for president. That the policies and positions are the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Meanwhile, the company behind the etch-a-sketch is thrilled with all the attention.

BANFIELD: Of course.

SAMBOLIN: They put out a statement that reads in part, quote, "A profound toy, highly recognized and loved by all is now shaking up the national debate. Nothing is as quintessentially American as an etch- a-sketch and a good old-fashioned political debate."

So earlier when I came in, I asked if anybody could draw Ashleigh. They did Romney earlier. Can you see? There you are.

BANFIELD: Are you joking?

SAMBOLIN: No, Ashleigh. This is Phil who did this. I'm thinking the one on the right is you now, the one on the left is you aged.

BANFIELD: Aged? OK. Very impressive. It is etch-a-sketch. Way to go, Phil. I want to remind you, as well, 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien is going to have more a little bit more to talk about with regards to the Romney camp and the etch-a- sketch, and all the challenges they're facing.

She'll be joined by "The Daily Beast" contributor, Mark McKenon on and also Amy Kramer, the chairman of the Tea Party Express. Clearly some answers and hopefully will be getting after the controversy that started yesterday on Soledad's program yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed. It is 9 minutes past the hour here.

The self-proclaimed al Qaeda terrorist wanted for a 10-day killing spree in France is still standing his ground this morning. Authorities are starting to wonder whether he is already dead.

New explosions heard minutes ago as the standoff enters its second day now. Several blasts, also, overnight were in an attempt to literally rattle him into negotiating and surrendering.

Hundreds of heavily armed officers are under orders to bring him in alive. CNN's affiliate in France too said this is amateur video of the suspect, Mohammed Merah.

It would be our first look at him. Take a look there. He is wanted in the terrorist rampage that left three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers dead. Diana Magnay is live in Toulouse, France. What is latest on the gun shots that were heard, Diana?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zoraida. Well, there are gunshots fired about 9 hours ago now. The Interior Minister didn't really know what to make of them, he said. Since then, there hasn't been any communication with the suspect holed up inside that house.

But also he hadn't been communicating with police before. So, it's difficult to know whether those gunshots meant that he has killed himself. He said apparently in his discussions with police yesterday that he wanted to die with weapons in his arms.

That said, it seems impossible to believe that the police wouldn't know if he had killed himself, given the fact that they have infrared sensoring technology, thermal imaging, which you would be able to tell if a body is dead.

It's difficult to understand what's going on. Also, as you said, there were three loud explosions, stun grenades that the police have sort of been throwing in at the house throughout the night to intimidate the suspect, to sort of shock him with the noise and the light.

And why would they do that if he was still -- if he was already dead? So there are many questions, as this siege continues. Now well into its 30th hour, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: We appreciate you keeping us updated. Diana Magnay live in Toulouse, France. Thank you.

And "Minding Your Business" this morning, the housing market has been the real lager in the recovery since the recession, but there are some signs, some signs of improvement.

BANFIELD: Some, some, she says, with a high voice.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Please, please. Is it real this time?

SAMBOLIN: I was watching this yesterday and I thought, --

ROMANS: In 2008, people said we're at the bottom of the housing market. No. In 2010, we have this home buyer tax credit. Now this is the bottom of the housing market. No. It's 2012 and people are saying it's stabilizing. The housing market is stabilizing. I hope they're right. Have you heard this phrase green shoots?

BANFIELD: No.

ROMANS: When a seed comes out of the ground and it starts to sprout? People are hoping we're seeing green shoots in the housing market. It doesn't mean it's healthy and vibrant. It just means it's stable and there's a green shoot coming out.

We saw existing home sales yesterday that existing home sales are actually up. People are buying more homes this year than they did the same month last year and home prices stopped falling year over year.

The median price of an existing home, $156,000, $600, I think that's well off where it was in 2007. It's not falling, at least, year over year. There's also this big argument that it's actually better to be buying a home -- it's cheaper to buy a home than it is to rent.

Home prices have been hammered so much, there's actually affordability. We may never see interest rate this is low again so pretty viral yesterday, showing the best markets to buy. Better to buy than rent in Detroit, better it to buy than rent in Oklahoma City, better to buy than rent in Dayton, Ohio, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio.

Interestingly enough in New York City because it (inaudible) so I think there a lot of New Yorkers watching us. It's better to rent than buy. Real estate is all local.

SAMBOLIN: It is.

ROMANS: But for the first time if you've got money in the bank, a great credit score. There's a lot of ifs.

BANFIELD: Yes.

ROMANS: But, people are starting to buy homes.

BANFIELD: Do you know what? Zoraida interviewed a young girl yesterday who was 12 years old.

ROMANS: I love that interview.

BANFIELD: The first thing I thought was, wow, I bet there's a bunch of these things out there.

ROMANS: She paid cash and guess what, 33 percent of existing home sales are cash. So people with cash. We talk about low interest rates, but cash. Her name was Willow and I love you, Willow.

SAMBOLIN: I know, right?

ROMANS: Nice to have that. We would all love to have children like that, right? That wants to invest money as opposed to spend it.

BANFIELD: It would be nice to have that down payment. A lot of people have that mission, but just don't have the ability, which is really difficult. Christine, thanks so much.

SAMBOLIN: It's 13 minutes past the hour. Coming up on EARLY START, snatched by Somali gunman on a resort island in Kenya. A British tourist. She was freed after months in cap activity.

BANFIELD: And the headlines in New York say, amen and God him. It's Timsanity, folks, any way you slice it. Tim Tebow hitting New York. Is he going to take the Jets to the Super Bowl because that's really the headline we want here. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Seventeen minutes past the hour here.

It is a done deal. Tim Tebow is coming to the big city.

Here is one of the headlines from "The Daily News". Have you seen this? "Amen," they're saying. New Yorkers yesterday also reacted to the news. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am so excited. I love Tebow. And I love the Jets. So, this is awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's dumb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're bringing a lot to the locker room by getting Tebow and we have the power of Jesus Christ on our side now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a really oddball move. I was not expecting this at all by them, but I'm glad Tebow has a home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Well, Kevin Armstrong is a sports writer for "The New York Daily News".

That was your headline we showed earlier. Thank you for being here with us.

This has been all of the conversation. I suspected that the girls were going to like this. But you hear some guys jumping on the band wagon. Is this a good move? What do you think?

KEVIN ARMSTRONG, SPORTS WRITER, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Sure. I think New Yorkers will embrace it. I think it's a screwball maybe going from Peyton Manning to Tim Tebow and all the talk that the Jets have had this offseason.

But he's a hard worker. He's a former Heisman worker. He won a playoff game against the Steelers last year.

So, New York wants a winner. No matter what role he plays, whether it's backup or eventual starter, taking over for Mark Sanchez, New York is going to embrace him.

SAMBOLIN: Do you think so? Some people think he is way out of his element in New York City, because, you know, he's a Christian guy and wears that on his sleeve.

ARMSTRONG: I think he's in his element in the spotlight. I think that he can handle anything that comes at him, whether, you know, people see him as polarizing or potential starter in the NFL, none of that really matters to him. He has proven, whether he's in Denver or Gainesville for college, that he's really is a guy who's going to accept any challenge put before him.

SAMBOLIN: But a lot of people were scratching their heads, right, when this was announced. This makes no sense. What was management thinking? The matchup between these two guys working together, is that going to work out?

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. First, they were interested in Peyton Manning. That didn't happen. Then, all of a sudden, they're going for the guy who Peyton Manning took over for in Denver. Mark Sanchez is largely an unproven quarterback in terms of the NFL. He's made it to two AFC title games but he digressed last year.

And now, he's going to be a potential controversy if he starts struggling or doesn't complete passes early in the season --

SAMBOLIN: But there's a lot of talk that they're actually going to play together. How is that going to work out or how could it work out?

ARMSTRONG: The Jets want to be a running team. Rex Ryan wants to move -- last year, they lost their identity in passing with Sanchez. Tebow offers the wildcat packages and really adding that dynamic to the offense. So, I wouldn't be surprised to see working well together.

It's whether Sanchez can really maintain his position that's going to be the question.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people talk about the leadership that Tim Tebow brings to the table. Do you think Sanchez is going to be put off by that?

ARMSTRONG: I don't think so. I think that Sanchez is somebody who is going to try and control the locker room, as he is. I think that Tebow can only help in terms of bringing that.

I mean, that's just strong brand of leadership by Tebow, and that's an unquestioned about him at any level that he's played at. And teammates and people across the league never questioned the leadership value. It's whether they can exist as co-leaders that's really the question.

SAMBOLIN: And yesterday, you know, we were waiting on pins and needles. It's going to happen. It's not going to happen.

How do you overlook a clause like that in the contract, $5 million?

ARMSTRONG: Few organizations can pull it off the way the New York Jets do. They'll keep it interesting. It really was fascinating, you know. They officially announced it eight hours before it was done.

I mean, in the history of pro sports, not many deals are done like that, let alone at this scale in terms of Tebow and the polarization of it. It's a special move by the New York Jets.

SAMBOLIN: So, let's talk about the fans. Because that's who we heard of at the beginning of the segment. And, you know, there's a lot of emotion here. I have yet to attend a New York sporting event, but I hear they are really tough fans.

Do you think that they will actually embrace Tebow?

ARMSTRONG: I do. I think he's going to get some of the loudest cheers when they take the field in the home opener. I think he's a guy who really inspires that. I've seen him three times live, twice in Denver and once on the road.

Home fans love him. The away fans hate him. And you're just going to see a lot of that across New York. There's only going to be a bigger bull's eye as the Jets continue to draw headlines.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to put you on the spot. Do you think this will get them to the Super Bowl? That this is what they needed?

ARMSTRONG: I'm not sure about immediately. I think there are a lot more pieces that they need to add and compliment both Sanchez or Tebow to make it that far.

SAMBOLIN: I'm really excited about it. I, for one, as a transplant here in New York.

Kevin Armstrong, than you so much for joining us. We appreciate your time today.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ashleigh, back to you.

BANFIELD: Thanks.

And I just want to highlight the back cover of his paper. I don't know if you can see it clearly, but it's adorable. It's a Statue of Liberty in the Tebow position. That's the back. That's great. Tebow town, that's great. Good stuff.

All right. So, coming up, President Obama green lighting production on that Keystone Pipeline. But, wait. Not all of it. Just part of it.

And what good is part of a pipeline anyway? What kind of a difference will it make? We'll let you know.

Also a tree flattens a car and under that tree, there is a man inside that car. Do you think he came out unscathed? Could it be possible? Look at your screen.

We're going to explain what happened in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: Breaking news for you this morning. CNN has just learned that the siege in southern France is now over. This, according to the AFP. The shooting suspect, who's been in a standoff with the police for 30 hours-plus apparently now over.

Officers have been slowly moving, step by step, inside the apartment. They are watching out for any booby traps that may have been left where at this point being told nearly over, not completely over. There is definitely a significant difference there.

So far, there's no sign of the suspect. His name is Mohammed Merah. Nobody has heard from him in hours. There were shots fired inside that apartment around 9:00 Eastern last night. There were three explosions just within the last hour.

Mohammed Merah is a self proclaimed militant and he is being blamed for a series of shootings in Toulouse which we have been covering throughout the week now.

SAMBOLIN: And they do want to be specific that it's nearly over. It also says that police are inside the apartment now, as you said, and very carefully going through. They're worried he could have set booby traps. And those are live pictures that you're looking at right now.

BANFIELD: Also, imagine for a moment if you're one of this group of police officers who is now entering this apartment, because their colleagues two days ago stormed that apartment in a night raid and were shot and injured. So, clearly, there's a history that it's an extraordinarily dangerous mission. The AFP delivering this information that the standoff is now near over and police are actually inside that apartment.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to take a quick break here, folks, and we'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF CORWIN: Hey, guys, I'm Jeff Corwin. I spend about 10 months on the road.

Rule number one, keep a carry on. That way, if luggage is lost, it's not going to be mine. But everything you need is in your carry on bag.

So, I bring my vitamins with me. I just prepackage everything. And I have it ready to go. And, of course, toiletries. So, I found all those things that I use at home just miniaturized for the road.

And I learned from my wife, ladies razors are better for your face than the macho ones. And dental flosses, everyone always bring that stuff, get these little portable floss. And remember only the flush you want to keep.

Here's my dirty little secret, I use Secret when I'm on the road.

I also want to be able to have a functional office. And that is what's really incredible now, is that I can be off the grid, doing research on whale sharks. And when I'm done, I can sit down and put my kids to bed.

Hey, guys, thanks for hanging out and seeing my secrets to surviving being on the road.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLIN: Breaking news out of France now. AFP is reporting that the standoff with the terrorist suspect is nearing an end. They're saying that standoff could be nearing an end.

CNN's Diana Magnay is joining us live on the phone now.

BANFIELD: Diana, we've been hearing that there may be some new explosions as well, all of this after shots have been fired about nine, 10 hours ago. What's going on?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's right. Well, I've just heard in the last few minutes, really quite a significant number of automatic gunfire, shots fired. So, you know, the last few minutes have been full of the sound of gunfire. So, I don't know if there is an exchange or if that is just the police going in.

But it certainly does seem as though the raid has begun. As you said, AFP reporting, also another local media reporting from police sources that it's about to commence. And then we heard this gunfire.

So, it does seem as though, you know, well into 30 hours after the siege began, police are now going into that house to try and take Mohammed Merah out, dead or alive.

BANFIELD: So, just quickly, Diana, run me through how we got to this moment. There seems to have been so many of these developments overnight, starting with many hours ago explosions and then, as you mentioned, gunfire inside the apartment.

Take me from there. Run the night through.

MAGNAY: Yes, that's right. About 11:30 last night, local time, three big explosions went off. And those are sort of stun grenades. Interior ministry told us that the really signaled the beginning of the raid, stun grenade so that the suspect could be sort of disoriented by the blast and the noise.

And that happened fairly regular occasions throughout the night that the police threw in these stun grenades. And then at 2:00 am, there were two gunshots fired from within the house that the police weren't able to explain. So, that sort of raises the question, did the suspect kill himself at that point?

You know, the interior ministry was saying we're not sure. We hope he's still alive. We want to take him out alive. They didn't have any contact with him at that point. Not that they had had contact with him in the hours before either.

But since then, there have been a few more of those stun grenades thrown in. This is the first time that we've heard real volume of gunfire in the way that I just did. They haven't been going on since I've been on air, but there was certainly a significant amount of gunfire in the last five minutes, which would lead me to assume that this raid has begun.

BANFIELD: Unbelievable developments. Diana Magnay on the line from Toulouse, France, this morning, with what could be the beginning of the end, if not the end of this standoff, 30-hour long standoff in France. Thanks for that, Diana.

SAMBOLIN: We'll continue to follow these developments and bring them to you as we get them.

Thirty-four minutes past the hour here.

President Obama is expected to announce plans to expedite a portion of the Keystone XL Pipeline today. It will be part of his tour of four battleground states.

The company building the pipeline, TransCanada, plans to go ahead with a 485-mile segment from Cushing, Port Arthur, Texas. You can see it here. It is marked with the green arrow.

In January, the president rejected the full 1,161-mile, $7.6 billion pipeline. You can see it there with the dotted yellow line. It goes from Canada's tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It's meant as an extension to the existing Keystone Pipeline which you see here in orange. That's the existing one.

The president said he rejected the full extension because he needed more time.

Congressional Republicans had forced his hand by attaching a provision to the short term payroll tax cut extension last year. It required President Obama to make a decision on Keystone within 60 days.

Joining me now, Representative Bill Johnson. He's a Republican from Ohio and member of the Natural Resources Committee in the House.

Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Are you pleased that the president is going to expedite this?

REP. BILL JOHNSON (R), OHIO: I think any time we're creating jobs, that's a good thing. But this move just absolutely does not make any sense to me. I don't understand why the president simply doesn't go ahead and approve the entire Keystone XL Pipeline. I mean, what good is it going to do us to put in the lower half of the pipeline if we can't get the oil from Canada by doing the top half of the pipeline?

It's sort of like giving someone a car and saying we're only going to let you put tires on the back. You can't put any tires on the front. So, you can't really use it for its intended purpose.

It doesn't make any sense to me. And with gas now double what it was when the president came into office --

SAMBOLIN: Well, let's talk about that because there are really three big issues here that folks are debating. Will it lower gas prices? Will it create a lot of jobs? And then there's the environmental concern in that area.

So, let's start with the gas prices, right? We're going to listen to what Nancy Pelosi and then I want to talk about it.

JOHNSON: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The fact is that this pipeline was going to be built or may still be built to bring oil to the refineries, to take it overseas. This isn't about domestic consumption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And "The New York Times" actually says that foreign companies are five out of the six companies that have contracted for three-quarters of this oil. One American company that's contracted is geared towards export.

So, how would it help us here in the United States? And how would it lower gas prices?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, because of the president's failed energy policy -- you know, he says he wants an all of the above energy policy, but he doesn't really have regulatory actions in place to give us an all of the above energy policy. We haven't built a new refinery here in America in 35 years.

Any time that we have seen domestic oil production go up, we've seen a lowering of gas prices. As I mentioned before your question, gas prices have doubled since President Obama came into office. In my little hometown of Marietta, Ohio, they topped $3.99 a gallon just yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Many experts would say that really the only way we're going to lower gas prices is if we go -- if there's peace in Iran, basically.

JOHNSON: Well, every time we've increased domestic oil production in our nation's history, we've seen gas prices come down. We've had expert testimony yesterday from economist that is said --

SAMBOLIN: So, would it be a significant decrease? Because we found perhaps maybe 3 cents to 6 cents a gallon.

JOHNSON: When we see gas prices topping $4 a gallon, do we not want to do everything we can to drive those gas prices down? How much further -- how much higher are we willing to let the American people suffer with these rising prices?

You know, if we had an all of the above policy -- we've got 3 trillion barrels of oil that we own ourselves in the Outer Continental Shelf, in ANWR. The president, trying to take credit now for approving the lower half of the Keystone XL pipeline, in light of the fact that last year --

SAMBOLIN: Congressman, I hate to interrupt you, but we don't have a lot of time.

JOHNSON: Go ahead.

SAMBOLIN: And there are two things I want to deal with. It's the job creation here.

JOHNSON: Sure.

SAMBOLIN: You say it would create at least 100,000 jobs. Estimates range more between 20,000 jobs, temporary jobs here. How do you respond to that? I have one more question after that for you.

JOHNSON: Well, I'm not sure where you're getting your numbers from. But the numbers that I have and the experts that I've talked --

SAMBOLIN: The State Department says between 5,000 and 6,000 jobs, sir.

JOHNSON: Well, 20,000 jobs are for the whole pipeline, the construction jobs, the immediate jobs to construct the pipeline. And then you're talking about over 100,000 jobs as that pipeline begins to produce and we see that oil begin to flow. That's what the economists and that's what the experts I've talked to -- so, I'm not sure the State Department --

SAMBOLIN: Cornell University is an independent research here, Cornell University Global Labor Institute it says between 500 and 1,400 temporary construction jobs, at most.

And lastly, I wanted to deal with the environmental concern there.

JOHNSON: You know, the State Department conducted its environmental concern. The State Department had already given its approval.

And let's not forget that the president approved a very similar pipeline to this and considered the environmental concerns with the Alberta clipper that runs from Vancouver down to Wisconsin.

So, I mean, this doesn't -- this doesn't make sense. We can stand on environmental concerns that are not based on science and fact, but the truth of it is, the State Department had already concluded its environmental analysis.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Congressman Bill Johnson, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BANFIELD: I want to get you some breaking news now at 6:40 on the East Coast.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: And our breaking news comes out of Toulouse, France. We've been updating you with that standoff with the admitted al Qaeda member, Mohammed Merah. We can now bring you news from our CNN affiliate in France, BFMTV is reporting that that standoff is over and that shooter is dead.

I repeat, BFMTV, a CNN affiliate in France, says -- citing police sources, Mohammed Merah, 23 years old, an admitted al Qaeda member responsible for those series of shootings, leaving seven people dead, including three children, this is over, folks. According to that television station, the French police telling that TV station Mohammed Merah is dead.

All of this following gunshots, automatic gunfire that just erupted within the last 20 minutes. Our Diana Magnay reporting. She could hear the automatic gunfire. We heard before that there had actually been an incursion, that French police had stormed that apartment. All of this following just within the last two hours, additional stun grenades and explosions.

This all began last night with stun grenades that went off about 9:00 Eastern Time. In an effort to just get this gunman to communicate, because he had fallen in radio silence with these police officers. There also had been some gunshots heard inside that apartment and again radio silence from this gunman.

So, early this morning, just within the last hour and a half, a lot of activity in Toulouse, France. Not only the stun grenades, but also automatic gunfire, and then the raid. French police raiding that apartment, the gunfire ringing out. And now, rather, BFMTV, a French channel there, citing police sources and saying that gunman, 23-year- old Mohammed Merah, is dead and this standoff is over.

We've got more on that coming up in a moment. In the meantime, quick break. Back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BANFIELD: It's 46 minutes after the hour. We've been following a tense standoff all night long in Toulouse, France, where in about hour 31, we are now learning that the standoff in France with that suspected and probably now proven shooter, because he self-admitted shooter of seven people in France is now over.

That the French police, according to BFM TV, a CNN affiliate in that jurisdiction, according to their police sources, that gunman is now dead.

SAMBOLIN: And I know we're trying to get our reporter who's there on the ground. She had reported earlier that there were a couple of gunshot wounds. There are a couple of gunshots that they had heard, not sure if it was outside or inside. And at that time, she said it was unclear whether or not the suspect killed himself.

And so, we don't have clarity on that. Now, we do know that he is dead, but we're not sure what happened.

BANFIELD: There's a series of events as you were sleeping that we can get you up to speed on now, but again, our breaking news is that our affiliate, BFM TV in France is reporting through their police sources this gunman is dead, Mohamed Merah, 23-year-old. Mohamed Merah, an admitted al Qaeda member, who went on the shooting rampage killing three -- excuse me, four children as well as three other adults.

He's dead, and here's how the night played out. Late last night, there were a series of stun grenade explosions that were heard within that neighborhood. Electricity was cut off to everyone in that neighborhood. They had been in contact with Mohamed Merah, but then radio silence. They couldn't get ahold of him.

He would not speak. I want to play you some of the tape that we've been able to record of what those explosions sounded like. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Sadly, that was tape of some of the live reporting from BFM Television, but now, you should be able to hear the explosions on Reuters tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(GUNFIRE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I can tell you this, that the French announcers, they were saying (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE), which is 31, we're in the 31st hour of this. This has gone on for two straight days. Our Diana Magnay in that region had said that last night, we heard the same explosions, followed by a lot of silence, then there were two shots fired inside the apartment where Mohamed Merah was holed up.

And, again, radio silence. They had tried to establish contact with him, because he had been quiet for quite some time throughout the night, again, these stun grenades going off. Of course, it's our night and their day. These stun grenades going off again.

And then, just within the last hour, Diana Magnay reporting to us, as well, that French police stormed that apartment, and that she could hear automatic gunfire. Clearly, they had been there before, folks. The French police had stormed that apartment before when he was alive and they took gunfire from him, and several of them were injured.

This time, as we know it, according to BFM TV, our CNN affiliate in France, their police sources are telling us this is over. He is dead.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Fifty-two minutes now past 6:00 in the morning. While you were sleeping, a lot going on in Toulouse, France. A standoff in its 31st hour, now we're hearing reports out of France and French media, particularly, our affiliate, BMF TV, that this standoff is over. The suspect in the standoff is dead.

That suspect, Mohamed Merah, 23 years old, an admitted al Qaeda member, who said he was responsible for the shootings of seven people in the last few weeks around the Toulouse area, including those innocent victims at the Jewish school, including four kids. The suspect, at this point, we are told after stun grenades and automatic gunfire and police raid through his apartment this morning is dead.

Again, this, according to our affiliate, BFM TV, telling us their police sources confirm that this suspect is finally dead, and in 31 hours, the standoff is now finally over.

SAMBOLIN: It's grateful that a lot more people weren't injured there in that standoff.

Fifty-three minutes past the hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: (voice-over): Hundreds of protesters marching in the streets of New York City to show support for the slain Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin. The "Million Hoodie March" started in Union Square last night and went all the way to the United Nations. Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot dead by a neighborhood watchman last month.

And no end to the slaughter of civilians in Syria. At least 79 more deaths being reported yesterday, more than half of them in the city of Homs. Shelling and sniper fire reported into this across the country there. China and Russia now joining the U.N. Security Council in a unanimous call to the Syrian government to end the blood shed.

SAMBOLIN: And check out this scene in a Toledo, Ohio, courtroom. It happened yesterday morning right after a murder suspect was arraigned. A fight breaking out between the accused killer's family and the victim's family. Sheriff's deputies were able to break it up quickly. They did arrest one person.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Somali pirates have released a British hostage. Look at her running to her freedom. This after nearly seven months after she was kidnapped from a beach in Kenya. Judith Teba (ph) is her name. She's running to board a plane to get out of that country.

She says she is absolutely overjoyed to be reunited with her son. However, there is a sad side to this story. She now has to grieve for her husband, David, who was killed as she was taken captive.

SAMBOLIN: Ah! We're going to switch gears here, folks. A 25- foot boulder wreaks havoc. Take a look at this. It crushes everything in its path, even a house with people inside. They are all OK. We're going to give you more details on this story. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD (on-camera): Welcome back. It's two minutes now before 7:00 am in the east coast. Here's what you don't want to wake up to. A 25-foot boulder busting off the hillside and crashing into your home. This is Ohio, folks. I want to tell you right away, as awful as this looks with people inside that home, they are OK.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): You know why they're OK? Because luckily, they were at the back of the house. So, they actually had no idea that this had happened.

BANFIELD: How could you not hear that your house was being destroyed? It's incredible. Some of the neigh neighbors said they thought there was thunder, but then, they also saw sparks and thought it was fireworks, and yet, look at the damage.

SAMBOLIN: Well, the owner of the house, Michael, he said, he thought his transformer blew, and he was going to deal with the issue in the morning.

BANFIELD: In the morning.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Good morning, Michael. I'm sorry.

Hey, folks, it's nice to have you here with us. We've had a lot of busy news this morning, so we appreciate you're sticking through with us. That's EARLY START, the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.