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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Interview With Arlen Specter; Senate Blocks Bill to Reduce Oil Tax Breaks; CNN Hero Helps with Reconstruction in Haiti; Rushing to the Rescue; Representative Ryan Endorses Romney; Will GOP Race Go to Convention
Aired March 30, 2012 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning: witness to the shooting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EYEWITNESS TO TRAYVON MARTIN SHOOTING (via telephone): And then I heard the gunshot which to me were more like pops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: This person heard an altercation, heard someone yell for help, heard a pained scream. A detailed account of the night Trayvon Martin was killed.
Naked senators, fried chicken stains and a hobo, this is what you elected according to former Senator Arlen Specter, dishing dirt in D.C. in his new book. He's going to join us live.
Plus, they were selling a million dollars in tickets every hour in New York. People in a frenzy over a world record lotto haul stands right now, $540 million.
And cop car karaoke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: An allegedly drunk man -- I don't even know why we have to say allegedly -- belts out the "Bohemian Rhapsody," God --
ROMANS: He's an energetic and perfectly sober young man.
STARTING POINT begins right now.
There you go. This is from Marc's playlist.
ROMANS: A little Frank Sinatra in the morning.
All right. I'm Christine Romans. Soledad O'Brien is off this morning.
Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, is here. John Fugelsang, political comedian, and Will Cain, columnist with TheBlaze.com.
OK, what happened the night Trayvon Martin was shot and killed?
Accounts of the night are slowly trickling out. CNN is taking an in-depth look.
We've already heard from George Zimmerman's father.
And just last night, we heard from Zimmerman's brother. He spoke to Piers Morgan exclusively and an actual witness to the shooting spoke to Anderson Cooper.
We have put together for you a play-by-play of their accounts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S FATHER: George was trying to get his head of the concrete, trying to move with Trayvon on him into the grass. In doing so, his firearm was shown. Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of "You're going to die now" or "You're going to die tonight" -- something to that effect.
He continued to beat George. At some point, George pulled his pistol.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: Where was the gun?
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, JR., GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: The gun, I believe, was in his inside tucked inside his pant waist in a waist holster.
MORGAN: Right. He has pulled it out and he has fired it.
R. ZIMMERMAN, JR.: Well, he has taken control of his firearm. He prevented his firearm from being taken from him and used against him. And that's called saving your life.
WITNESS: I kind of felt like that -- I couldn't see a lot of movement. It was very dark, but I felt like they were scuffling. And then I heard the gunshot.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
ROMANS: Lou Palumbo joins our panel. He's a former investigator with the Nassau County Police Department. He's now director of Elite Intelligence and Protection Agency.
So, let's talk about what we know now. What do these accounts tell you about that night?
LOU PALUMBO, ELITE INTELLIGENCE AND PROTECTION AGENCY: Just that it appears to be that much more problematic for Mr. Zimmerman. Interestingly enough, at the top of the last hour, a gentleman David Couple (ph) who understands, reads, interprets this law and came out and made a definitive statement that the law does not apply. He's going to make a marvelous witness for prosecution.
And based on his knowledge of this, I would think that someone in the investigative arm of the state of Florida would be speaking to him among other people who may have been the architects of this law to get their opinions. And based on his statement, if the law doesn't apply, then you have a homicide, you have a murder.
So, this is just continuing to unravel as people continue to speak.
ROMANS: But they looked at this case when it happened and they decided they couldn't -- they would not be able to win a case. They decided not to make an arrest.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Prosecutors office stepped in and told investigators that we don't think we have enough evidence to press charges. It seems to me, Lou, you and I talked about it thoroughly this morning. There are two moments in time which we need evidence to shed light on.
The moment where Trayvon and George Zimmerman met face to face, confronted each other, who was pursuer and who was pursuee in that situation. Zimmerman's story suggests something different that we've all assumed. And what happened during that scuffle that the witness gave us some information on but we need to know who was on top? Who was aggressor in the scuffle? I think these are important details.
MORIAL: This is interesting to me. The procedures where the investigating officer wanted to book and arrest, and somehow the state's attorney got involved at that point to me is a deviation from standard procedure. He should have been booked, he should have been arrested. And then the state's attorney can conduct an investigation and determine whether charges should be brought.
PALUMBO: I don't want to taint this for you any further. But Zimmerman's father is also a judge. If you look at the Van Der Sloot case in Aruba where we had some influence with the father. You may have the same thing going on here.
ROMANS: Those are totally different.
PALUMBO: No, it's not.
ROMANS: Two different countries. Two different legal systems.
CAIN: It's so off-base and irresponsible. I'm sorry, Lou, you cannot draw a comparison.
PALUMBO: I think exception to that.
CAIN: And I think exception to using it, to be honest.
PALUMBO: What would be so surprising? I can tell you this right now. I'm a little reluctant but I'll just tell you that. Every time we run into people in our own community, the law enforcement community, we show them difference. Lawyers do it. Doctors do it. What would make you think the judicial system would not do it for a judge? I'm confused.
PALUMBO: Logic? This whole case is devoid of logic.
CAIN: You want my response. I'd be happy to give it to you.
PALUMBO: Go right ahead.
CAIN: You have two individual circumstances and drawing a parallel. Two anecdotal individual circumstances and drawing a parallel, it just simply doesn't give you evidence to add them together.
JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: So, Trayvon may have had weed in his bag once and that's relevant. But the fact that a shooter's father is a judge, that's not relevant?
CAIN: Let's make one thing clear to you, have I ever sat this table with you and suggest that Trayvon's marijuana residue is relevant here?
FUGELSANG: We're talking about logic, Will. We're talking about logic. It is a debate worthy of discussion.
CAIN: When you draw something in like that, it suggests a weakness in your argument.
PALUMBO: We're curious how this case seemed to have left the radar scene for two weeks until someone finally breathed more life into it. And I'm telling you that this is a very strong possibility.
Don't tell me that judges -- don't tell me that I spent 39 years in law enforcement community. I know the influence judges have, clerks of the court. I hate to break the news to you, I've exercised some influence myself. I shouldn't really say that but I'm going to tell you that.
And that's the fact of our life. We do it every day.
MORIAL: Just tell it like it is.
PALUMBO: I hate to break it everybody.
CAIN: In an effort to identify where we disagree and agree to this at a certain point --
ROMANS: I think it's quite clear where you disagree.
CAIN: Well, the mayor pointed out, we know one thing happened at the prosecutor's office. One of the two things, either they saw a lack of evidence or there's a conspiracy.
MORIAL: The prosecutor should not have stepped in at that point is my contention, number one, because at that point, what information did the prosecutor have? They didn't have anything other than what George Zimmerman told them in an interview.
ROMANS: I want to bring it back --
PALUMBO: -- how comprehensive this investigation was, or how much evidence was gathered, how much forensics were examined? A cumulative product before you made a decision that was almost somewhat spontaneous to kick a case that an investigator who I believe was a detective saw enough merit in charging him. Maybe he understood the "Stand Your Ground" law and superiors didn't. Wouldn't be the first time it happened.
ROMANS: Hold on, guys, I want to bring in this --
MORIAL: What Lou is describing with the judge and prosecutor is called home cooking. I might it happens. It may have happened here.
ROMANS: Let me kind of reel it back in here. I want to listen to what the witness said on "Anderson Cooper." Again, we're not telling you anything about this witness. We're shielding their voice and even their gender.
But let's listen to this person who this happened said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WITNESS: It was dark, but after the shots, obviously someone, a man, got up, and it was kind of like that period of him -- I can't say I actually watched him get up. But maybe only within a couple seconds or so that he was walking towards where I was watching. I could see him a little bit clearer. I could see that it was an Hispanic man and he was -- you know, he didn't appear hurt or anything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FUGELSANG: It's interesting that the family -- and I totally understand why the family would do everything they can to help George Zimmerman. It makes perfect sense.
And we're being asked to believe the guy who is bigger and has a gun is the one screaming help. But my question is, if this is the argument they're taking that the gun was in play that Mr. Martin was going for Mr. Zimmerman's gun, is there a possibility that "Stand Your Ground" is irrelevant to this whole case?
PALUMBO: I think we're starting to establish that. I made that comment last night. The gentleman who was very well-versed and probably better versed than all of us put together made a comment today the law doesn't apply.
And to address this issue about who did what first, I think you cannot ignore the fact that Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend for approximately four minutes as you're subscribing to the notion that maybe he was stalking him at the same time. That's the problem you have.
If you look at the time line of phone calls here, when they were made, this whole thing happened between about 7:11 p.m., with 12 seconds and about 7:19. That's how quick this window was.
We're looking for one minute. I'm telling you, this man, this young man, Mr. Martin, was not out there chasing him around. He was on the phone with his girlfriend.
ROMANS: Two people know what happened. One of them is alive.
CAIN: And I just want to say, I'm not subscribing to any notion. Just asking questions.
MORIAL: The best evidence that 911 tapes that Lou mentioned when Trayvon was on the phone and when George Zimmerman called. If you take those things together, it was clear. George Zimmerman was the instigator, the provocateur and the aggressor.
FUGELSANG: If he stayed in the car, the kid is still alive.
PALUMBO: Everything is consistent with that. Over and above that, there's a basic fundamental concept here that should never be ignored. He had no authority to approach this young man. And somehow through metamorphosis and divine intervention, he ended up in a physical conflict with him.
So, if you're telling me that Trayvon approached him, I'm suspect of that based on the fact we had a phone call going on at that time.
And we already have the groundwork laid by Zimmerman who appears to have been in the mode of contacting him.
ROMANS: All right. We've got to leave it there.
Lou Palumbo, thanks so much. Nice to see you again this morning.
Stick around, guys. We're going to talk more about this in a minute and we're also going to talk about Soledad's special in depth town hall. It's a meeting tonight on CNN. It's "Beyond Trayvon: Race & Justice in America." You can watch that right here on CNN tonight at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern.
Alina Cho has other headlines for us this morning.
Good morning, Alina.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. Good morning, Christine.
Filmmaker Spike Lee doing the right thing after re-tweeting an address claiming to be the home of Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman. Lee has agreed to pay for the couple's expenses after they had to move out. Elaine and David McClain's attorney said the couple received hate mail and feared for their lives so they moved out and checked into a hotel. No word on how much Lee paid the McClains.
FBI investigators are now poring over the flight data and cockpit voice recording from this week's JetBlue flight where Captain Clayton Osbon had to be restrained by passengers and crew, after getting locked out of the cockpit of his apparent mental breakdown. The plane headed from New York to Las Vegas made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
Osama bin Laden fathered four children and had five safe houses during his nine years on the run in Pakistan. That's according to a report today in "The New York Times." At least two of those children were born in a Pakistani government hospital. The information coming from one of bin Laden's widows in testimony to Pakistani investigators.
And call it drunk karaoke in the back of a police cruiser. Everybody does it, right? Guy was picked up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for having one too many drinks. So, what does he do? Well, in the back of the police car he rants for a bit and then starts singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." We're talking the entire song.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mama just killed a man -- I see a little silhouette of a man, scramouch, Scaramouch will you do the fandango. Thunderbolt --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: All right. Here's his defense, Christine. How would I know all of those words and be able to sing them if I was that drunk?
ROMANS: Hey, it's a logical defense. It's a logical defense.
CHO: Something to consider.
MORIAL: He's auditioning.
FUGELSANG: We really need a metal Queen cover band.
ROMANS: Thank you, Alina. Thank you.
All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT: He was a Republican and a Democrat and he's an equal opportunity offender in his new book. Arlen Specter joins us live.
Dreaming of getting that oversized check in the middle of mega millions madness, world record lotto drawings tonight.
My playlist, Mumford & Sons, "The Cave."
You're watching STARTING POINT.
ROMANS: Sensing a theme from Alison Kosik's playlist. That's King Floyd "Money," and money is the theme of the day, because Alison is live in Times Square where people are digging deep to buy mega millions ticket. And the number is $540 million, the largest jackpot ever. Wow!
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's amazing. And here's what's really funny. You know, it's Friday. Everybody going to work. And usually Friday is a happy day because, you know, the weekend is coming up. Today, there's an extra spring in everybody's step as they, you know, buy a little coffee, buy a few lotto tickets.
You know, people are pretty hopeful that they're going to win despite the odds. You know what the odds are that they're going to win? 176 million to 1. 176 million to 1.
ROMANS: That means there's still a chance. There's still a chance.
KOSIK: There's no chance, but whatever. You know, they'll go ahead and then plunk down their money. You know, we're here in New York. This is just one state out of, you know, 41 others. Take a look at where else you can play the mega millions and try to win that $540 million, including Washington, D.C. and Virgin Islands.
But there are few states there that don't have this going on. You see Florida, Hawaii. So, find somebody else in the states where this game is happening and give them a couple dollars and say, listen, we'll split it. We'll split it.
Speaking of splitting, I was talking with my cameraman here at CNN. He says that there's a big pool going on at CNN, and if these cameramen win, take a look at what you're going to see on Monday morning on.
ROMANS: But guess what, you want to know what else, and they asked me to be their financial adviser. So, I'm already involved. I'm completely involved in all of that.
JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: You're skimming one percent off the top.
ROMANS: All right. I want to bring in Anne Noble. She's the president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corp. When this was -- when you were watching this happen as the jackpot got bigger and bigger, and then bigger, I mean, what were you all talking about in your office? I mean, you must not believe the magnitude of this.
ANNE NOBLE, PRES. AND CEO, CONNECTICUT LOTTERY CORP.: We can't play, but we're focused on how happy our players are, because this jackpot is really big because people are excited, and they're happy about playing. And, you know, it's just a great story. It's money for our players.
It's money for our retailers, and it's money right back to the state of Connecticut and all the other participating states.
ROMANS: Let's talk about that. For every dollar that spent with 36 cents goes back to the state?
NOBLE: About 38 cents in Connecticut. It's going to vary from state to state.
ROMANS: And so, that goes for education for the general fund.
NOBLE: It can for -- it goes into the general fund. It can be for education. It can be to provide funds for municipalities. It can be for all of the social services that are so important.
ROMANS: To run the lottery.
NOBLE: It goes to our retailers. It goes, most importantly, to the winners. A little bit goes to run the lottery, but it's really to the retailers and to the players.
ROMANS: Yesterday, I tweeted out, "are you a lump sum or annuity kind of person?" And do you know what's the most sort of involved conversation people have had in a really long time?
ROMANS: Most people run through this money in, you know, ten years.
MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: They need a good financial adviser.
FUGELSANG: I would spend it all on scratch-off games.
ROMANS: Yes. There you go.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Double up.
ROMANS: But what do we do -- I mean, gosh, $540 million. I mean, what's your advice as a lottery official? When we win, what's the first thing we're supposed to do?
NOBLE: You should make sure you keep that ticket in a safe and secure place. That's really, really important. You have to have that ticket to win. Don't come and see me without the ticket, please.
ROMANS: Don't run to bar, get drunk, and forget it somewhere.
NOBLE: You know, you want to sign the back of the ticket and you want to reach out to trusted advisers, financial planners, lawyers, people who can help you deal with that kind of fun event but life altering event.
ROMANS: Let's just all dream for a minute. Just how many people play?
MORIAL: How many people play this?
NOBLE: Well, you know what we know is that people who are playing and getting in the game that don't normally do that.
ROMANS: There you go.
NOBLE: That's really great for all the other players.
ROMANS: All right.
FUGELSANG: Mega-millions is not available in Nevada. Is that because they don't like gambling?
NOBLE: You know, Nevada just has chosen not to have a lottery.
ROMANS: Anne Noble from the Connecticut Lottery Corp. Thanks for joining us.
Ahead on STARTING POINT, naked senators and martinis. Former senator, Arlen Specter, dishing on living among the cannibals in D.C. There are cannibals in D.C.? That's his new book. He's going to be here to talk about it live.
From my playlist and Will Cain's, this is, you know, merger of playlist here. Lyle Lovett.
CAIN: That's sweet.
ROMANS: That's right. You're not from Texas, but Texas loves you, anyway. You're watching STARTING POINT.
ROMANS: Welcome back. Just in to CNN, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Just happening within moments. We thought that would happen any day now. Let's bring in Senator Arlen Specter. His new book is life among cannibals.
We're going to talk about that book in a moment, but I want to first start with this endorsement, quite frankly, because Mitt Romney has been sort of consolidating both delegates and endorsements over the past couple of months and listen to the most recent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barbara and I are very proud to fully and enthusiastically endorse and support our old friend, Mitt Romney.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: In Mitt Romney, we have a candidate, an alternative that, in addition to being successful as a governor running an important state in this country, has also been successful in the private sector and offers a very clear alternative to the direction this president is going to take our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: And now, Congressman Paul Ryan adding his voice here. Does it sound to you as though the Republican Party, sir, which you were a part for a very long time, does it sound like the Republican Party is getting behind Mitt Romney? Can you hear me? I'm afraid -- I'm afraid Senator Arlen Specter couldn't hear us.
CAIN: I want to hear -- I honestly --
ROMANS: Or that's silence.
CAIN: Well, as a senator who's been both a Democrat and Republican, I'm really actually curious what is Arlen Specter's endorsement? Who will he endorse, Obama, Romney?
ROMANS: He has said -- he has said, so far --
CAIN: Has he said the president? I've missed that.
MORIAL: I'm sure, he will.
ROMANS: He said, so far, he's not happy with anybody quite yet. And that he's -- you know? Are you telling me he's ready? Senator Arlen Specter, it's so nice to see you. Sorry we had a little audio flub at the top, but I was asking you was Congressman Paul Ryan has now endorsed Mitt Romney. A couple of other key endorsements from the first former President Bush, also from Marco Rubio this week.
So, do you think that your party, your former party, rather, which you were a member for a very long time, is now getting behind Mitt Romney?
ARLEN SPECTER, FORMER U.S. SENATOR (D-PA): Well, it appears so. In the long run, I don't know that endorsements are all that significant, but whoever is elected president without a Congress, which is functioning, there can't be much done to run the government, and right now, we have a Congress which is partisan, dysfunctional, caused by the fact that a very able senator like Bob Bennett in Utah with a 93 percent conservative rating is defeated in a primary.
My book goes behind the scenes and talks about cannibals devouring senators.
ROMANS: And who are those cannibals? Is it the whole -- it is all of Washington or a certain strain?
SPECTER: They are the extremists. The tea party insists on having purity, and on the Democratic side, a strong senator like Joe Lieberman can't win a primary, but my book goes into detail as to what happens behind the scenes and provides a suggestion for how to make Washington work again. And that is the example of Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.
She was opposed by the Tea Party. She was cannibalized. She was beaten in the primary. She came back and she won on a write-in, in a really spectacular, virtually unprecedented in American political history, which shows that if you acquaint the people about the nature of the problem, and you motivate the people, you can even win on the extraordinary circumstance of a write-in. Do you know how hard it is to spell Murkowski?
ROMANS: You know, I'll tell you, you mentioned one, you know, Alaskan politician, and I want to get to very serious matters, because the book is very good, and there's a lot of serious stuff in there about the problems in Washington, but you're getting a lot of press and attention for some of the more personal things you say about your former colleagues.
For example, Sarah Palin who you say radiated sensuality. John Thune who you said had the best -- I think -- the athlete's body. You talked about Ted Kennedy being naked in the gym. That's what's getting a lot of press, too, some of these more, I don't know, colorful remembrances of your colleagues.
SPECTER: I like to use a little humor. I think if you can get people to laugh, you can get people to listen. If you take the situation with Ted Kennedy, I was in the whirlpool, the hot tub. And in comes, Teddy 285 pounds in his birthday suit (INAUDIBLE). And he plops into the hot tub. And, you know, the old theory about a rising tide lifts all boats.
SPECTER: My head hit the ceiling. I also talk about President Reagan when I was with him alone in the presidential limousine coming to Philadelphia for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the constitution. The president talked about a joke, about sending condoms to the soviets, and I don't want to tell you the whole story and this may not be --
ROMANS: Because you want us to buy the book, I understand, sir.
SPECTER: Well, I do, but I'll finish the story -- sending condoms to the Soviets 16 inches long marked medium.
ROMANS: Oh, my.
SPECTER: A lot goes on behind the scenes. This book is really basically serious about the destruction of the political system where you have the extremists on both sides. Members are afraid to vote against the party-line for fear that one vote may lead to a primary. Bob Bennett, senator from Utah, backed President Bush's help for the banking industry and automotive industry, and that one vote knocked him out of the Senate. You have now Bob Kerrey in Nebraska being hit by the far left. And the answer is found in the constitution. "We, the people," if the people are informed, if the people are motivated --
ROMANS: That's right. All right, Senator Arlen Specter, thank you for joining us this morning.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's been enlightening.
ROMANS: Pulling back the curtain.
SPECTER: A book to buy.
ROMANS: The humor sells the big ideas. The new idea is called "Life Among Cannibals." Thank you, sir.
SPECTER: Thank you.
ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, hail, a twister overturned trailer and a couple drives through it with the camera on.
President Obama tells Congress to choose, big oil or the American people. But he's still losing the fight to cut big breaks for oil companies. This is from Marc's playlist, Louis Armstrong.
ROMANS: I love a little cold play. Alina Cho has the headlines for us.
ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Christine. Topping our headlines, a raid by French police picks up 20 suspected Islamic militants, most of the arrests coming in Toulouse. That's where gunman Mohammed Merah killed seven people in three separate attacks earlier this month. Merah was killed in a police standoff last week. Police not saying if there's any connection between that case and these latest arrests.
Take a look at this rare sight, a tornado south of the border in northeast Mexico. The video shot by two women driving on a freeway in Monterey yesterday. They say in all of the years they lived in Mexico, never seen or heard about a tornado forming. It's pretty incredible. The women said their car was hit by hail and large rock. Thankfully, though, they are OK.
And we have got chilling new video of a deadly tornado that flattened the city of Henryville, Indiana, earlier this month, nearly killed 11 children on a school bus. Look at the tornado, a massive f- 4 hit the city on March 2nd just after 3:00 p.m. School bus driver Angel Perry was taking those 11 students hope when she noticed the skies darkening and decided to radio dispatch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: Angel had to make a split second decision and decided to turn around and head back to the school. When she got there, she had to get those kids off the bus and fast. Listen to how she did it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody stay together. Right now. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: And look at what happened just three minutes later. This is video from the school bus security camera. Hail and 175-mile-an- hour winds ripping that bus apart. In fact, the 36,000 pound bus flew in the air and landed across the street through the front of a local diner. Fortunately the diner had been evacuated moments earlier. That's what you call a close call and a smart bus driver.
ROMANS: Very smarts but driver. Thank you, Alina.
The Senate shooting down a bill from President Obama to cut off tax breaks to big oil. Gas prices up 22 cents since last month. Today's average for a gallon of regular, 3.93, fueling record profits for oil companies. What now? Frank Verrastro is the energy and national security program director at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank. Welcome to the program this morning.
FRANK VERRASTRO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Glad to be here.
ROMANS: Let's talk about what's driving these oil prices up. When I talk to people, they say demand for gasoline in the U.S. is down. Domestic production of oil is the highest it's been in ten years in this country. And we have gas prices and oil prices that continue to move higher. Is it the rest of the world is moving the needle and this is not necessarily the American story anymore?
VERRASTRO: That's exactly the point. This is a global market. Domestic demand is down in terms of gasoline in this country and supply is up. It's a global market of 89 million or 90 million barrels of oil a day.
ROMANS: When we look at the short-term and you hear people talking about I'll lower gas prices or do this to stabilize gas prices, is that political hyperbole when you look at the global supply and demand picture?
VERRASTRO: Absolutely. In longer term there's a bunch of things you can do,in terms of refinery configurations, new production, CAFE standards and alternative fuels. But in the very near term as a practical matter presidents and governments have very little impact on gasoline prices.
ROMANS: This is the number one talking point at American kitchen tables because this is what they feel the most. They look at record prices and say it doesn't feel fairs but when their profits go up, what I'm paying goes up. Our most recent polling, 71 percent of people polled said that this is causing them financial hardship. Only 29 percent said no. This makes it continuing to be a political story. You see gas prices getting any better and political rhetoric cooling off?
VERRASTRO: No, I think the political rhetoric stays high throughout the year. I think historically gasoline prices in this country tend to go down after July, after the fourth of July. Driving season starts in May. We're starting the system about 30 cents a gallon higher than we should be at this time of year. And so that's what's causing pain, both for the economy and the individual consumer.
ROMANS: If you took away tax deductions for big oil companies like Democrats want to, would that help or hurt gas prices or have no effect at all?
VERRASTRO: So your point earlier about the political rhetoric, the messaging on both sides is the richness of the profits on the one side, which is true, and then the impact of gasoline prices on the other side, which is also true. I can't imagine that $2 billion would affect gasoline prices one way or another. This is a long-term investment scenario and actually companies are looking to benefit their shareholders.
ROMANS: All right, Frank Verrastro, thank you so much. Nice to see you testified yesterday on the Hill.
VERRASTRO: Thank you.
ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, Mitt Romney picked up another endorsement, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. We'll talk to someone who is predicting the GOP race will be over Tuesday. You're watching STARTING POINT.
ROMANS: When Haiti suffered a massive earthquake two years ago, many people responded by giving money. Jake Wood responded by a Facebook post saying "I'm going to Haiti, who's in?" Here's today's CNN hero.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE WOOD, CNN HERO: In the military everyone is taught how to lead and how to follow and how to solve problems. We really pride ourselves on being ready and willing to go anywhere. I started in the Marine Corps deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. When I first saw the earthquake that hit Haiti, a lot of the images I felt like I had seen them before driving through the streets of Fallujah or Afghanistan. I realized I could actually help out.
So I went on Facebook. I said "I'm going to Haiti, who's in?" and 72 hours after that we were on our way to Port-au-Prince. We got to work setting up a triage clinic. We realized veterans are really useful in these types of situations.
I'm Jake Wood, and I want to help veterans transition to civilian life and help others in need. It started as a disaster relief organization and then we realized he could help the veteran community as well. We bring veterans together to be a part of a team once again. They are almost recharged.
When you get out you have that feeling of what are you really doing that's important in the world? This provided a great opportunity to help people in need.
Most of the work we do internationally is emergency medical triage clinics. We've gone to Chile, Sudan, Pakistan. Here at home we've been in Tuscaloosa, Joplin doing debris clearing operations, search and rescue. We have about 1,400 volunteers and about 80 percent of them are military veterans. Helping other people is part of the healing process.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't thank you all enough.
WOOD: There's really no limit to what veterans can do. We have the ability to help and we want to serve. I think it's a win-win situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, just in another endorsement for Mitt Romney, does this change anything? Ryan Lizza stops by next. He says the GOP race could be over by Tuesday. And from Ryan's play list, Cat Power "Living Proof."
You're watching STARTING POINT.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: Just in, moments ago a key endorsement for Mitt Romney from Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Two criteria I am using to make my decision to vote in our primary Tuesday. Who is the best person to be president? Who will make the best president? And who has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama? And in my opinion, Mitt Romney is clearly that person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: This comes after endorsements from President George H.W. Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio this week.
Joining is Ryan Lizza, a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." So he's consolidating endorsements.
RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Slowly --
ROMANS: So party is behind him?
LIZZA: -- slowly they're coming along.
But look, there are 47 Republican senators. How many have endorsed Mitt Romney? 18 and so still if you look historically at the pace of endorsements for the front runner for the person I think we all agree is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party, it's still grudging and it's still slow and he's behind the pace of McCain, Bob Dole and previous GOP nominees.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But Ryan it's not just numbers, right? Who -- it's what senators. We're talking about, we're talking about Marco Rubio, leader of the Tea Party Movement. Mike Lee, stalwart of the Tea Party Movement.
CAIN: Paul Ryan, unassailable conservative.
CAIN: These are interesting endorsements.
LIZZA: Well, I think DeMint is probably the senator that's the true leader of the Tea Party Movement. And he has said something very positive about Romney but he didn't endorse.
ROMANS: But he didn't endorse him. He said he's getting more comfortable with him or something.
LIZZA: Yes and so everyone is getting more comfortable with Mitt Romney. But this -- this thing will just -- I think that we're going to have this conversation ten more times between now and June. JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: Yes, tepid is the new black.
ROMANS: Right, Paul -- Paul Ryan says the primary race is becoming counterproductive if it runs much longer.
ROMANS: I mean is that -- and a lot of people agree to that. Is he right?
LIZZA: You know I think this moves on and as Santorum weakens and fades and Romney strengthens could be the exact opposite. You could see Romney consolidating support and looking stronger, right. When Romney is losing, he looks very weak.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT & CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: But do all these endorsements translate to support among the skeptical social conservatives or is it just a consolidation of the main street crowd?
LIZZA: Yes. Look that's -- that's the fundamental dynamic that's going to play out from here to the end, right. We know the demographics that support Romney and we know the demographics that support Santorum. It hasn't changed after what 23, 24 states. That's going to -- that's going to continue and I -- I think that at the end of that these voters that are voting for Santorum have no place to go. They don't like Barack Obama. They will come home to Romney.
ROMANS: What do you think of this -- so John King has learned that Romney and Gingrich had this weekend meeting? What do you think that was all about?
LIZZA: Yes I don't know. Newt Gingrich is the sort of mystery man in this primary. He's got a small cache of delegates perhaps he's negotiating for something.
ROMANS: He's cutting staff. He is clearly running on fumes.
LIZZA: Yes and he's -- he's basically dropped out.
LIZZA: I mean, he's presented this as cutting staff and he's going to focus on the convention but he's basically dropped out of the race. He's -- he's -- he's not -- he's not campaigning anymore.
MORIAL: And if anybody understands his leverage, Newt does.
LIZZA: He's got to figure out where he gets that --
ROMANS: Well and Newt's -- Newt's money man, Sheldon Adelson listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHELDON ADELSON, NEWT GINGRICH SUPPORTER: It appears as though he's at the end of his -- at the end of his line. Because I mean, mathematically he can't get anywhere near the numbers. And is not -- unlikely to be brokered convention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: And if anybody knows --
FUGELSANG: That means Newt is being dumped by someone else in case you're just tuning in.
ROMANS: And mathematically he knows the math because he's the money.
LIZZA: My favorite Newt fact is that he's reading this book about brokered conventions, "Ballots and Bandwagons." And this is a book about five historic conventions from 1900 to 1956. So Newt does in his mind have this idea that you can deny and maybe Santorum that's going to deny Romney the 1,144. You're going to get to the convention and everything is going to be up in the air.
ROMANS: Where does this all leave Santorum? Where does this all leave Santorum? Is he running for president now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Strongly in 2016.
ROMANS: Is he running for president in 2016?
FUGELSANG: 2016, absolutely.
ROMANS: He's running for president next time around.
FUGELSANG: 2016 will be the GOP heavy hitter year.
CAIN: But As to this race, Ron and I have had a disagreement about exactly where we are. This is over for me. This -- Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for president.
CAIN: Ryan recognizes there is a chance that Rick Santorum can deny Romney the nomination but it's highly improbable in my opinion.
LIZZA: I agree. See, if there's a non zero probability Santorum can do that.
ROMANS: Winning the mega millions, you can still win the mega millions or Santorum can deny Mitt Romney --
LIZZA: I think the latter is a better chance. MORIAL: As an outside nonpartisan observer, I also think part of what's going on is who is the standard bearer, who is the negotiator, who carries the mantle for social conservatives?
MORIAL: In a broader discussion. And maybe Rick Santorum is thinking that.
LIZZA: But you know I disagree about Santorum's prospects next time around. I think he's a place holder candidate for social conservatives for whatever reason that don't like Romney. Their only place to go in this race is Santorum. I don't think it's about love of Rick Santorum.
FUGELSANG: -- 2016 unless Sarah Palin runs and I do think that Marco Rubio as his running mate will be the carrot for the social conservative.
ROMANS: But didn't Marco Rubio this week say I will not be the vice president with a smile on his face. He said it a lot.
LIZZA: But you have to say -- you can say that until you don't say it.
ROMANS: It's presumptuous if you say, yes, I would.
FUGELSANG: I would say in two years it will be Rubio. And I hope it is because I want to see the debate of Joe Biden versus Rubio for the plugs versus the come-overs.
ROMANS: I was waiting for that. I thought you said you're not going to say this. But that was great.
LIZZA: Well done.
ROMANS: So where do we go from here. We go from here on next Tuesday. We have resolution or we don't have resolution?
LIZZA: I think we have this conversation about a dozen more times before the end of the race because all the --
ROMANS: I can't wait.
LIZZA: -- all the states in April Romney is going to win. And there's a boat load of states in May that Santorum is going to win. And it's going to revive talk of why can't Romney put this away.
FUGELSANG: What if he wins Wisconsin? What if he wins Wisconsin.
LIZZA: He's not going to win Wisconsin. We know the demographics of Wisconsin and we know the demographics of these two guys, win over, he won't win Wisconsin.
It's predictable right now.
ROMANS: So you're saying, Stephen Colbert, he cannot put away his countdown to loving Romney clock?
LIZZA: Not until -- maybe not even until August at the convention.
FUGELSANG: What will that lovefest be like.
CAIN: It's going to be interesting.
ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much, Ryan Lizza. Nice to see.
The "End Point" with our panel is next.
ROMANS: Everyone has had their five-mile run and ready to go to work to end the week, right. You didn't run, that's ok. Black Keys, "Everlasting Life." That was from John.
It's time for our "End Point." We'll start with you since you had the song.
FUGELSANG: Well, my mother is an ex-nun, my father was an ex- Franciscan brother, so I'm doing a personal "End Point." I had an off-Broadway solo show about their story called, "Guilt -- A Love Story" --
ROMANS: "Guilt -- A Love Story."
FUGELSANG: "Guilt -- A Love Story" a comedy of terrors and it's beginning its tour this coming Tuesday in Seattle at the Neptune Theater. And tickets for Ft. Lauderdale at the Parker playoffs go on sales today. It's a solo show for people who hate solo shows.
ROMANS: "Guilt -- A Love Story." All right. Sounds great.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT/CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: I, you know, maybe adjust back to Trayvon Martin for a minute. I think we should watch very closely to see what the next developments are going to be. I think there should be an arrest. I think when there's an arrest, it's going to be a punctuation point with respect to this case.
But the second thing, there's a longer story and that is a new awareness about the efforts to pass these kill at will "Stand Your Ground" laws in the states, which have arisen only in the last five to six years. All these laws are new and what's behind them are the same forces that are behind voter ID laws. And I think that's going to be a continuing conversation as to why all of a sudden you have this effort to change the laws of states being orchestrated from behind the scenes.
ROMANS: Marc Morial's "End Point." Yours? WILL CAIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm going to cede my "End Point" time to Senator Arlen Specter. I'll just repeat two points he made on this program some moments ago. When he said and described a naked 285-pound Ted Kennedy getting into the senate whirlpool and raising the water level.
ROMANS: See, he's had a rising tide -- (inaudible)
CAIN: And then my favorite one is when he said he was sitting in a limousine with President Ronald Reagan who said he wanted to send 16-inch condoms, marked "Medium" to the Soviets.
ROMANS: And my "End Point" is going about the mega millions because that's really what everyone's talking about. I'm going to be a buzz kill first and say if you have high interest credit card debt you're crazy for buying a bunch of lottery tickets. And then since no one's taking that advice. I'm going to say, you should take the lump sum and make sure have somebody who you really trust help you, you know, spend and invest the money.
And rich people -- here's a hint -- rich people grow their money first before they start spending it and they're spending what they grow. The rest of us, we all just spend money and then we end up where we started. So when you win, everybody, remember, make that money grow.
And because you do have a chance to win a 1 in 176 million chance to win.
MORIAL: And hire Christine Romans as your financial advisor, right?
ROMANS: Yes, I'm available for advice.
Marc Morial, thanks. John Fugelsang and also Will -- Will Cain.
"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. Good morning, Carol.