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Interview with Ken Detzner, Florida Secretary of State; School Bans Children's Book; Bill Clinton's Campaigning For President Obama Discussed; Taco Bell Hires Gourmet Chef to Revamp Menu; Dogs Enlisted to Help Veterans

Aired June 8, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: Florida's new voter war. The feds are warning officials about purging voters off the polls. Some critics say it's a racist move. We're going t talk to the Florida secretary of state who's defending the purge.

A bestselling children's book banned for one line. We're going to hear from the school superintendent who says the family book doesn't belong on the shelves. We'll also talk to the author who wrote it.

And Taco Bell going upscale, teaming up with the world class chief to make fast food more fresh, a little bit more fancy. But will going gourmet work for taco bell?

It's Friday, June 8th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: A walk through the past with Margaret Hoover. The entire high school career marching before my eyes.


O'BRIEN: Dexys Midnight Runners.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He could have used Taco Bell. He was the skinniest rock star ever.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not from the new menu because it's healthy. The old menu.

O'BRIEN: "Come on Eileen."

BROWNSTEIN: Extra cheese on the tacos.

O'BRIEN: I haven't seen that since the day it went off the radio play.

HOOVER: It's a great song.

O'BRIEN: Our team this morning: Margaret Hoover. That was her choice. She's also the author of "American Individualism."

Ron Brownstein is with us. She's political director of the "National Journal." And Will Cain is a columnist for

Let's listen one more second.


O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get to our STARTING POINT this morning: growing battle between Florida leaders and Department of Justice over that state's controversial effort to purge voters.

The Florida secretary of state, Ken Detzner, is giving the DOJ its own deadline. Monday. He wants DOJ to explain why it claims it's illegal for voters to remove noncitizens from the voting rolls. And Detzner writes this, "The Department of State respectfully disagrees with DOJ's position. The actions taken by Florida to identify and remove noncitizens from voter rolls ensure the right to vote is protected and not diluted by the votes of ineligible persons."

Attorney General Eric Holder argued his side in a hearing yesterday.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The problem with the Florida effort is that it runs out counter to the National Voter Registration Act which says you can't do within 90 days of an election. You can successfully to that, what Florida is trying to do, as has been done and has been approved by the Justice Department in North Carolina and Georgia. They did it via the right way.


O'BRIEN: So joining me this morning is the Florida secretary of state, Ken Detzner.

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

So, you now have a deadline for the DOJ obstructing your right to hold elections and to know who's eligible. You've heard the attorney general there saying, no, you're wrong. And there's a couple of reasons why you're wrong.

What do you say to what his answer?

KEN DETZNER, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, my answer to his statement is that Florida has been working on this for over a year now. We've asked the Department of Homeland Security to assist us in making sure our data bases are correct. They held up on that. If we had this information that they had last year, we probably could have had this process finished by now.

I also challenge his statement that the federal law contemplates that anyone who is a non-legal individual in Florida that's registered to vote should be allowed to vote as we approach the election this fall.

O'BRIEN: So he has basically said there's two reasons that you cannot do it. He says, first the amount of time, 90 days for an election. That's under Voter Registration Act. So, the cutoff would have been May 14th. You're just basically outside of that -- as of now, you are outside of 90 days so it just won't work.

The Voter Registration Act says the state should complete not 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for federal office any program, blah, blah, blah, official list of eligible voters. Bottom line, 90 days and you're not within 90 days.

DETZNER: Well, the law does not exclude us from eliminating noncitizens from the list. We at the present time during this 90-day period we do eliminate individuals that are felons, people that are mentally incompetent and those deceased. It seems an illogical question that those individuals might have more rights or the individuals that are noncitizens would have more rights than somebody who is a felon.

So, that's why we act and that's why we continue to act as we go forward.

O'BRIEN: There are people that would say timing is suspect. And that you could easily wait until after the election and then spend a couple years trying to in a coordinated fashion remove who should be off the rolls, off the rolls, and ensure that the people who are off the rolls and should be on the rolls and should be on the rolls are the right people. What do you say to that argument?

DETZNER: Well, my argument is as chief elections officer as the state of Florida that if there's a noncitizen eligible to vote and votes in this election, they're going to neutralize and delete someone else's vote that's eligible to vote and I can tell you I hear from people every day that call my office, and explain that they do not want their vote eliminated by a noncitizen who is registered to vote. That's the mission that I'm undertaking and I want to make sure this fall that everyone that's eligible to vote will vote and that votes will be counted here in Florida.

O'BRIEN: As you know, this is some of the reporting done by "The Miami Herald." Of the 2,700 names identified potentially as noncitizens, 500 were identified as citizens and lawful voters, 40 identified as noncitizens. Possibly four voted and they would be guilty of third-degree felony. Two thousand other people it's unclear.

So you could make a mistake the other direction. I think the argument goes in the amount of time you have. You could take a voter who is eligible and block them so when it comes voting day, they cannot vote. What's the number you are comfortable with potentially doing that? Is that one person eligible but not on the rolls, five people? Where do you draw the line?

DETZNER: Soledad, no individual who is eligible to vote has been removed from the voter list. Everyone has been notified by the supervisors of election is given due process to notify that supervisor as to their citizenship or not. I'm confident that our due process will make sure that everyone is treated fairly going forward and no eligible citizens will be eliminated from the voter rolls.

It's noncitizens that we are trying to eliminate from the rolls so that citizens that are eligible, their vote will be counted here in Florida.

O'BRIEN: Let me put you on hold for a second. Take us back. Much of this has roots obviously in 2000 in Florida where there were people who claim to be purged from rolls who were citizens who were not able to vote come Election Day.

BROWNSTEIN: Five hundred and thirty-seven votes selected the president. Look, there is a nationwide struggle going on. This is my theme of the day. But there is inherently a lot of politics in this.

You have a series of Republican governors, Republican state, Republican legislators that are produce tough new laws, making it more difficult to register voters, making enhance efforts to kind of scrub the voter rolls and this is against a backdrop of reality that in 2008, Barack Obama won 80 percent of minority voters. He's polling right around 80 percent of minority voters again in 2012, and almost all of these initiatives would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters.

And that is a fundamental debate about whether we're talking about cleaning rolls or suppressing a constituency that you expect primarily to vote for the other side.

O'BRIEN: So, let's bring it back to you. I think that Ron is making two points there. You just have to look back to 2000 to see more than 500 people who were eligible voters whose votes were not counted. That was a mistake, wasn't it? How do you know you're not going to repeat that same thing?

DETZNER: Well, he makes an excellent point. That's what I'm trying to safeguard, 537 votes in this environment today is what we're trying to protect. People that are not eligible to vote do not eliminate people who are eligible to vote.

In a close election, we may need to make sure that our voter rolls are 100 percent accurate and have a noncitizens on our voter rolls is the problem. That's what I'm trying to solve. So we don't have that problem this year.

O'BRIEN: But isn't the argument the amount of time you have to do that now may not be enough time and you could be in the end of day be purging people who are eligible voters? I guess I'm curious to know like what is the margin of error that you are comfortable with on this? If --

DETZNER: I'm not comfortable with any margin of error. Our process -- our due process allows for individuals to step forward and provide citizenship information to the supervisors. If they don't provide that information, they can be removed from the polls. But there is a due process.

And I want to remind everyone, should they show up at the poll and they claim that they're citizens, they can vote a provisional ballot at the poll which can be validated after the election. That's important and guarantees every vote will be counted in Florida.

BROWNSTEIN: The political debate though here is that the kind of people who would be targeted by this tend not to be those who would have the easiest access to the legal system and understanding of all of their legal options that would allow them to go through this due process period. And yes, they can cast a provisional ballot, but that the fear is that people who are eligible to vote will conclude that they can't do it.

O'BRIEN: And as I'm sure you know, sir, part of the question is the number -- if you look at the stats, I think it's just under 60 percent of voters talking about in the state of Florida are Latino. The people who are on those rolls at 2,700 suspected at this point are overwhelmingly black and Latino. Those are people who would overwhelmingly most likely vote Democratic.

How much of this is just political at the end of the day?

DETZNER: Well, at the end of the day your assumptions are wrong. We do not look at individuals, ethnic, religious, sexual origin, Democratic Party, Republican Party, independent. This process is looked at independently as whether somebody is a citizen or noncitizen, and the idea of anyone's ethnic origin or party to be part of this process is totally incorrect and the wrong assumption.

BROWNSTEIN: This could impact, there's a phrase from the law, you know, you can have a law that seems to be race neutral on face but if it has an impact on one group, there is that issue. And certainly, I think the political debate that we're seeing ferociously around the country in a number of states different versions of this, is whether under the rubric of ensuring a clean election, you are seeing an impact on voters that would be Democratic voters.


WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a legitimate concern of whether or not voter fraud needs to be abolished -- needs to be done away with.


BROWNSTEIN: Voter fraud doesn't exist.


O'BRIEN: My apologies. Thank you. Please, go ahead.

DETZNER: Let me remind everyone that in Florida if you register to vote and you're a noncitizen, you have committed a third-degree felony. And our job here in Florida is to make sure that we have accurate voter rolls and that people are eligible to vote can vote. It does not matter their race, their creed, their party, we need accurate voting and we need to make sure that all eligible voters can vote. That's my job. That's what we're going to do here in Florida.

HOOVER: Let's also be very clear. For a very long time the "Miami Herald," one of the leading newspapers in Florida, has documented cases of voter fraud for over a decade. Dead people on the rolls.

This is not like a problem out of left field that's only politicized that is intended to surprise voter turnout.


HOOVER: No, if dead people are voting, that's voter fraud.

BROWNSTEIN: Soledad raises the right question. What is the collateral damage you are willing -- certainly there is voter fraud. There is not mass voter fraud. Yes, how many people who are eligible to vote will be intimidated into not voting are you willing to accept?

CAIN: The secretary of state said they are doing everything they can to ensure that doesn't happen while purging those who shouldn't be voting.

O'BRIEN: Sir, final question to you before I let you go. Thank you as my panel here completely erupts almost in fistfights here at the table. So when someone says this is racist and political at the end of the day and timing is suspicious and if you cared about cleaning up voter rolls you could do it the day after election day and spend time and do it right, because most people would agree with you -- the people who can vote should be -- who are eligible to vote should be on the rolls. People who are not eligible should not be on the rolls. I think we can all as a group agree to that very basic tenet.

The question becomes: how do you do it, the time you do it, and in some ways, who do you put at risk for not voting and they are eligible to vote?

DETZNER: The process that we're following is a process that we had in place for many years in Florida. There's a new category considered not citizens and that process we've been following is Florida statute 98.075 that's been tried and tested. And that's the process that we're going to follow going forward so that we have fair elections.

This is not a time to wait until after the elections. It's time to act now to make sure that individuals who are voting are eligible to vote and our voting rolls are accurate and clean in Florida. We plan to do that.

O'BRIEN: As you know, the folks from the election supervisors have said that they don't think they're going to get a list that's accurate so they're not going to go ahead and do this. They feel like it's not --


O'BRIEN: Are you going to talk them into it?

DETZNER: Yes, that's a good point. I have spoken to many supervisors and they like I are waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to give us access to the save data base which they are legally required to do so that we can better and more accurately determine citizenship here in Florida.

And I'm waiting for a letter, return letter, and response from Napolitano, the secretary, who I wrote to a week ago, requesting an opportunity to meet and determine how we can get access to that voter record.

I think when we have access to that and we need it as soon as possible, supervisors would begin the process and reengage in the process of making sure their voter registration lists are accurate. So, I'm waiting to hear from homeland security.

O'BRIEN: And I think the homeland security data base that you are referring to, the Department of Justice says that's not the right one. I'll play you a little bit of what Eric Holder said about that.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The problem with the Florida effort is that it runs counter to the national voter registration act which says you can't do this within 90 days of an election. You can successfully do that which Florida is trying to do as --


O'BRIEN: My apology, sir. That's not the right sound bite from Eric Holder. I'm going to have to read to you what he said.


O'BRIEN: He said the database -- my apologies for that -- "Florida is requesting is not necessarily the answer. The database, as I understand it, does not contain on its rolls or within the database people who were born in the United States. That database will, therefore, be flawed, could result in the exclusion of people from voting who are native born Americans."

When do you think it's going to be all resolved or do you think it's not going to be in the short-term?

DETZNER: Well, I would suggest that Attorney General Holder look at the privacy manual that the Department of Homeland Security put out in which on page six, it references the fact that the database can be used for investigations and, quote, "voter registration analysis." And that is the benchmark for which we want to use that database.

And I invite him to join me, meeting with Secretary Napolitano, to determine, actually, the value of that. We think that is the answer. And if it's not, I invite the attorney general to assist us in helping us to determine whether people are citizens or non-citizens so we can clear our rolls and that votes will be counted and that are counted accurately.

O'BRIEN: Ken Detzner, I'm so out of time. Thank you for spending a lot of time with us this morning.

DETZNER: Thank you,

O'BRIEN: Much more than we thought we' get with you. He is the Florida secretary of state joining us from Tallahassee. Thank you, sir. We appreciate it. We got to take a short break before I get killed by the control room.

Bill Clinton, this morning, is what we're going to talk about on the other side, though, doing some damage control. He says he's sorry. He has an (ph) exclusive five months until Election Day. What exactly is his liability to the Obama campaign? We're going to talk to Candy Crowley coming up.

Plus, a school district bans a popular children's book because of one line. We'll tell you what the author and the school superintendent have to say. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. A major uproar in a Midwest school district over a popular children's book. Take a look. It's called "The Family Book." It is right here. It is "The New York Times" best-seller. It won 2004 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award. It sold more than two million copies, and the book has been out for nearly ten years.

But it has just been banned by a school district in Erie, Illinois, because of one single line. And the line goes like this. "Some families have two moms or two dads." Here's the school board president explaining his decision. Listen.


CHARLIE BROWN, SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT: There's nobody out here that's against gays or lesbians. I mean, I'm not. We've chosen to source our materials from another source at that time for that building.


O'BRIEN: Going to hear from the school district superintendent in a moment, but first, let's talk to the author of the book, "The Family Book," Todd Parr is with us. Hey, Todd. Good morning. Nice to see you. So, when did you hear that your book was being banned? TODD PARR, AUTHOR, "THE FAMILY BOOK": About a month ago, I started getting e-mails from some of the people in Erie and some teachers saying that they were trying to have this book banned in the school, and, you know, the parents had used the book for years with their kids and teachers, also.

So, it was a month ago, and then, it was probably two weeks ago when I heard that they had said that they're going to remove the book.

O'BRIEN: And what was your reaction to that?

PARR: Well, I was disappointed. You know, this is the, you know, book number -- you know, written 38 books, so far. This book, for me, was just about, you know, how do you do a book for kids, and you know, depict every possible kind of family that you can in a picture book.

And it just teaches about, you know, single parents and, you know, kids that are different color or, you know, divorce even. And I just wanted a book that you could help as a springboard to introduce that there are all different kinds of families in the world and that each one of them is special and important.

So, I was disappointed. I wasn't upset. It was their choice to do. But, you know, again, I just think that there's such an issue with, you know, kids learn at a very young age about name calling and bullying, and you know, as soon as you can help them understand about differences, I just think it's so important.

O'BRIEN: Todd, I'm going to ask you to stay with us for just a minute while I bring in the Erie, Illinois school superintendent. His name is Bradley Cox, and he's joining us by phone. Mr. Cox, thanks for being with us. What exactly is the problem that you have with "The Family Book?"

VOICE OF BRADLEY COX, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT, ERIE, ILLINOIS: The book references families with two mommies or two daddies as you referenced. And the objection was made on the grounds that any type of sexual orientation was not an age appropriate topic for elementary schoolchildren.

The community, when they came to talk to the board, said it was important that the topics be discussed at home. I think it's also important to note that sexual orientation has never been a part of Erie's elementary school social and emotional development curriculum.

O'BRIEN: So, I'm going to read a couple pages before that particular line that I very read. "Some families have a step-mom or step-dad or step-sisters or step-brothers. Some families adopt children. Some families have two moms or two dads. Some families have one parent instead of two."

And it kind of goes on and on in that vain. Do you think at your school board meeting, were there -- let me ask you, actually, about that school board meeting where this was decided. How many people showed up to debate this? Was it a hot topic? Were people angry? What was the tone?

COX: We had consecutive board meetings that were very heavily attended. We're a small K-12 rural school in Northwestern Illinois. And, any time that we have more than about a dozen people at a school board meeting, it's a big deal. And, in consecutive months, we had between 75 and 100 people in attendance.

And, at our April board meeting, the vast majority of the people who spoke, spoke in opposition of using these instructional resources.

O'BRIEN: So, there are people who would say other things in there might make people uncomfortable, would you -- if someone said, listen, I think having a family with one parent, not two parents, I'm uncomfortable with that. That's something that shouldn't be in any books.

Would you then, -- you know, would that be your grounds as opposed to sexual orientation which you're talking about with grounds for removing "The Family Book?"

COX: Yes. I think at the end of the day, the Erie board, which obviously, are publicly elected officials. They're reflection of the philosophy and values of the community. I think at the end of the day, the Erie board felt that this was not age appropriate. You know, we teach all of these topics at different grade levels, but our Erie elementary is grade K through four.

O'BRIEN: Let me send it back to Todd Parr before I let both of you, gentlemen, go. So, Todd, when you hear of the superintendent saying, listen, we don't want a book about sexual orientation, and it's not age appropriate and it is what it is. What do you think?

PARR: Well, you know, it's like I write for a very young audience. I write about complicated things about, you know, the Earth and peace. And I try and simplify them. And I think that kids spend, you know, a lot of time at school. They hear a lot of things. There's name calling. I think there's all different kinds of families that live in Erie.

I think it's so important to have resources to help kids learn about that there are these difference, and I think you're never too young to learn. This is not about sexuality.

It's just simply about learning about all different kinds of families that exist and, you know, I just think it's so important to have -- even if it's not my book, you know they had said under no condition were they going to talk about, you know, alternative families in their school almost as if they don't exist. So, I'm disappointed about that.

They can use any material that they want because they said they're still going to teach diversity and tolerance, but how can you exclude, you know, certain people and still teach about diversity and tolerance? So, you know, again, I just want to help every kid feel good about themselves. And I think that bullying is such an issue out there. And I think that all parents, they want their kids to be kind and be treated with respect. And I think that's what I wanted this book to do is to help everyone feel good about themselves.

O'BRIEN: Todd Parr joining us this morning. He's the author of "The Family Book" and Bradley Cox, as well, superintendent, joining us. Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate your time this morning.

Got to take a short break. Still ahead, CNN exclusive. The former president, Bill Clinton, saying sorry for the comments he made about tax cuts while he was campaigning for President Obama's re- election. Is the former President Clinton doing more harm than good on the campaign trail? Candy Crowley is going to join us up next.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. CNN exclusive this morning. A big "I'm sorry" from the former president Bill Clinton. He's getting back on track after seemingly undermining President Obama and going very much off message again. This time he was talking about extending the Bush tax cuts responding to controversy on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer saying this.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I strongly committed to his re-election. And I just regret that -- my instinct -- you know me. I don't think I should have to say bad things about Governor Romney personally to disagree with him politically. The fact I was complementary of his success as a business person doesn't mean I think he should be elected and President Obama shouldn't.


O'BRIEN: President Clinton also praised Romney's sterling business career when he was chief executive at Bain Capital. Let's get to Candy Crowley, host of "STATE OF THE UNION." Nice to see you. We were talking about this yesterday. I forgot who said that maybe President Clinton is a double agent because it's like surrogates gone wild for the Obama campaign. What's going on?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's a problem with surrogates and if you're a surrogate who is a former president, he gets to say what he wants. He always draws attention. I don't think there's some big -- he's getting back at Barack Obama for beating Hillary Clinton.

O'BRIEN: Conspiracy theory.

CROWLEY: The motivation, you know, who knows? I do know one thing. He said that he made a mistake on advising the president or saying out loud that we should extend these tax cuts which the president has said he's not going to do and that he wants to cut them off for the wealthy. And President Clinton said yesterday, I didn't know when these expired. I actually don't buy that. O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you that. Really? I know when they expire, and I was never president.

CROWLEY: Yes. When would tax cuts expire? They would expire before the next tax year, right? So I don't buy that explanation. He may have simply made a mistake. But I do believe that the essential Bill Clinton is this, that, a, he thinks it's a mistake to go after Bain and it's clear from the things that he said that he doesn't think that is a great idea. And by the way, he said similar things about John McCain when Clinton was out campaigning for Barack Obama and said I don't hate John McCain. He said he didn't hate George Bush when he was campaigning for John Kerry, et cetera, et cetera.

So I think he thinks it's a mistake to go after Bain and he spoke the truth, and I think he probably believes that the tax cuts should go on a little longer even for the wealthy because the economy is bad. He said it was in recession, which it's not. Maybe there was some mistakes that were made.

O'BRIEN: Mistakes were made.

CROWLEY: But I think you got essential truth of what the former president believes. Here is bottom line. He supports President Obama. That's what they want to use him for.

O'BRIEN: So you don't think there will be dialing back or pulling back of President Clinton.

Let me ask you a question about money. First time that Republicans have outraised the Democrats, Governor Romney raising $77 million and president Obama raising $60 million. Ed Rendell said this the other day. I want to play a quick chunk -- or not. Where's my chunk? It's coming. Wait.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said today that the president was going to be competitive. You wouldn't say he was going to win. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know he's going to win. I have this strange habit of trying to tell the truth when you ask me a question. I'm not sure he's going to win. He should win.


O'BRIEN: OK. So let's talk about the money and let's talk about --

CROWLEY: Love the surrogates.

O'BRIEN: Pulling them back in. Money is a big thing.

CROWLEY: Is it Janis Joplin that sang "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." I love politicians on both sides. Truth of the matter is he doesn't know. It will be a tight election. Rendell, president Obama supporter, democrat, really wants him to win. But he says I don't know if he's going to. The money part of this is that obviously the Obama re-elect committee has been at this for some time and raising record amounts of money, et cetera, et cetera. Mitt Romney only just recently got the nomination, so he's going to the well for the first time in some cases with some of these donors. It's a great haul. I don't take away from that, but I don't think this is going to be a campaign where one side or the other has significantly less money. That was the case with John McCain. I don't think it will be the case with Mitt Romney because you have all of that outside money that can come in, outside independent groups, and the fact that he can raise a lot of money. So I don't think we're looking at an election where either side has a disadvantage in cash on hand.

O'BRIEN: A lot of money for everybody around on this.


O'BRIEN: Let's move on. I want to remind everybody that you can watch Candy on "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday at 9:00 a.m. eastern and noon eastern time on CNN. Candy, thanks. Appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, Taco Bell going gourmet, and the celebrity chef behind the new upscale menu joins us right there, Lorena Garcia. You're listening to my playlist. This is Rihanna, "Don't Stop the Music."



ROMANS: It's 42 minutes after the hour. Watching your money this morning, mortgage rates at record lows again. Six weeks in a row now we've seen mortgage rates drop. The new rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is 3.67 percent. The popular refinancing tool, the 15-year mortgage, 2.94 percent.

If you are a virgin mobile customer, you'll get an iPhone soon. The carrier announcing this week that it will become the seventh U.S. wireless company to sell Apple iPhones and offer cheapest plans on the market as low as $30 a month. The catch, you have to pay full retail price for the iPhones and the iPhone Expo goes for $649.

O'BRIEN: That's a big catch, an expensive catch, $649, holy cow. My blackberries are going far, far away. Christine, thank you.

The fast food chain that coined the phrase "think outside of the bun" is now taking its own advice and thinking outside of the taco. Taco Bell is going gourmet trying to broaden customer base with a new upscale menu. The chef who is creating it is Lorena Garcia. You might remember the chef on a documentary I did called "Latino in America." She's known for healthy food and new menu will launch in July.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taco bell has never done a gourmet burrito.

LORENA GARCIA, CHEF: That's where I come in. I use fresh flavors and new ingredients to create the new cantina burrito for taco bell.


O'BRIEN: I love the ad.

GARCIA: It was great, because there is nothing better than, turn cameras on and do your thing in the kitchen. We were cooking. I was making the menu. That's how the commercial came about.

O'BRIEN: You're a chef that has owned a bunch of restaurants, and when a fast food restaurant calls and says we would love for your hand as a gourmet, classically trained chef --


GARCIA: I was surprised. I thought it was a huge challenge for me to do this. You know what, I'm always open to the energy. I believe in that. Let me see what this has to bring. I went there, skeptical of course of what is the situation they want to do something and put my name on it. At the end of the day after I spent a few days with them understanding their company, I realized that the challenge became an opportunity to me to bring a good menu, a balanced menu, a well-thought out -- you know my cuisine. I'm about freshness and what people eat and our customers right now are paying attention to the way we eat. Taco bell understood that.

O'BRIEN: Can it be fast food that's fresh and gourmet?

GARCIA: You know what, I wouldn't call it gourmet per see because we're talking about less than $5 for what you get on the menu, but it is a well-thought out menu. It is responsible. I focused on ingredients and flavors and textures, and that's what I think it is possible to do.

O'BRIEN: This is no the new menu.

GARCIA: July 5th is when the menu is going to be available in all of the stores at Taco Bell.

O'BRIEN: So this kind of stuff would no longer be available? Or is it --


GARCIA: It will be. And you know I represent a choice. Of course Taco Bell has their core customers. They are going to go for the menus that they like. But now I -- let me tell you I'm going to be completely honest. I don't go to fast food restaurants. I mean I was raised in a Venezuela where we don't have those type of restaurants. So now I'm going to be able to go. I'm going to be able to bring my nephew who's going to have to be able to have Doritos and Locos taco and has 20 right? But now I'm going to be able to help the cantina with a menu and bring my friends and you know it's a different approach. And now I think we're -- I think that I'm bringing a choice for probably the people that even don't go to Taco Bell to eat there and people that go that are going to be able to enjoy.

BROWNSTEIN: What's the theory? What's the theory? What do you -- fundamentally what do you think people are going to be looking for and what you're offering versus what they need today?

GARCIA: Yes to me -- to me, you listen, I'm putting my name, I'm putting my face, I'm putting my reputation on the line for this menu. So I'm bringing the choice. I'm bringing the difference. I'm bringing the focus that you're going to be able to have the first bite and you're going to be able to go for more.

O'BRIEN: So specifically what? So instead of what I have here?


GARCIA: So I brought, you know I was raised on my rice bowl. I love cilantro. Everybody knows that. So I wanted to have that as a common thread throughout my menu. I bring the black beans, I was raised on black beans and rice. You're going to able to -- to have this wonderful grilled chicken that is made with this wonderful marinade. They're all my recipes. You have a grilled corn. I put some vegetables and sweetness of the corn. They got a sauce. I have a cilantro sauce that is delicious coming on, on top.

O'BRIEN: You did go heavy on the cilantro.

GARCIA: Yes I go heavy on the cilantro. I'm very visual. So you're going to be able to see it. I say at Taco Bell, I like to see my food. So why don't we just keep it open.

HOOVER: Taco Bell is known for having very economic menu.


HOOVER: A dollar or $2. Yours are going to cost a little bit more.


HOOVER: But one thing that people don't know is many people don't know is that at Taco Bell you can actually get your money back if you're unsatisfied and they're offering that. They say try your meal because you won't want to have -- you won't want to get your money back.

GARCIA: Absolutely, that's the only thing I'm asking. Just try it. And you will love it. That's what we're able to guarantee.

O'BRIEN: How much of this is based on Chipotle's success? Chipotle's which has the fresh food, you can go and you watch the guy make it as we go down the --

GARCIA: Yes. You know a lot of people ask me that. I don't think it has anything to do with it. Our price point is completely different. I was raised on you know the menu that I bring. And I wanted to bring that, my home, my upbringing to this menu. And this is a platform -- a platform actually that is going to -- that it's going to be here to stay and I'm going to be able to bring new ingredients. I mean for the first time this company is able to bring eight ingredients completely different.

BROWNSTEIN: But it's basically to offer a healthier alternative?

GARCIA: You know for -- I don't cook healthy because if you want to lose weight go near my food you can have the fresco menu.


GARCIA: But in particular, on this I'm very responsible when I cook. So if I have to bring --

BROWNSTEIN: What's responsible means?

GARCIA: The responsible brings -- means that if -- if I want to bring crunchiness to my menu and instead of putting a tortilla that will cost 1,000 calories that is fried, let me put there Romania lettuce that will bring you that crunch. So I'm thinking about the combinations that I'm doing. And what I'm putting now there, I'm thinking about calories, I'm thinking about flavors, I'm thinking about a right combinations and that's why I think it's so different.

O'BRIEN: God you make me so hungry. We bought this yesterday, so it's all like ice cold and we can't even dig into it.

GARCIA: But you know for me is that I'm able to be on Top Chef Masters, I'm able to open my own restaurant and I'm also able to bring a great menu to a fast food chain and that's the opportunity that I'm talking about.

O'BRIEN: So when are you going to release and we'll have you back when you have a chance to --

GARCIA: I'm bringing the cantina with menu to everybody in July before it comes out.

O'BRIEN: I know, this is nice. (inaudible) Lorena, nice to see you as always.

GARCIA: Thank you my love.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate you. You bet.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT.

Comforting our heroes, how specially trained dogs are helping the U.S. troops ease their transitions back home.

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


COSTELLO: All right, Foo Fighters. I like that, "My Hero".


O'BRIEN: You can see our entire playlist every morning on our Web site which is You can follow me on Twitter, at @Soledad_OBrien. I need happy like joyful tweeting people as opposed to some of the people I have that are very angry and negative.

So please if you're happy, feel free to tweet me. If you're not, please don't.

Let's talk about American veterans. A lot of U.S. veterans have a hard time returning to civilian life when they get back home. And today's CNN Hero is enlisting man's best friend to help fellow veterans with that transition. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I got back from Iraq, I stood away from large crowds, malls, movies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't leave the house. I just didn't want to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stayed inside. Windows are blacked out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was really numb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't feel like I had had a purpose anymore. Nightmares. Constantly. Flashbacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything to me is still a combat zone.

MARY CORTANI, CNN HERO OF THE WEEK: Veterans with invisible wounds, we can't see a wheelchair, a prosthetic leg, they appear like you and I. But their suffering goes so deep it touches the soul.

I learned how to train dogs while I served in the Army. I knew that a dog can add a lot in your life. I realized that this is what I was supposed to do. My name is Mary Cortani. I match veterans with service dogs and train them as a team so that they can navigate life together.

And when a veteran trains their own service dog, they have a mission and purpose again. Talk to them. Tell them they did good.

Dogs come from shelters, rescue groups. They are taught to create a spatial barrier and can alert them when they start to get anxious.

Are you ok? Are you getting overwhelmed? Focus on Maggie. The dog is capable of keeping them grounded. You're focusing on him and he's focusing on everything around you. You start to see them get their confidence back. Communicate differently. They venture out and they're beginning to participate in life again. Being able to help them find that joy back in their life is priceless.


COSTELLO: That's amazing.

All right. We're going to take a break. "End Point" is up next. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody.

This just into CNN, President Obama is going to be speaking at 10:15 a.m. that's Eastern time. It's going to be a presidential statement on the economy. You want to stay here for complete live coverage of the President's remarks.

We've got a little bit of time for "End Point". What do you think? Margaret, want to start?

HOOVER: I'm looking forward to trying Mr. Garcia's new menu at Taco Bell.

O'BRIEN: You liked it?

HOOVER: We were talking about. Ron is a chipotle guy, he likes it. I actually haven't eaten at Taco Bell for years. I love chipotle. And if this is going to be my option to have a healthy option at Taco Bell, every time I'm on the road, I pass a Taco Bell on the road and I'm going to pull in and try it.

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": My end point at "National Journal" we're releasing today our quarterly (inaudible) on our poll on a subject we discussed many times on this show, how people are using the new social media and communications technology. The one sentence answer from the poll -- people feel it's giving them more tools as individuals but they're not really sure that the big institutions, government and business and their lives are listening as they have more ways to be heard.

O'BRIEN: Right. Lots more talking but is anybody actually doing the real listening.


CAIN: My short "End Point" revisits our segment with Candy Crowley. Isn't it funny how evolution process (ph). We talked about Bill Clinton today and regardless of your ideology, when you talk about Bill Clinton, you smile.

O'BRIEN: Maybe not if you were hoping that he would stay on message.

Ok. I have to make a correction. I said Dexies (ph) midnight runners. I said "riders"; it's "runners".

But I said "riders" so my apologies.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. Hey Carol, good morning.