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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Obama Bus Tour Ready To Roll; A Tax Or A Penalty?; Boat Capsizes On Long Island Sound; Zimmerman Bond Decision Day; A "Profoundly Man Made Disaster"; Mexico Election Recount Underway; Foreclosure Rate Falling; Lifeguard Fired For Rescuing Drowning Man; Fireworks Fail; Chestnut Wins 6th Nathan's Title; Brooklyn Weiner War Waged; Mass Feedings Planned In West Virginia; A Tax or a Penalty?; Obama Bus Tour Ready to Roll; Storms Spark Food Crisis; Fatal Air France Flight Final Report

Aired July 5, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: President Obama hits the road today, swing states on his mind so the question is where is he going and who is footing the bill?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Is it a tax? Is it a mandate? Really? Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talking about words, and it matters, folks.

BALDWIN: And just quite possibly my favorite story of the day, fireworks fail, how an entire celebration went up in 17 seconds.

BANFIELD: Wow. Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. It's nice to have you with us. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Look who's in the house.

BALDWIN: Hi. Good morning. Good to be with you, Ms. Banfield. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Zoraida is off today. It is bright and early 6:00 for you on the east coast.

Let's talk about the president here. The Obama bus tour wrapped up and ready to roll this morning headed for the (inaudible). The White House is branding the president's two-day trip as the betting on America tour.

Kicks off with four campaign stops in Ohio today then it's onto Pennsylvania for an appearance in the steel city tomorrow and Brianna Keilar, our White House correspondent is live for us in Washington this morning.

We know the president, he is going to be highlighting the contrasts, you know, between himself and Mitt Romney. So what is the plan of attack here?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is sort of positioning himself, Brooke, as this guy who has bet on America, right. He will be touting the auto bailout. That's a really big deal in Ohio. Because you may think of Detroit, Michigan, when you're talking about cars, but Ohio is huge when you're talking about auto suppliers.

So his backing that auto bailout plays pretty well there and Romney's position on it, which was to not back it doesn't play as well. So they'll be emphasizing that and the stimulus.

And then trying to draw this contrast painting Mitt Romney not as really anything new really as a Wall Street guy who put profits ahead of middle class jobs, and yes, that means some Bain Capital attacks.

And the reason, Brooke, that they're doing that is because some recent polls show that it may be sinking in even though last month some Democratic allies of the president kind poked holes in his argument there.

BALDWIN: Well, Republicans hot on his trail and we know two prominent Republicans, potentially as you pointed out, you know, possible VP candidates, talk to me about who is going where and bracketing.

KEILAR: That's right. Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal because you can't let the other guy have all the attention, right. I mean, that's really the plan here when you're talking about bracketing.

The Obama campaign is sort of sending these guys some key surrogates along to really some areas very close to where the president will be so they can take Romney's message on the road and this isn't the first time we have seen this.

The Obama campaign did this to Romney last month when he went on a similar bus tour. So I think we'll be seeing a lot of this bracketing and this jockeying for attention.

BALDWIN: The beastly bus.

KEILAR: The beastly bus.

BALDWIN: As you call it, Brianna Keilar.

KEILAR: Brianna, thank you for us in Washington.

BANFIELD: It is a really cool bus, I have to say, awesome, awesome bus. It's 3 minutes now past 6:00. Here is a question for you, tax or not a tax? Ponder for a moment.

Mitt Romney and his senior advisers seem to be having trouble getting on message when it comes to the president's health care law and whether it is or isn't a tax.

That was at least until yesterday anyway. Listen to top Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom earlier this week describing his candidate's opinion of the Supreme Court ruling that the individual mandate penalty is a tax. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY ADVISOR: The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: OK, so he said it was a penalty in Massachusetts. But here is the weird thing. He believes that fining people for not having health insurance in the president's health care law is a penalty, but that was Monday. How about yesterday? Behold, a candidate changing gears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Supreme Court has the final word, right, the highest court in the land, and they said it was a tax, didn't they? It is a tax, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Man, now what am I supposed to think? So the penalty under the individual mandate is now officially a tax according to Romney. That is the new position.

He is using it to his advantage now. Make no mistakes, blasting the president for breaking a promise not to raise taxes on the middle class.

BALDWIN: A tragic Fourth of July evening on Long Island sound in New York. Two people are dead after this boat carrying about 27 people capsized.

Coast Guard officials, they say 25 passengers were rescued by midnight and one of them we're told is still in critical condition this morning and witnesses tell us none of the passengers was wearing life vests.

BANFIELD: George Zimmerman may find out later today whether or not he is going to get out of jail as he awaits his trial. A judge in Sanford, Florida is going to rule on whether the neighborhood watch volunteer can post bond and get out. Zimmerman is facing second degree murder charges in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.

A profoundly manmade disaster. That's the finding of a Japanese parliamentary panel investigating the crisis at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima.

The report says tsunami-induced disaster, quote, "could and should have be foreseen and prevented," end quote. And the effects could have been, quote, "mitigated by a more effective human response," end quote.

BALDWIN: Mexico has begun recounting ballots in its disputed presidential election. Early polls have indicated that Enrique Pena Nieto had received the most votes, but Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has refused to concede accusing his opponent's party of corruption. A recount is expected to be finished by Sunday.

BANFIELD: Some promising news on the housing front this morning. The foreclosure rate is falling. In fact, fewer mortgages were delinquent in the first quarter of this year than any time in the last four years.

According to the Treasury's Department Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the number of new foreclosures is down 8 percent from this time last year. Seriously delinquent mortgages are down 6.4 percent from a year ago.

BALDWIN: And how about this one. You can't make this up. The South Florida lifeguard fired for helping rescue a man who was drowning.

The 21-year-old Tomas Lopez rushed from his lifeguard post Monday afternoon when he realized a swimmer was out there struggling in the water.

This is outside his lifeguard's assigned zone on this unprotected part of the beach. So after he helps out with the rescue he got immediately fired. Why? He left his post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOMAS LOPEZ, FIRED LIFEGUARD: I am not going to put my job over going to help someone. I am going to do what I thought was right, and I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Several other lifeguards at the beach have quit to protest Lopez's firing. Lopez, by the way, is going to join Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" tonight at 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

BANFIELD: So the Fourth of July ended with a big bang in the big apple. Have a peek.

That is the rocket's red glare. Thousands lining up on Manhattan's west side watching the Annual Macy's Fourth of July spectacular, about 40,000 fireworks lighting up the Hudson River and it was awesome.

BALDWIN: So that was awesome. That was in New York. But how about this one for a fireworks fail, an entire Fourth of July fireworks exploding all at one time?

This was San Diego, the big bay boom went bust. It lasted less than 30 seconds. Here is the deal. All the fireworks that were part of the show supposed to last 17 minutes, beautiful display for the San Diego Fourth of July, not so much because they all went off at once.

BANFIELD: Man.

BALDWIN: And as a result it was early so the thousands of people traffic hanging out with family and their kids were told sorry show is over. Go home. Event producers are now investigating the glitch.

BANFIELD: Do you think some people actually thought, man, they're really going all out this year.

BALDWIN: Right. This is the beginning? I can't wait to see the finale. Stay classy, San Diego.

BANFIELD: Some people may not know there was a problem. They may have thought it was really good and really short. Did you hear the rumble reverberating across the country?

This is one of those stories you love to hate. He is retaining the mustard belt this morning winning the sixth straight Nathan's hot dog eating contest downing 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes flat.

That tied his world record so the even bigger story may not Black Widow Sonia Thomas winning the women's contest and bouncing through it.

BALDWIN: She is bouncing. She is a bouncer.

BANFIELD: She wiggles, too. I think that's part of the strategy.

BALDWIN: Bounces and wiggles. Now you know the secret.

BANFIELD: And being 100 pounds. She apparently can break her own record here. It was 45 dogs. She did break her own record. Way to go.

In a contest across town the first crypt hot dog classic, it is the first ever and took place just about 10 miles away and you will recognize this person because he used to be in the Nathan's contest.

But he is in a contract dispute with the main competitive eating body. I know, the drama, the drama of it all. He actually got 68.5 hot dogs down. So that's winning by a half.

BALDWIN: Look at him. He is kind of proud.

BANFIELD: And he doesn't even have a protruding belly after all of that. So here's the deal. You go through this, eat 68 and a half hot dogs, win by a half a hot dog and it is not recognized by the powers that be, so he will just have to sort of have his own bragging rights from the guy in the yellow jacket.

BALDWIN: Don't you just want to relish in the win?

BANFIELD: You're fishing for a Bloomberg. You're fishing for a who writes this? BALDWIN: Bleep, bleep, bleep. Smaller than the iPad, this is something that Ashleigh really wants. Smaller than the iPad, it is actually larger than the iPhone. Could a new cheaper iPad be on the way? Those details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: For so many Americans last night was, it was hot, it was sticky, and again no relief for these people, about 700,000 fellow Americans still with no power across 12 states and the nation's capital this morning.

This is going on six days now since the terrible storms fuelled by extreme heat took down trees, knocked down power lines, too. This is what Washington's massive power outage looks like. Look at this picture. Isn't that a great shot?

BALDWIN: You're right. It does looks like stars until you realize it is blackouts in part of the country and lights in the other.

BANFIELD: The other angle. This is the before and after taken by a NASA satellite, extensive power outages in Washington and Baltimore can be seen from space.

In West Virginia, the heat and power outages have led to a food crisis. Store shelves, look at this, they have had to clear them out because food is spoiling and the freezers are empty and same in people's homes as well.

So the Red Cross is having to step in and they expect they're going to have to provide 25,000 meals to people in West Virginia today. And the sad story also, 22 people have now died in the storms and the dangerous heat as well.

BALDWIN: So you have this dire need for food, issues with heat, power, and then you have the wildfires in Colorado and parts of the western states.

Rob Marciano was just out there, back at CNN World Headquarters and at least some good news, they're, what, 90 percent contained, improvement?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's 90 percent contained and big improvements there and humidity levels are rising. So that fire pretty much is contained. Obviously, the recover effort is going to take years.

Moisture is increasing from Salt Lake City to Denver. So, we'll see some thunderstorms pop up here and there. Hopefully, though, we'll have rain for them to moisten up some of that soil moisture.

Detroit to Cleveland, we've got a little thunderstorm complex here from Cleveland back to Sandusky and to Toledo. Thunderstorm warning in the next 20 to 30 minutes, you're about to get hit some gusty winds in some potentially some hail, certainly some thunder and lightning.

Here is a swath of potentially severe weather today, Rapids City, back through Cincinnati. Everything south of that is where we're going to have the continued heat. Heat advisories and heat warnings -- Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, as far north as Minneapolis and back through Philadelphia and the mid-Atlantic. So, these areas continue to bake and these are a handful of record high temperatures yesterday.

One hundred five in St. Louis, 103 in Evansville, Milwaukee, 102, and Chicago, 102 -- this is the second time this year they have hit 100 degrees plus. The last time they even touched 100 before this year was back in 2005. Right now, it's 81 Chicago. So, we're getting a head start. How about a running start?

In St. Louis, currently 36 degrees in St. Louis, 75 degrees in Paducah (VIDEO GAP) 97 degrees in Atlanta and, of course, people that don't have power, this is just excruciating stuff.

We will see some relief, Brooke, but not until Sunday or Monday.

BALDWIN: So, where is the cool spot, Rob? Where do I want to be today, Seattle?

MARCIANO: Alaska, Canada. Seattle is always a good bet. While everybody else cools down come next week, Seattle and Portland and the Northwest will actually heat up. So, they'll get a taste of it, too.

BALDWIN: All right. Rob, thank you.

BANFIELD: He says Canada. But you know what? If you look at the temperatures up in northern Minnesota --

BALDWIN: It's warm.

BANFIELD: Yes, it is hundred, too. I have had a couple of those days in my homeland.

BALDWIN: Not a lot of A.C. So, they're definitely not used to this.

BANFIELD: You got that right. Temperatures, you bet summer is like that.

It is now 16 minutes past 6:00 a.m. on the East Coast. And let's get you up-to-date on the some of the top stories of the Obama.

President Obama, rolling out, getting ready to embark on a two- day

(VIDEO GAP)

BALDWIN: -- Supreme Court and contradicting his top aid who said earlier this week Romney believes that the fine is a penalty and not a tax. Now, that he is officially calling it a tax, Romney is hammering the president for raising taxes on the middle class.

BANFIELD: And if it's too early to digest all of that, we've got more coming your way in a bit.

Seventeen minutes now past 6:00. Take a look at your screen. This is Iran. This is Iran testing and firing off missiles and making threats during its war games.

That country is saying through the official news agency that it can destroy U.S. military bases overseas in the region and target Israel within minutes of an attack. A revolutionary guard commander is saying that 35 overseas U.S. bases were within reach of Iran's ballistic missiles. He is also claiming they can hit the targets about 1,300 miles away.

BALDWIN: A gruesome discovery in a park in Montreal, Canada. A severed head of a missing student found Sunday. Police believe Jun Lin was killed and dismembered in May with video of the murder and depraved acts afterward were posted online. Investigators say the suspect Luca Magnotta mailed Lin's body parts to Canadian politicians and two schools.

BANFIELD: On a lighter note, this one so big it was too heavy for the scale. Fishermen off the coast of Marina del Ray, California, reeled in a massive mako shark. Holy molly. Topping 750 pounds, because that's what the scale went to.

The general manager of the dock says he thinks it actually weighed closer to 900 pounds. It took at least six men to drag that monster mako shark up onto the dock. Wow.

BALDWIN: Yikes.

There she goes. A lesson in gravity at the University of Alabama. What goes up eventually comes down. Let's watch again just because we can.

This is Rose Tower dormitory building imploded early Wednesday morning. All of these explosives placed strategically in the building and brought this 43-year-old structure down in a matter of seconds. A different kind of Fourth of July there.

The tower was demolished to make way for a brand new dome.

BANFIELD: Isn't that we call blowing up real good?

BALDWIN: Boom.

BANFIELD: Blows up real good.

There is nothing like a good implosion, I swear.

BALDWIN: And we loop it over and over.

BANFIELD: Such a red neck when it comes to blowing things up real good.

One of these premiere music festivals celebrating black music and culture kicking off in New Orleans. The first day of the four-day long Essence Fest featuring on Sunday singer Aretha Franklin is going to be crowned the Essence power award. Our own Soledad O'Brien is going to join the party tomorrow. She's hosting start 'STARTING POINT" live from New Orleans.

BALDWIN: So fun.

BANFIELD: Seven a.m., it gets under way.

BALDWIN: So fun. Watch "STARTING POINT." Definitely.

Hey, techies, everywhere. They're hyperventilating this morning. Could it be a mini iPad? Apple lovers wide-eyed over reports that say the tech giant is preparing to unveil the mini tablet by November. It will be smaller than the iPad, larger than the iPhone and right around 8 inches.

"The Wall Street Journal" reports component suppliers in Asia have been ordered by Apple to gear up for mass production.

The president as we mentioned hopping on the bus -- the beastly bus, as Brianna calls it covering the White House. He is heading to the Midwest. Why he's heading to Ohio, you can figure this out -- the economy. Talking about the economy.

BANFIELD: And for an expanded look at all of our top stories, as well, head to our blog CNN.com/EarlyStart. Lots of stuff there for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We are minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures trading flat this morning after being closed of course for the holiday just yesterday.

BANFIELD: Focus on Europe. Big shock. Focus on Europe this morning.

We're waiting for the interest rate decision from the central bank in the U.K. and from the European central bank as well.

Poppy Harlow, who watches all of these things even in her sleep --

BALDWIN: All the time, all the time working --

BANFIELD: They're like machines these business correspondents.

Let's talk economy and bring it down to a state level and tie it into the campaign for us.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. We'll talk about Ohio where the president is today in a moment. But let's talk broader picture.

An interesting new poll out from CNN/ORC. We ask people how important employment is to their vote. And take a look -- pretty clear here, 43 percent say extremely important, 42 very important, 11 percent moderately, 3 percent not important. I don't know what that 3 percent is. But we have about a 3.5 percent margin of error there.

So, it's critical. The job reports tomorrow morning, as you guys know -- CNN Money surveyed some analysts what overall they're expecting is about 80,000 jobs added in the month of June.

You might think that sounds good. That's not good. That's not nearly enough. We need about 300,000 to 400,000 added every month consistently to see unemployment come down.

So, as you guys know, the president going to Ohio. You've been talking about all this morning --

BALDWIN: Battleground, so he's pivoting, talking economy. What is the unemployment rate in Ohio?

HARLOW: Seven-point-three percent.

BALDWIN: Better than the national average.

HARLOW: Much better than the national average. He's got a very good story to tell there along the Rust Belt. And as you know, we were on the road in the past few weeks in the Rust Belt. You know, unemployment in Ohio has fallen from over 10 percent in 2010 to 7.3 percent now. It is the second biggest decline in unemployment out of all 50 states. Michigan has had the biggest decline and Ohio has had the second biggest decline in unemployment.

You're going to hear the president say that I am sure. But it's critical because no president has won the election without winning Ohio since 1964. So, 12 elections in a row.

We look specifically at auto jobs. So, take a look at these numbers because Brianna brought up the importance of auto jobs in Ohio.

But what we found out is that overall if you look from '07 to today, Ohio actually has 30,000 fewer auto jobs than they did five years ago. G.M., less than 10 years ago, the biggest employer there and now it's the 25th biggest employer. Wal-Mart is the biggest employer.

So, I think that's interesting to keep in perspective when we listen to the president on auto jobs.

And as we do every morning here, the one thing you need to know about your money, we talk about this in the 5:00 a.m. hour. If you're thinking about buying a home or renting a home, think about this. Rents are rising, up 5.5 percent on average in the past year. Home prices are rising as well.

We're seeing -- home prices are falling I should say about 3 percent as rents are rising. So we're seeing these record low mortgage rates. And if you can get the mortgage, now is the time to think about buying a home.

I just think it's important as people keep saying, I don't know if I should have a home or hold onto it. If it is right for you, now is a very, very, very good time. Rent is up 5.5 percent on average in the last year.

BANFIELD: And it's also a really good time to get a re-fi.

HARLOW: If you qualify.

BANFIELD: All right. Poppy, thank you.

BALDWIN: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Sure.

BANFIELD: So, is it a tax? Is it a penalty? A bit of a flip- flop from the presidential candidate Mitt Romney on health care. But will it do him well to have done that flip-flop. You'll find out in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Mitt Romney and his campaign offering up different takes on health care, what it means to you. The presidential candidate saying one thing, his adviser saying something else. We're going to sort it all out for you.

BALDWIN: Also today, campaign on wheels. President Obama rolling out his bus, trying to woo voters in two crucial swing states.

BANFIELD: And al Qaeda on the move. The terrorist group yet again reported to be inside Syria.

BALDWIN: Hey, welcome back to "EARLY START." I am sitting in for Zoraida very early here on this Thursday. Hope you enjoyed the fireworks if you stayed up late --

BANFIELD: Or heard them.

BALDWIN: OR heard them.

BANFIELD: The news from A to B, Brooke Baldwin sitting in today.

It's good to have you here.

BALDWIN: Good to be here.

BANFIELD: Fun. You're hilarious, too.

BALDWIN: I try.

BANFIELD: It's 31 minutes now past 6:00.

Let's start with this, shall we? It took a while, it did, but Mitt Romney has finally settled the tax, not penalty. Romney and his tax advisor didn't seem to be able to agree as to whether the fine for not buying the health insurance under that brand new law, under the individual mandate is a tax or instead is a penalty?

Here is the top aide Eric Fehrnstrom from a little early on this week describing Mitt Romney's opinion of the Supreme Court ruling that the individual mandate is a tax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ROMNEY ADVISOR: The governor believes what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty, and he disagrees with the court's ruling that the mandate was a tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Yes. Well, that was Monday. Yesterday candidate, huh-uh, changed gears almost completely. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Supreme Court has the final word, right? Isn't it the highest court in the land? They said it was tax, didn't they? So it's a tax, of course. That's what they say it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So, it's a tax. Of course. Of course.

Well, not of course. It is hard when your aide is saying something completely different. He is not wrong. He is not wrong about these folks -- not in any way.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote about this punishment, this fine you have to pay if you don't buy insurance, a tax on going without health insurance. A tax.

CNN's political editor Paul Steinhauser is live now from Washington, D.C.

Look, we all get it. The language in the opinion says tax. The politics of it has been a problem for Mitt Romney because the rest of the Republican Party has been thrilled to call it a tax, and some people saying it's the biggest tax increase in the world.

That's not true, that part. But does this create a problem for Mitt Romney to get himself in line with the rest of the Republicans ironically?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: And that's what this statement does and he told that to our Dana Bash up there in New Hampshire and similar comments in an interview with CBS. Yes, it puts him on the same page. He puts him in line with other Republicans as you said have been going after the president and criticizing him since Thursday's ruling by the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act, saying that the president when he was pushing for health care reform promise not to raise taxes on the middle class and, well, hey, it's a tax.

So, it does get him in line and also in line with Republican voters -- and look at our CNN/ORC national poll, Ashleigh, we conducted this after the health care ruling. Take a look this: 83 percent of Republicans say, you know what, yes, we agree. The individual mandate is a tax. And six in 10 independents feel the same way -- independents, of course, very crucial when it comes to who is going to win in November in the presidential election.

You know, the Romney campaign says this is not a change, basically Romney was saying the same thing with Fehrnstrom, that adviser, the sound you played, was playing on Monday. But a lot of people are talking about this, Ashleigh. A lot of people.

BANFIELD: OK. So, let's move onto the explanation portion of the show. That will be if you're going to -- if you are going -- Mitt Romney, if you are going to call this, this punishment, I like to call it a punishment so it isn't complicated.

For those who decide not to do what the law tells them to do, and that is go get your insurance, they're going to face a punishment in the way of a tax. How does Mitt Romney square this with the old Massachusetts law in which there was a punishment for not getting your insurance that was a tax. How does he say it wasn't a tax now?

STEINHAUSER: Aha, and that Massachusetts law was signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney back in 2006. And he's come under a lot of criticism back to the Republican primaries and from his opponents over this, saying it was taint him as a candidate going up against the president, especially by Rick Santorum.

Here is how he explains it in an interview with CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The chief justice said that states have what's known as police power and states can implement penalties and mandates and so forth under their constitution which is what Massachusetts did. But the federal government doesn't have those federal powers and therefore for the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion it did, that the law was constitutional, they had to find it was a tax and they did.

And therefore, Obamacare is a tax. Like it or not, it's a tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: President Obama's campaign was quick to react as you can imagine. Here is David Axelrod, senior advisor, in a tweet talking about Mitt Romney says, "If he were in the White House, parsley would be the official vegetable, twister the national past time."

I think we're going to hear a little bit more about this, Ashleigh, don't you?

BANFIELD: Yes, he's going to be campaigning and explainin' -- he's going to have to do lots of explainin'.

Paul Steinhauser, nice to see you. Thank you, sir.

STEINHAUSER: Thanks.

BALDWIN: All right. New this morning here, Iraq now says al Qaeda jihadists are crossing into Syria. The "Reuters" quoting the Iraqi foreign minister who says he has solid information that al Qaeda terrorists are crossing the border to carry out attacks and the situation there spirals 16 months into this chaos.

BANFIELD: Hot, thirsty, hungry and powerless -- and virtually powerless and figuratively powerless. About 700,000 people still don't have power -- the electrical kind -- across a dozen states. And the nation's capital this morning, they don't seem to have a lot of power to fix the problem either.

This is all six days and counting now since the storms fueled by extreme heat zapped down the trees and knocked down the power lines and left them in the dark and the hot temperatures, too.

In West Virginia a foot crisis from the heat, too. The stores without nice refrigerators and coolers having to get rid of all of the food that was spoiling and now the red cross is having to pick up where those stores would have left off, providing about 25,000 meals today to people in West Virginia.

And the sad story again, the death toll climbing, 22 people now dying in the storms in the dangerous heat. The brutal heat and a blanket of humidity still a major worry across the Plains and the East as well today. Heat advisories in place for 23 states and D.C. - the daytime temperatures going up, up and up into the 90s, and in the lower 100s this afternoon. And then when you talk heat index, those values are expected to range between 100 and 110 degrees.

So, it is not good out there, folks. Be careful. Lots of water and find yourself a fan. Hopefully you have power.

Some progress being made in the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs now 90 percent contained. Thank God.

The fire has scorched more than 18,000 acres. It destroyed nearly 350 homes. Fire fighting season is far from over. There are still about 45 large fires burning right across the U.S.

BALDWIN: And how about this? Three American families are trying to raise money for veterans groups by calling on more affluent families whose children are not in the military to help those who do serve.

The couples donated more than $1 million themselves trying to raise $30 million. They say Americans have a moral obligation to help those who give so, so much for our country.

BANFIELD: So, you know how your favorite story, Brooke, today was --

BALDWIN: The fireworks in 17 seconds?

BANFIELD: The fireworks went off all at once.

My favorite story of the day is this one -- it's a ship that's going to be anchored off the coast of the United States.

BALDWIN: Just want massage. It must real.

BANFIELD: Take a peek. Talk about mixing business and pleasure. A new company called Blue Seed planning to anchor a cruise ship 12 nautical miles from Silicon Valley, 12 nautical miles key in this story -- because it puts them in international waters and they can convert this thing to a floating metropolis of floating offices.

Are you following here? Foreign workers can now get on board. Don't worry about homeland security. They can be there legally and bring their ideas, too.

It is nice for them. They can launch companies without work visas.

Companies saying that U.S. immigration laws are just too tough on shore, stifling ideas, too. Now, how about the workspace? Have you ever been in an office like this where you have pools and massage areas and climbing walls and Julie McCoy and Gopher? You get the picture.

Nice work if you can find it.

BALDWIN: You would like to be floating right now. Is this what you're telling me?

BANFIELD: I'd like to see Isaac at my office every day.

OK. I am so showing I am way old. Do you even know these references, Isaac, the bartender?

BALDWIN: Isaac the bartender.

BANFIELD: No, she watched Nickelodeon. She watched Nick at night.

BALDWIN: We'll be talking at commercial break.

Let's talk about the president, Ms. Banfield, taking his campaign on the road, rolling out his bus, and swaying voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania the next couple of days. Isaac?

BANFIELD: Isaac.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: They are topping off the tank and checking the tires. President Obama ready to hit the road on his two-day -- they're calling it the "Betting on America" bus tour, through America's Rust Belt. We're talking four cities in Ohio specifically -- you see the map there -- and then headed to Pennsylvania and stopping through Pittsburgh, two states, two key battleground states where the president leads in the polls and his message certainly seems to resonate.

Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is in Washington, covering this, and talking about strategy here.

How is he drawing the line between himself and Mitt Romney?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, he is trying to say to Americans, to Ohioans and those in Pennsylvania that his economic policies paid off. That's why they're calling this the "Betting on America" tour.

So, he'll be talking about the auto bailout, big deal in Ohio where there are a lot of auto suppliers and the stimulus. He will be trying to draw a contrast. The point he'll be making is trying to paint Mitt Romney as this calculating business guy at Bain Capital. He has more tax there, and who put profits ahead of jobs. That will be what the president is trying to push.

You might say, why is he doing this? Because last month a lot of Democrats kind of parted ways with him on whether this was a good strategy and there may be some signs it is sinking in when you look at some of the poll numbers. A Quinnipiac poll, a recent poll, especially looking at Ohio, likely voters saying 47 percent for Obama, 38 percent for Romney looking at the pick for president and then if you look at Pennsylvania, it's 45 Obama to 39 percent Romney.

So, the campaign is confident that this may be working.

BALDWIN: They're confident. But you have Republicans, they say, hey, not too fast, Mr. President. They have a couple of prominent Republicans headed to those states as well a little later in the week, basically with their own message, correct?

KEILAR: That's right. Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty potentially, you know, being vetted here for the vice presidential spot next to Mitt Romney. They are going to be heading in the Romney bus to certain areas near where the president is going.

And this is pretty basic, the strategy here. It's called bracketing. Remember that word, because we'll be hearing a lot about that. They're trying to steal some of the limelight.

The president, obviously, will get a lot of attention with this bus tour. Well, they don't want him to get all of the attention so they're trying to compete with him, and we saw the Obama campaign do the same thing last month when Mitt Romney had his bus tour -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Brianna Keilar, thank you.

KEILAR: You bet.

BANFIELD: It is now 45 minutes past 6:00 on the east coast. Soledad O'Brien back from a couple days off.

(CROSSTALK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": It's happy to be off the beach and back.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Happy to be off the beach and back at work?

O'BRIEN: I'm completely sarcastic, yes. Ahead this morning on "STARTING POINT," some fireworks, as you guys have been talking about on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney is now saying the healthcare mandate is a tax, it's not a penalty. That kind of breaks one of his top aides. We're going to talk about what's happening inside the campaign getting some criticism this morning.

Plus, does the healthcare ruling open the floodgates for all kinds of new taxes? Jack Abramoff (ph) is a lobbyist for decades. He even spent some time behind bars for some of his sketchy deals. He says yes. He's going to join us this morning to explain.

And a sexist boys club early Facebook employee, Katherine Losty (ph), tells all, what life is really like inside those Facebook offices.

And you may not know her name yet, but soon you will, Lia Neal, she's aiming for Olympic gold, a 17-year-old swimmer, only the second African-American woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team. We're going to talk to her live this morning as well. That and much, much more as "Starting Point" kicks off in just about 15 minutes.

BALDWIN: Good for her.

O'BRIEN: Full menu. Busy. Yes. Yes. Exciting, right?

BALDWIN: GOOD for her. Good for her.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Soledad.

BALDWIN: Oh, boy, here I go.

BANFIELD: The pun, you got to do it. You have to.

BALDWIN: Panda-monium. Pandamonium (ph), get it? OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Anyone did. Here you go. Why a 108 people dressed up like pandas in Trafalgar Square. We'll explain.

BANFIELD: You know, we give all --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Thanks, guys. Thanks.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: And good morning. Welcome back. Hope you had a great Fourth of July. It is ten till the top of the hour. Let's get you up to date on this Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN (voice-over): President Obama is hopping on a bus and heading for the rust belt today. It's his two-day bus tour they're calling betting on America. And it's the tour that's going to take him to four different cities in Ohio, then he swinging over to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And the president, keep in my, is ahead in the polls in both of shows states and doing a lot of talking about his economic plans being the best ones for the middle class.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And speaking of Americans, about 700,000 Americans waking up this morning without power again, having to throw out the spoiled food from their freezers, and the stores are doing it, too, empty shelves in a lot of stores.

A lot of people in West Virginia going days without food, and the water supplies are short, too, after those freak storms tore through the region last week. Now, the Red Cross is stepping in and having to provide 25,000 meals to people in that state today.

BALDWIN: Developing this hour, the whistle blowing Web site, WikiLeaks, says it has begun releasing nearly 2.5 million e-mails from Syrian politicians, Syrian businesses that go all the way back to six years. They're being described as embarrassing to Syria as well as some of its opponents.

The Web site says these files, quote, "shine a light on the inner workings of the Syrian government and economy," but they also reveal how the west and western firms say one thing and do another.

BANFIELD: The final report on the crash of Air Trans flight 447 is expected to show that a combination of instrument failure and pilot error caused the crash that killed 228 passengers and crew. The Airbus A-330 jet went down during turbulent weather in 2009 en route to Rio de Janeiro. It took investigators two years to find the voice and flight data recorder deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

BALDWIN: More than half of the ballot boxes from last weekend's presidential election in Mexico, they are now being recounted. The political parties will be supervising, reviewing, and watching over this recount.

So, the first official results from Sunday's vote, they show that Enrique Pena Nieto had won the presidency, but, his challenger, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, says he has evidence of irregularities of those (ph) in the polling stations.

BANFIELD: All right. Here she is, one of the most wanted underworld figures in Mexico, arrested in L.A. She is 27-year-old La Bonita. That's what she's known of, believed to be the top operative in the L.A. familia drug cartel working out of the U.S. Officials from the U.S. immigration service turned her in.

Mexico put a $375,000 reward on her. She's accused of cocaine and marijuana trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, as well. But now, she is in the hands of the law.

BALDWIN: She's caught (ph).

BANFIELD: Yes.

BALDWIN: Katie Holmes, she is denying reports that she filed for an emergency custody and child hearing. Her lawyer spoke to People.com yesterday. You know the deal. She filed for divorce from Tom Cruise last week. The actress has asked for sole legal custody of her six-year-old daughter, Suri.

BANFIELD: And reports that it was going to be a public trial. Can you imagine that?

BALDWIN: No.

BANFIELD: All open. OK. That looks like a guy who is choking, but he's not. He's scarfing. He's the Sultan of Scarf, Joey Chestnut, and he kept the mustard belt.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: He won his sixth Nathan's famous hot dog eating contest on July 4th. USA! USA! Tying his own record with 68 hot dogs and buns because you got to eat the bun, too, folks, 10 minutes. Could you imagine?

BALDWIN: No, thank you.

BANFIELD: Sixty-eight dogs in ten minutes.

BALDWIN: Look, they're wiping his face for him.

BANFIELD: That's hard work.

BALDWIN: Ayayay!

BANFIELD: That is hard work. Competitive eating.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN (on-camera): Oh my -- you know this from experience?

BANFIELD (on-camera): Yes. I have a bit of a problem.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I have to be honest with you. I ain't going to lie.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: For me, though, it's chicken wings.

BALDWIN: I love the chicken wings, but all those hot dogs and buns, not so much.

BANFIELD: I got me a problem with the chicken wings.

BALDWIN: All right. Now, we learned a little something about Ashleigh Banfield this morning. Let's move on, shall we? A homeless veteran to the rescue after a heated argument between these two men. This on the streets of Seattle.

Police say one of the guys pulls out a gun, shoots the other guy, hits his femoral artery, and that is when Staff Sergeant Royal (ph) grabbed his belt and stepped in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just glad I was there to be able to stop the bleeding and put a tourniquet around his leg, elevate his leg, and think that probably saved his life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Royal served in the army for ten years and fought in the first gulf war.

BANFIELD: A hero many times over. Really nice to hear that.

Pandas, look at that, and you are seeing pandas taking over London, 108, that's mascot kind of things.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: All part of the World Panda Awareness Week. What did you get me? It's World Panda Awareness Week. What did you get me?

BALDWIN: World panda awareness week.

BANFIELD: Look at them doing tai chi (ph) in the park, too.

BALDWIN: They are the real guys.

BANFIELD: The panda is in Trafalgar Square. Nothing compare to the real ones. So, look at these guys. It's nothing like those. Listen, there's 108 pandas actually in the breeding center in China, and the researchers are saying that their ultimate goal is to help raise awareness about the endangered animals.

So, that's why these stuffed pandas are imitating the real pandas. Tai chi (ph), Trafalgar Square. Hello.

BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE) London. This is the queen.

BANFIELD: The panda with the royal wave.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Are you thinking about starting your own business? Celebrity chef, Lorena Garcia, is cooking up some advice for you to take you to the next level.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: "Starting Point" less than a minute away. So, we wrap it up as always with "Best Advice."

BALDWIN: And here is Chef Lorena Garcia with some business advice that you can use for just about anything. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORENA GARCIA, CHEF: Without a doubt the best advice that I have ever received is I think that is simplify, focus, and execute. When somebody wants to start a business, the best way of doing it is by simplifying your idea that when you can focus on it and then you can execute it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: That's good.

BALDWIN: Simplify.

BANFIELD: Yes. Best advice I ever got in the kitchen, though, replace butter with pam.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: I'll order out, thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: I'm really good at that.

BANFIELD: That is EARLY START, the news from "A" to "B." I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

BALDWIN: I'm Brooke Baldwin. "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN" begins right now.