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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Car Found Loaded With Guns; Anaheim Mayor Calls For Investigation; Dramatic Rescue in China; U.S. Donates $150 Million To Fight AIDS; Politics Of Gun Control; Fewer Support Controlling Gun Ownership; NYC's Big Soda Ban; Winning Foreign Policy; Colorado Shooting Suspect's Apartment Rigged with Explosives; Penn State Punished by NCAA for Sandusky Scandal

Aired July 24, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Everybody, welcome. Our "Starting Point" this morning are some new details coming to us about what was inside the apartment of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting suspect James Holmes as he awaits formal charges after his pretty bizarre appearance in court yesterday. CNN has new information, a law enforcement official who viewed videotape taken inside the apartment says this -- "mess of wires looked like spaghetti" and it was rigged to, quote, "right," meaning if police hadn't dismantled the explosives the entire floor of the complex could have been consumed by flames before even the first fire truck arrive.

Over the weekend the Aurora police discovered more than 30 improvised explosive devices rigged to a control box surrounded by glass containers of gasoline. Investigators say the gasoline was meant to enhance the effects of the blast.

All of that brings us right to CNN's Jim Spellman in Aurora, Colorado this morning. He's standing right outside the theater. We can see the neon sign behind you, Jim. Let's talk first about this video. I know it's black and white. What more can you tell us?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, police describe this whole apartment as being designed to kill, all rigged up to a trip wire at the front door. It took them almost two days before they could figure out how to dismantle this safely, ultimately using water to render inoperable this control box. Fortunately there wasn't a timer to it because they needed that much time to sort out how to do it. When they were finally able to render all these things safe, they took them to the country and detonated them. The fireball in the middle of the field was huge, devastating to ponder the impact should a first responder or police officer gone through that door.

O'BRIEN: About the investigation, Jim, what's the latest? I thought seeing the suspect in court yesterday and seeing all of his facial -- I guess I would call them ticks or just -- he looked weird and he also was acting very strange.

SPELLMAN: To me, when I was in the courtroom and when I sat there looking at him, to me he looked small and weak and lost. He won't really officially be charged in Monday, we anticipate 70 counts. The defense will get their access to the movie theater and apartment as they start to build their case. An important thing will happen in the case soon will be a competency hearing to see whether the suspect is competent to go ahead with the trial or not.

O'BRIEN: We're watching this case very closely, especially when the charges are put forward. Jim Spellman for us this morning, thank you. We'll have more on this topic with retired FBI agent Ray Lopez in just a moment. First a look at the day's top stories. Christine Romans has that for us. Hey, Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Mounting concern in the U.S. and Israel about chemical weapons possibly entering the fray in Syria. Fierce fighting continuing overnight in city of Aleppo, the Assad regime clinging to power this morning. Here's the development that's getting attention, a spokesman for Syria's foreign ministry publicly threatening to deploy chemical weapons against any foreign intervention. It's a threat Senator John McCain is taking seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: There is a danger of chemical weapons that are presently under Bashar al Assad's control from flowing to Hezbollah, presenting a grave threat to the security of Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Obama warning the Assad regime it would be a tragic mistake to use chemical weapons, promising Syria will be held accountable if it does.

A new era for Penn State's football program after a massive punish from the NCAA over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The NCAA leveled a $60 million fine, imposed a four-year ban on post- season activity and stripped the school of scholarships and football victories for the last 14 seasons. Penn State says it won't fight the stiff sanctions. Just ahead we'll hear from ESPN radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning.

Charges will be brought against several key figures arrested in the "News of the World" phone hacking scandal. Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks will be charged. Coulson was former aid to David Cameron and close confidant of Rupert Murdoch, Brooks the former chief executive of Murdoch's News International. A total of 24 people, including 15 current and formal journalists, have been arrested since the investigation was launched a year and a half ago.

She didn't just break the glass ceiling, she blasted it into space. Sally Ride, the first American woman to orbit the earth died after battling pancreatic cancer. She rode into history on the shuttle Challenger in 1983, made a second trip aboard the same shuttle a year later. President Obama called her a national hero and inspiration to countless women. Sally Ride was 61, and Soledad, I'm sure it was the same for you. You grew up hearing about her and her amazing achievement, really taught girls and women an awful lot about what they can do in science technology. O'BRIEN: Yes. I don't necessarily think her amazement achievement was the first thing, going up in space. It was all of that commitment to try to get young women to follow in her footsteps, she was awesome. We'll miss her.

Back to our top story this morning, new details about all of these explosives that were found inside the apartment of the Aurora shooting suspect. We want to get to Ray Lopez, a retired FBI agent and former team leader of the bureau's hazardous device response unit. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking to us. What we know is that all of these IEDs, I am pro advised explosive devices were rigged to a control box and glass containers because they would accelerate any kind of explosion. Have you ever seen domestically any kind of setup like this?

RAY LOPEZ, RETIRED FBI AGENT: No, Soledad, good morning. This would be one of the first times I think we've ever seen what we can describe as a house bomb in the United States. Some of these things do exist overseas, we've seen them in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Also in Colombia, south America, but this is the first one I can actually recall reading or seeing about in the United States where it was actually set to destroy the home.

O'BRIEN: The source for CNN talking to our reporter Poppy Harlow it looked like massive spaghetti and wires all connected. Would this something incredibly complicated and the suspect would need quite a fair amount of expertise to be able to do this?

LOPEZ: No, you know, the expertise is out there. I think he's -- you look at his pedigree that I was a graduate student working towards his Ph.D. I think he had the education and knowledge, it is on the internet. With a little bit of common sense and he has quite a bit of that. He's very intelligent. He just put it all together and had something ready to go for the apartment.

O'BRIEN: That's awful. Poppy Harlow was talking to a source who said this, "The flame would have consumed the entire third floor of the apartment complex. By the time a fire truck would have arrived to the building, completely consumed in flames." The damage potential seems massive and at the same time, what we know about the suspect he tipped off police when they were able to apprehend him. Those two things seem almost contradictory to me.

LOPEZ: Yes, again, I think eventually we're going to find out through investigation that I think he was leading the police on to try to get to that apartment and either, worst case scenario, kill the police officers going to the apartment and destroy the evidence that existed in the apartment.

O'BRIEN: We were told the way they were able to disable the control box was to do something call water shock. Is that typical to disarm a rigged explosive device? What exactly is water shock?

LOPEZ: It's just driving water using explosives as the medium. You're using water to actually cut through or, if you will, or disrupt the electric circuitry of the explosive IED. O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question about his mental state, because I think that is a big question, everybody seeing him in court yesterday. Would someone be able to compile something so deadly as you point out, being able to be me tick house plotting and planting and does that contradict with a his defense attorneys will say, this is a person who doesn't know the difference between right and wrong, maybe the insanity defense?

LOPEZ: Right. I think if law enforcement perspective, you think you have to let the professionals do their job in mental health to determine the status of this individual, and it's -- I think it's a complicated situation. But I think from the law enforcement point of view, both state, local, and federal, we move ahead and the prosecution phase gathering the evidence, doing the interviews, collecting all of the scientific report and data, and getting ready to go to court as if this guy were competent to stand trial.

Personally I think this took a lot of planning. This was not something that he thought about overnight. The weapons were purchased using his driver's license. He did it as far as we know legally. He got these explosives together and actually studied this. This was not something done haphazardly. We'll leave it to the mental health officials to determine at what point someone is not all there but can actually think through these things. It is quite complicated to put this attack together.

O'BRIEN: I would think the focus would be -- the critical point would be do you know the difference between right and wrong, if you're booby-trapping your apartment, that would sound to me that you might, might be the challenge. That is a question for lawyers and mental health professionals to discuss and maybe not us today. Ray Lopez, nice to see you, thanks for talking with us, we appreciate it.

LOPEZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk about the NCAA. Did they go too far penalizing Penn State football? Mike and Mike join me and whether it will change the culture of the university.

Plus, our "Get Real" this morning, a bid to bedazzle the state capitol. A 22-year-old diva is shaking up an election in Brooklyn. My playlist believes with Marvin Sapp "Rain on Me." What a great way to start, a little gospel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Minding your business this morning, the housing market is bottoming out. A new report from Zillow shows home prices on the rise for the first time in five years. The new median price for a median home, $149,300. But home prices are still down almost 24 percent since April, 2007, when Zillow started tracking these numbers.

Checking the markets right now, U.S. stock futures are trading lower. European and Asian markets are down too. Between the debt crisis in Europe and the debt ceiling debate that will continue here in the U.S., and the fiscal cliff for the U.S. at the end of the year, there is still a lot of uncertainty in the markets.

Living on the edge -- a new study shows 38 percent of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck, up from a decade ago. Less than one third of those surveyed felt comfortable financially, and only about a third think they can afford to retire by age 65. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you.

A new chapter begins for Penn State's football program. Its future is unclear after strict penalties were handed down for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The school was hit with $60 million in fines over five years, a ban from bowl games for four years, a reduction from 25 to 15 scholarships a year for four years, and the team has been stripped of all wins going back to 1998. That means Joe Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in division one college football history. He's now number eight. NCAA president Mark Emmert said the goal is to change the culture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK EMMERT, NCAA PRESIDENT: One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail and indeed too big to even challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The hosts of ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," nice to see you guys. Let's start with reaction -- I've been listening to you all morning.

MIKE GREENBERG, HOST, ESPN'S "MIKE AND MIKE IN THE MORNING": Good morning, Soledad. The reaction is overwhelming. This is a case unlike anything we've ever seen beginning with the horrific charges in Jerry Sand the unique penalties that have come down. Some argue shutting down the program entirely for one year would have been less damaging than this would be.

MIKE GOLIC, HOST, ESPN'S "MIKE AND MIKE IN THE MORNING": Soledad, there are many that think the NCAA really shouldn't have stepped into this situation which was so outside of football even though the head coach through the Freeh report was involved and it was in the football locker rooms as well with things going on. So there's still a big debate about that as well.

O'BRIEN: Wasn't the goal as we heard from the head of the NCAA to change the culture and it's a culture sort of created by a really powerful and successful football program. Rob Kravitz said it's not going to work if that's the goal. "If the NCAA thinks this is going to bring about a giant shift in the cultural paradigm, its head is in the clouds. Nothing is going to change, not as long as college football is a multibillion dollar business." I read that and thought that is so continue cynical. Do you think he's right?

GOLIC: I think he's 100 percent right. GREENBERG: I think he's absolutely right. When Penn State is recruiting players, other coaches are going to be recruiting same players, they are going to say, it's a shame what happened to Penn State, it's horrific what happened, but do you really want to go to that school? You can't play for a conference championship, you can at our school. You can't play in a bowl game, you can at our school. You may want think about coming to our school. Bob Kravitz, unfortunately, I think is correct.

GOLIC: Think of it this way. For getting the amount of money and revenue they make, Penn State, when Joe Paterno got there half a century ago was a small rural institution in the middle of Pennsylvania, no one had ever heard of. It is a world renowned institution and Joe Paterno is the biggest reason for that. How do you put a dollar value on that? As long as that exists, this situation isn't going anywhere.

O'BRIEN: OK, but the reason you were allowed to have an assistant coach who could rape children and have a bunch of people who knew about it and turn their heads is because of this culture. What is the fix? How do you change a culture that says this is an entity so powerful, we don't care who is being hurt, we have to protect at all costs. What's the fix to that?

GOLIC: Look, let's be clear, the Sandusky situation hopefully is one that is completely unto itself. You would like to think that any normal human decent human being would put the welfare of child above even the biggest dollars. You're talking about individuals facing criminal prosecution and deservedly so. But as far as the corruption on a much less evil sense, that this kind of culture can create, I don't think that's going to change at all.

GREENBERG: No, it's just not. Big time programs are going to say that was horrific what happened at Penn State, that's never going to happen again. We're running a fine program even with our football coach having a whole lot of power.

O'BRIEN: Mike and Mike, nice to talk to you guys, love sitting around chatting about sports. Great to see you.

GOLIC: Thanks, Soledad.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Some of the players say they will be staying with the program.

Still ahead this morning, she's adding pizzazz to politics. She's hoping to attract voters with her flashing new website in hot pink. That's our "Get Real" up next. Our STARTING POINT time heading in to talk about that, Ryan Lizza, Margaret Hoover, Will Cain. Nice to see you. STARTING POINT will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. The search for two missing girls in Iowa now focused on a person who may have been paddle-boating on the lake where the girls' bikes were found. Investigators believe 10-year-old Lyric Cook and her eight-year-old cousin Elizabeth Collins are still alive.

Police in Los Angeles investigating some sort of family disturbance at the home of Michael Jackson's mother. Deputies determined there was a physical altercation at the home but no one has been arrested.

And trading one diva for another, Mariah Carey has signed on to replace Jennifer Lopez as an "American Idol" judge. "Us Weekly" reports she'll make $18 million, the highest paid judge on any music competition show. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine. Thank you. Our team this morning, Ryan Lizza is with us, Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker," Margaret Hoover, former White House appointee, Bush administration, and Will Cain is a columnist for TheBlaze.com. Nice to see you guys. Nice to see you live and in person.

Our get real is one of our favorites.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I might love this woman. I love her. She's 22 years old, young woman from Brooklyn is going to take on Albany. Her name is Mindy Meyer, and she's running for a New York state Senate seat as a Republican. This is our website, bringing a little sparkle and I mean that literally to politics, hot pink blast the song "I'm Sexy and I Know It." She declares "I'm senator and I know it."

Her issues declare she's the diva of the district in leopard print and her site says she is the first young woman in the history of New York to run for the New York state Senate which of course is not really true but maybe the first 22-year-old. There's a great shot of her posing with the capitol behind her. It's the U.S. capitol and she's running for a state Senate seat. She wouldn't be working in the U.S. capitol.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Details.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I love her. She says the reason she went to law school student, she saw "Legally Blond," the movie.

CAIN: Oh, god.

O'BRIEN: What's wrong with that?

CAIN: To be inspired go to law school.

RYAN LIZZA, "NEW YORKER": Why do you love her?

O'BRIEN: Because she's turning it all on her head. Here's a young woman has a law degree and wants to be a senator. I think she said she looked at other politician's websites --

CAIN: She's 22?

LIZZA: Thought they were boring. Thought they were boring, so she went to law school. What's wrong with being inspired by "legally blond" to go to law school.

O'BRIEN: She wants to bring more --

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Will doesn't like the pink.

O'BRIEN: Here's what she says about pink.

CAIN: Not the pink that's throwing me off.

O'BRIEN: It doesn't say about the leopard print. You can make pink sophisticated. She took pink to a top legal institution like Harvard, talking about Elle in "Legally Blond." Why can't I bring it to the Senate? She's trying to make it interesting.

LIZZA: When you're unknown, what's the hardest thing in politics.

O'BRIEN: You're being contrary right now, right?

CAIN: She's figuring out a way of publicity.

O'BRIEN: She's going to be running against --

CAIN: From "legally blond".

O'BRIEN: There are worse things to take your inspiration, to be inspired to go to law school, is that such a bad thing?

CAIN: No.

LIZZA: She's 22.

O'BRIEN: I'm berating you into agreeing with me. Here's how you know she has a serious chance. She's running against Kevin Parker and he says this, does she know she's not running against the U.S. Senator Gillebrand -- he's scoffing. You don't do that if you're not nervous.

HOOVER: It is a subtle endorsement of her, actually. She has the conservative party chair's endorsement from Brooklyn, running on the Republican line and Democratic line.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, after the Colorado movie theater shooting, the gun control debate returns. You haven't heard much from President Obama or Mitt Romney about it. Why talking guns is bad politics at times.

Plus, the public gets its say on the proposal to ban super-sized sodas. We'll debate that coming up. Here's Margaret's playlist, Cold Play.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's get right to Christine Romans. She's got a look at the day's --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. The car was going 112 miles per hour with an arsenal of weapons inside and clippings of the Colorado shooting massacre.

State police in Maine are trying to figure out what this driver was plotting. Officers recovered an AK-47 assault weapon, four hand guns and several boxes of ammunition.

The man in the car admitted he had taken a loaded gun in his back pack to a recent showing of the latest Batman movie. The suspect's name not released yet.

After a weekend of violent protests, the mayor of Anaheim, California is calling for a state and federal investigation into the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer.

That shooting led to neighbors clashing with cops on Saturday. Officers responding by firing pepper gas and unleashing a police dog on that crowd.

A dramatic residue in flood-ravaged China. Take a look at two cars in a wedding caravan that plunged 30 feet into a river after a bridge -- rescuers lowering themselves down with ropes and breaking open the sunroof to pull the driver to safety. The victim suffering from head trauma, broken bones, but we're told he's expected to be OK.

In this morning's "House Call," the United States announcing its donating $150 million to help poor nations stop the spread of AIDS. The announcement is coming in at an international AIDS conference in Washington.

The money will be used to get life saving drugs to struggling countries hardest hit by the disease. Twenty thousand of the world's leading scientists are meeting this week in Washington to figure out how to turn the latest scientific advances into practical protections against AIDS -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It was unfortunate that this shooting in Colorado really took away a lot of attention that is often focused on that conference, a tragedy and often we get really some interesting information out of that conference. Christine, thank you.

The man accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others is in an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre. He is likely going to be formally charged next week.

As James Holmes awaits his next hearing, the debate over gun control is back in the political spotlight. Here's what Mitt Romney said on CNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I still believe that the second amendment is the right course to preserve and defend and don't believe that new laws are going to make a difference in this type of tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The president focused similarly on existing laws. The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Sunday the president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law.

Ron Brownstein is CNN's senior political analyst. It's nice to talk to you, Ron. Sorry to not see you in person. Good morning.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: We know that after the shooting, not long after, in fact, both candidates were releasing statements pretty quickly. And yet when it comes to talking about gun control, it's not quite dead silence, but it's pretty close.

BROWNSTEIN: It is pretty close. I think it really fundamentally the silence, of course, is most profound in the Democratic Party, the bigger change from the 1990s and it rests I think on a misperception.

The myth is that there is no audience for gun control. Look, there's no question that public opinion has moved away from gun control over the past 12 years without anybody in the White House making the case for it.

But Soledad, even after that movement, if you look at Pew polling, ABC/"Washington Post," NBC/"Wall Street Journal," it's roughly a 50/50 proposition overall nationwide.

And most importantly the big movement away from guns, the big movement towards greater opposition of gun control has been among groups that Democrats are struggling with anyway, blue collar whites, college educated white men.

If you look at the half of the electorate that is actually open to voting for President Obama, non-white voters, college educated white women, gun control is still a 60 percent plus proposition.

So in many ways, I think the evidence is Democrats have been paralyzed on this issue by fear of losing voters that they have already lost anyway. By failing to offer an alternative to the kind of comments that Mitt Romney made.

They are in an unusual way, very distinctive way on a social issue unlike something like gay marriage or even legalization of illegal immigrants. They are failing to articulate what is a pretty strong preference still within their coalition, the country is split overall. O'BRIEN: So a couple of things, one, I want to show everybody the polling on this because you mentioned the Pew polls. But I would also just put in your mind isn't part of a theory, couldn't that be, well, you don't want to completely lose those voters who might be trending away from you?

I mean, isn't that an effort to hang on to those voters? You look at the Pew poll, which is more important to protect the right to own guns, 49 percent, control gun ownership, 45 percent. So not quite, you know, split half and half.

But if you look at the difference from let's say 2004 under President George Bush, that number was 37 percent protect the right to own guns. If you go back to I think 19 -- Clinton, 1993, right, that number was 34 percent.

So you certainly can't argue that there's never been a trend toward people who think that there should be more of a right to protect the right to own guns.

BROWNSTEIN: And I started by saying that, there's no question the movement has been away from support of gun control. But the movement as I said has been most profound among groups that are moving away from Democrats anyway.

And the big movement has come under President Obama and the biggest movement has been among non-college or blue collar white voters who are very cool on the president more broadly and in fact are recoiling in a broad sense against his expansion of the role of government on a variety of fronts.

So I actually think that what we're seeing on gun control is in part tied into the larger kind of Tea Party reaction against the expansion of the role of Washington. There is an audience for a gun control case.

Again, the country is now split about evenly as you point out. It used to be tilted solid towards the gun control side. But the half of the country that is open to gun control is also the half that is roughly open to voting for President Obama in November.

And he may find before this is over that he needs that kind of issue to hold the support of some of those voters who might otherwise be tempted to move away from him on economic grounds.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Hi, Ron. It's Ryan Lizza. Two questions, one is intensity, the argument you hear a lot is the intensity is all on the Republican side. It's all on the conservative side, single issue voters who just vote on fears about their guns rights being taken away.

Whereas the gun control voters don't really vote on that. They vote on other issues. Now the second thing, isn't there a fear on part of the White House or national Democrats that's not so much about Obama's re-election, but losing Democrats in more conservative areas? Which is happened in '94, right, when Clinton lost the seats over gun control.

BROWNSTEIN: Ryan, I'm glad you asked this. This really is a profound question for Democrats. If you look -- there's no question that congressional politics are tougher than the presidential politics.

But if you look what happened in Congress, it's the same thing as we move into an era of quasi-parliamentary voting when there's less split ticket voting. The coalition in Congress reflects the coalition at the national level.

Even without raising -- one of the reasons they didn't raise gun control when they had the majority was the fear as you know losing those more rural seats, blue collar conservative seats.

Of the 63 seats the Democrats lost in 2010, 47 of them, 47 of the 63 were already in districts where whites without a college education exceeded the national average. They are losing those places anyway.

If there is a road back to a majority for the Democrats and the Congress, probably not in 2012, but thereafter it runs through suburban seats and heavily diverse seats with large minority populations.

In those places as we're beginning to see a trickle of candidates, gun control can be part of a complex of issues that Democrats use. So there's no question that this has a distributional cost. It deepens the Democrats problems in rural parts of the country --

O'BRIEN: I have to tell you, Ron, as you have tragedies like this though. I think that it's going to be a conversation that won't go away.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Democratic governor of Colorado said this is a saddled question. He's not looking for gun control. He's saying -- wouldn't have stopped Columbine, Colorado.

O'BRIEN: If your constituents start unsettling it then it will be an unsettled question. We have to take a break. Ron, thank you, I didn't say good-bye to him. Thanks, Ron.

Let's talk about something else Will Cain likes, which is policing soda. Is it the right prescription for fighting obesity? The people of New York City get their chance to let the mayor know where they stand. Only listen and does even matter because the decision is on the path to being made.

Plus Mitt Romney focusing on foreign policy not the economy today. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz is going to be back with the preview of his pitch.

I hope he's not pitching Devo again. That's always the song he picks when it comes on for his playlist. You're watching STARTING POINT. That's a warning, Congressman. You're watching STARTING POINT. Got to take a break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I like this, this is Lousy Robot, Will Cain, when did you start listening to this? This is kind of a departure for you.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Clearly, someone else recommends this.

HOOVER: In the middle of a movie?

O'BRIEN: How can you not tell us you're not going to tell us?

CAIN: It's a good song though, like it.

O'BRIEN: Public hearing set on New York City's proposed ban on big sodas, happening today. Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban the sale of sodas -- Long Island came out for a minute, sodas larger than 16 ounces at city restaurants and movie theatres and other places.

The proposal requires only the approval of the Board of Health. The entire Board of Health is appointed by the mayor. I'm going to guess that it's going to pass. He says sugary drinks are the one of lead causes of the obesity epidemics. Critics say it's a matter of rights not waistlines.

CAIN: You know, I went to the movies a couple of few weeks ago and there was this preview at the front end of the movie and it is dramatic arc of we're New Yorkers. No one tells us what neighbor to live in.

And then it leads up to the punch line, so why is our mayor telling us what we can and cannot drink. The theatre erupted in applause, it doesn't matter. This will go through.

HOOVER: We do not live in a democratic city. Well, we live in a very democratic city. In fact, it's a one party town, but it also happens to be the party -- the town of Mayor Bloomberg who has really unparalleled power in terms of mayoralties and he decided this is the way it's going to go.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he's focusing it on having people stop smoking in bars, I support that. He's focusing on trying to grapple with an obesity epidemic, which is not only expensive for all Americans and New Yorkers.

But also would be great for people's health if they could lose a few pounds. I kind of support that. So I think he has all of this power and using it on issues --

CAIN: As long as he's a benevolent dictator.

O'BRIEN: I wouldn't use that word suspiciously because my mom is Cuban. We know a little bit about dictators. But I would say there was a study down at NYU in the "Wall Street Journal" that says you could probably cut the caloric intake through doing this.

You know, I think obesity is a huge problem. It looks like no one is really tackling the obesity problem. We're talking about lap band surgery, but we're not focusing on like how do we get obesity --

LIZZA: There are different ways you can ban things or start a public health campaign --

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Did you wear a seat belt growing up?

O'BRIEN: Of course not, no one did.

LIZZA: Then you started to wear a seat belt, why?

O'BRIEN: They demand it and there are laws in New York State that I get a big giant ticket p people aren't wearing seat belts.

LIZZA: There was a massive public health campaign, drunk driving --

O'BRIEN: Because you'll get a DWI. You're arguing against your own point.

LIZZA: Not by banning them --

O'BRIEN: Nope.

LIZZA: This would be a terrible president. If he had to go to Washington and deal --

O'BRIEN: He's not running for president. He certainly is not going to be VP pick.

HOOVER: You don't get to be the president and tell people how they are going to live their lives. This is what you call a nanny state.

O'BRIEN: Obesity is a huge problem. What's the fix?

CAIN: He doesn't care about your support.

HOOVER: Nor does he need it.

O'BRIEN: He doesn't care.

All right, still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT. It is not the economy they are talking about this week. President Obama and Mitt Romney are making their foreign policy pitches. Will that sway voters?

Utah congressman and Romney supporter, Jason Chaffetz is going to be joining us next. The congressman is with us. You're watching STARTING POINT. We got to take a break. We're back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: All right, all is forgiven. That's Congressman Chaffetz's playlist, Queen and David Bowie, "Under Pressure."

President Obama and Mitt Romney are trying to bolster their foreign policy credentials this week. Romney begins a trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland on Thursday.

First though, he is scheduled to address the VFW Convention, which is in Reno today. President Obama made his pitch there yesterday. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As you reflect on recent years, as we look ahead to the challenges we face as a nation, and the leadership that's required, you don't just have my words. You have my deeds. You have my track record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah is a Romeny campaign surrogate. It's nice to see you. We're giving you sums up on your music today.

All right, let's talk about the president. A moment ago, he was talking about his policy record, saying I have my deeds to look at. If you look overall of what he's been talking about of late, the end of the Iraq war, which is one of his campaign promises, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

We have talked about that in the past. Libya, the ouster of Gadhafi, doesn't he have a point when he says, listen, you want to talk foreign policy, I've got a decent track record on this front.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, R-UTAH: No. I think the world is more volatile than ever. Certainly if you look at the situation in the Middle East, what we're dealing with in Iran.

Our relationship with Israel certainly could be much better. Governor Romney is going to go to Poland I'm sure to talk about missile defense and how we just appeased the Russians by giving up on that effort.

So, no, I think there's a lot more that could be done. And I don't think it's necessarily a win if you will for President Obama going into the election.

O'BRIEN: In addition to missile defense, as you just mentioned, what other specifics will we be hearing from Mitt Romney as he starts talking today and heads to Europe on Thursday?

CHAFFETZ: Well, really, the volatility in the Middle East has gotten worse, not better. Governor Romney has said his very first visit as president to a foreign nation would be to Israel. He's going to go to Israel.

He has a great working relationship with the prime minister there. We have to fight back on Iran. We cannot ever let them achieve a nuclear weapon. We're not doing enough there.

And there are other things that we need to talk about in the Middle East and certainly Poland and missile defense. O'BRIEN: Here's what Governor Romney said to Wolf Blitzer on March 26. He said this. Russia is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors. Do you think that is true, that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe?

CHAFFETZ: Well, as you look at behind the scenes what's going on and how they support terrorism, how they have supported some of the worst actors in the world, including Iran, if you look at what's going on in the cyber security front, some of the classified briefings we have heard from there, absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Worse than North Korea, worse than Iran, worse than China? Russia?

CHAFFETZ: Those are probably your top three. But certainly you cannot dismiss the Russians, even though sometimes they stay out of the news. And when we gave up on missile defense in Poland, we gave up our friends and allies that I think was fundamentally wrong. And I think Governor Romney will remind the world that was a bad move early in the Obama presidency.

CAIN: Congressman, this is Will Cain. One of the areas we're clear at this point that Russia is acting in a poor manner, as a bad actor is in Syria. They are actively doing all they can to keep Assad in power.

So now that we know that and Romney has spoken directly to Russia, can give us some specifics? How would he handle the situation in Syria were he president?

CHAFFETZ: Well, look, you have to work very closely with our greatest ally in the region, which is Israel, and you got to work to strengthen them in that region. It's the one democracy we have.

They are our best ally. There is no simple solution. You have to give it time and attention. And I think that's what you'll see Governor Romney demonstrate through action, not just words.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. I want to talk to you about this tragedy in Colorado. I was there yesterday covering the shooting. You have opposed all gun control. Governor Romney back in 2004 as you well know extended a ban on assault weapons. And now he's saying this. Let's play this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I still believe that the second amendment is the right course to preserve and defend and don't believe that new laws are going to make a difference in this type of tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's a complete contradiction to what he believed as governor, correct? CHAFFETZ: No. I don't think so. And I wouldn't characterize my position as opposed to every single gun control law. There are laws that on are the books.

And as President Obama said, as Governor Romney said, we need to enforce those laws and maintain the second amendment rights that Americans have. And so we do have to enforce the laws.

I think both candidates have said that. The president said that. Governor Romney said that and I'm saying it as well.

O'BRIEN: But my question is, isn't that a contradiction? In 2004, he extended the ban on assault weapons. Now he is saying that I still believe that the second amendment is the right course.

I don't believe new laws are going to make a difference in this type of tragedy. That sounds like a contradiction. One case he is banning assault weapons. The other case he is saying let's not.

CHAFFETZ: Well, I think as president taking a position on this is very different than how you might have taken a position as a governor.

And as a president or as a presidential candidate saying he supports second amendment rights, I think he's been crystal clear. I don't think there's any ambiguity there and that's what he would do as president.

O'BRIEN: I got to ask a quick question about this hearing that you're holding today about these abuses. You know, we had some pictures from this hospital, abuses at a U.S.-funded hospital in Afghanistan.

And some of those -- we can't even show the pictures. I mean, they're so horrific that I can't even put them on TV to show anybody. What do you think went on there?

CHAFFETZ: Well, this -- you know, since I have been in office, only 3-1/2 years, I have to tell you what's happened in Haiti and what's going on in Afghanistan, this is some of the most horrific, horrendous things I have ever seen.

This is Daywood Hospital, U.S.-funded. Not U.S. troops there. Not U.S. doctors, but Auschwitz-type like -- I mean, it's just so disgusting, Soledad. It's very difficult to look at what's going on there.

People neglect, allowing surgery to go on without anesthetics, gangrene. Open wounds that aren't being dressed and yet over $200 million of U.S. money going into this.

Real concerns that there was an effort to not allow the inspector general to get in there and because the generals and others on the ground really wanted a positive story coming out of Afghanistan rather than solving the problem so that's the hearing that we're having this morning.

O'BRIEN: That hearing is today. Thanks for talking to us, Congressman. Always nice to see you, we appreciate it.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet. We have to take a short break. We're back in a moment.

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