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Romney's Quest for Gold in London; Interview with Dick Armey; Senate: Passes Middle-Income Tax Cut Extension; Jackson Family Drama; Gun Control Discussed in Wake of Colorado Massacre; Grief into Joy; Mickelson Training Teachers

Aired July 26, 2012 - 08:00   ET


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

Our STARTING POINT this morning, a chilling find in a college mail room. A message from the accused Aurora shooter hinting at a massacre.

After the mass shooting, President Obama puts one foot in dangerous political territory. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals.


O'BRIEN: Weighing in on gun control. What he said and whether he should say more.

Plus, today's "tough call": a fast food fight. A city leader says no to Chick-Fil-A on same sex marriage.

And a class act on the course. Pro golfer Phil Mickelson will join us.

It's Thursday, July 26th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: This is Dick Armey's play list. This is Tanya Tucker, "When I Die."

You loved that. You two, I knew Will Cain would get a laugh out of that.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Dick is a Texan.

O'BRIEN: I know he is.

MARTIN: That one didn't make my country playlist.

O'BRIEN: No, not yet? Listen to it. It may grow on you.

Mark Geragos joins us this morning. He's a criminal defense attorney, joining our panel. He's represented Michael Jackson. And we need to talk about that drama in just a minute.


O'BRIEN: Oh, well --

MARTIN: You duck out, yes, right, right.

O'BRIEN: Roland Martin is with us as well.

Nice to see you, Roland. And Will Cain.

MARTIN: What's up?

O'BRIEN: Nothing. Whole lot.

All right. Let's get right to our STARTING POINT this morning.

We are talking about the aftermath of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. Gun control obviously becoming a very hot topic on the campaign trail. He waited five full days to enter the fray, but President Obama is now front and center in the debate, telling the National Urban League audience saying yesterday that some weapon sales need to be restricted. Listen.


OBAMA: I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals.


O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney doesn't see it the same way. He is in London for that seven-day foreign tour. He believes tighter gun control laws would do little to stop the massacre like the one in Colorado. Here's what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't happen to believe that America needs new gun laws. A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.


O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney is on the world stage in London on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremonies. He just arrived at 10 Downing Street, talking about some of the problems that organizers have had prior to the start of the games. And looking to remind people that back home, he was once an Olympic savior.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live for us in London this morning.

Hey, Jim. Good morning to you.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. That is right. And Mitt Romney has just arrived at number 10 Downing Street here in London to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron.

The prime minister arrived about an hour ago, and the former Massachusetts governor walked right past us, Soledad, into the door behind me and went right in, stopped for a few moments to pose for the British press to take his photograph. I asked him just very briefly how are you doing, he said he's fine, and then marched right in for this meeting.

We're hoping to hear from him when he comes out of the meeting to get his thoughts as to what he said and how the conversation went with the prime minister. But, Soledad, if this overseas trip for Mitt Romney could be described as an Olympic event, it might be the decathlon.

He is performing in a number of different events on this overseas trip. Earlier this morning, he was meeting with former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The opposition leader, the leader of the Labour Party, here, Ed Miliband.

And you might say that in one of those events, he might have stumbled a little bit, if you might want to call that the diplomatic hurdles. The London press is seizing on some comments that Romney made about the Olympics and the preparations here in London. He was talking in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams when he said it was disconcerting to see some of the problems that London has had here in preparing for the Olympics.

And then he sort of walked back some of those comments earlier this morning when he was asked about it by the foreign press. Here's what he had to say.


ROMNEY: My experience is with the Olympics is that it is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur. Of course, there will be errors from time to time. But those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character, and determination by the athletes.

The games are, after all, about the athletes, the volunteers, and the people of the community that come together to celebrate those athletes. They are not about the organizing committee. And as soon as the sporting events begin, we all forget the organizers and focus on the athletes.


ACOSTA: Now, of course, Mitt Romney has some expertise in the area of organizing the Olympic Games. He is widely credited with rescuing the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. So it's not surprising that Mitt Romney would talk about the preparations here in London.

And the campaign was asked about those comments that he made to NBC, and the campaign directed the press to his comments that he made this morning, which did not sound as critical.

But, Soledad, right now taking a peek at the front page of the London "Daily Telegraph's" website. The headline on the front page for that newspaper is all about Mitt Romney's comments on the Olympic preparations here in London. It will be interesting to see how that develops.

And I should note there's a cat behind me. Should we mention this? You don't see this every day, Soledad. A stray cat has wandered up to number 10 Downing Street.

O'BRIEN: And is trying to get in.

ACOSTA: And that's getting almost as much attention from the foreign press as Mitt Romney's entry a few moments ago. Fun to watch out there.

O'BRIEN: All the fuss is new. All right. Jim, thank you. I appreciate it.

ACOSTA: I'll put out a saucer of milk.

O'BRIEN: You know what they always say, you know, help a cat out.

All right. Let's bring in Dick Armey. He's the former House majority leader. He's now the chairman of FreedomWorks, considered by many to be the godfather of the Tea Party, joining us this morning.

Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. We certainly appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about gun control, which has been one of the topics we've been discussing all morning.

Back in '94, of course, the House approved a ban on 19 different types of semiautomatic assault weapons and you were vehemently against the ban.

Here is what Mitt Romney has said in the wake of the shooting in Aurora. He said he supports the Second Amendment. He doesn't think the laws need to be changed. And he went on to say this.


ROMNEY: Well, we can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won't. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what's essential to improve the lots of the American people.


O'BRIEN: What do you think he meant by that?

ARMEY: It's hard for me to understand because, you know, there's so much discussion on this subject. But, you know, the fact of the matter is that we have got a culture right now that seems to say, let's control the guns and have all kinds of laxities and forgiveness and understanding and so forth for the people who hold the guns.

My own view is let's get tough on criminals, have tough penalties for the illegal use of weaponry or any other illegal activity that's an assailment against another person. Get tough on those folks. Crack down on them.

And then allow people the Second Amendment rights we are titled into in this country, that we enjoy for hunting and recreational purposes. And in fact, unfortunately because of the laxness with which we treat criminals in the country, we feel compelled that we must have our own weapons sometimes for our own defense.

O'BRIEN: But if you look specifically at the Aurora case, right, I don't think anybody would say it was laxness with criminals that if in fact -- of course, he is a suspect at this point -- if in fact he ends up being convicted of doing what he is alleged to have done, I don't think people are going to say, well, there was a laxness in the culture that led to the Aurora shooting. People might say it was the easy accessibility for someone who wanted to amass and stockpile weapons over a short period of time to plot out a mass shooting, and that should be blamed.

ARMEY: All right. Let's say first of all apparently you have some guy who is a bit nutty here. And he wanted to wreak havoc on a large number of people for whatever reasons he had. We don't understand that yet. Maybe a psychiatrist will understand it.

If in fact he had not been capable of acquiring the guns, he might just as well have taken a car and driven it into a school bus.

The fact of the matter is, again, you can't focus on the object by which a destruction is committed, be it a hammer, gun, a truck, or a car. Focus on the aberrance in the individuals that do that.

O'BRIEN: Why not do both? Why not focus on both? Why not focus on the individual and also on the weapon?

ARMEY: Why not focus on both?


ARMEY: All right. More people are killed in automobiles every year than they are guns. I don't hear anybody talking about banning automobiles.

O'BRIEN: But they say you have to wear a seat belt, all right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to have a driver's license.

ARMEY: All right. I have to tell you, we are guaranteed by the constitution of the United States a right to bear arms. There are many good reasons why true and honest and law-abiding people cherish that right.

To trespass that right against those innocent people because of the abhorrent behavior of others is not acceptable. It's like taking away scholarships of future football players for the bad offenses of a past football plan.

Stay focused on the perpetrators and get tough on the perpetrators, and let people know there are awesomely difficult consequences that will come to you for your perpetration, and they will perpetrate less.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the election for a moment, because I do believe we could focus on gun control issues al day, and we're just going to agree to disagree on that.

Last summer, you sounded incredibly underwhelmed by a Mitt Romney candidacy. And you said that the Tea Party will not come out for Mitt Romney. Has that changed?

ARMEY: I never said that they would never come out for Mitt Romney.

Let's say -- first of all, you have to understand this massive grassroots movement that we have that we're working with and to which we all have an enormous event here in Dallas today have been disappointed in both the Republicans and the Democrats. We have been about the business of recruiting what we call legislative entrepreneurs in the guise of liberty and small government. And we are going to be getting them elected.

But we are all aware that the greatest threat to constitutionally-limited small government and personal liberty that we see active in politics in America today is President Obama. I mean, this guy is -- in n fact, we see him clearly. He is obsessed with controlling the distribution of income, the distribution of product, the behavior of people, the allocation of capital resources to goofy social causes that are inspired by bad science and bad finance.

And we know that it is not --

O'BRIEN: I'm just going to go on a limb and say Tea Party people are not going to vote for Obama, which is why I asked you a question about Mitt Romney.

You were incredibly unenthusiastic about his candidacy only, you know, over the summer, not very long ago. So what's changed? And is in fact the Tea Party going to embrace Romney?

ARMEY: He is the Republican nominee. He is the one person in the position to defeat Obama. We have no doubt he is an enormous upgrade in the quality of intellectual understanding of America, commitment to the principles of private enterprise, economic growth, sound policy, restraint of government.

The difference between Romney and Obama is incredible. Is Romney everything we would hope to have? No.

But is President Obama proven to be everything we were afraid he might be? Yes.

So, obviously, if you get 180 degree turn-around and you get a Romney that's not perfectly in agreement with us as opposed to a President Obama who is openly contemptuous of our values, then clearly we've made a big turn-around by working for it.

And I tell you, the grassroots activists across this country known as the Tea Party activists will work diligently for Romney because a 180-degree turn-around is a big change, and we will have removed what we perceive to be the biggest threat to our liberty in the history -- in our lifetime in the presidency of Barack Obama.

O'BRIEN: An endorsement, not exactly an enthusiastic one, but an endorsement nonetheless. All right. Thanks for being with us, Dick Armey, this morning. Appreciate it.

Got to get to the rest of the top stories this morning. Christine Romans has that.

Hey, Christine. Good morning.


New developments to tell you about in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting. Law enforcement sources say the shooting suspect James Holmes mailed a package to the University of Colorado campus in Aurora. It was received on Monday and forced the evacuation of an entire building.

CBS News says the package was addressed to a psychologist and contained a letter talking about shooting people, along with scribbling showing a gunman shooting victims. And there were moments that seemed like hours. Emergency dispatch tapes released from chaotic minutes after the shooter opened fire.


POLICE: Metro 10, Lincoln 25, do I have permission to start taking some of these victims via car? I got a whole bunch of people shot out here, no rescue.

FIRE DISPATCH: P.D. is again requesting emergent medical to the back of the theater.

FIRE COMMANDER: I copy that. I'm just trying to get things under control here.


ROMANS: More on this new developments in the shooting coming up in the live report from Aurora.

The Senate has passed a Democratic plan to extend the Bush era tax cuts for middle class Americans. At the same time, they rejected a Republican alternative to continue all of the cuts for even the wealthiest Americans.


SEN. HARRY REID, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: The American people got a ray of hope today that they're going to be protected. And I think we confuse the issue we start looking about - looking at who might win, who might lose. Right now, it's a big day for America.


ROMANS: A big day. But despite Reid's enthusiasm, their plan has zero chance of getting through the Republican-controlled House. GOP leaders say they won't even bring the Democrats plan to a vote.

Michael Jackson's mother is responding to reports that she has been kidnapped. Surrounded by family members, Mrs. Jackson appeared on ABC's "Frontline" from Tucson, Arizona and said she is just fine.


KATHERINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S MOTHER: There are rumors going around about me that I've been kidnapped and held against my will. I'm here today to let everybody know that I'm fine, and I'm here with my children, and my children would never do a thing like that, hold me against my will. It's very stupid for people to think that.


ROMANS: She's doing all the talking there, but ABC was not allowed to ask Mrs. Jackson any questions. A missing persons report was filed last week after Michael's children said they hadn't heard from Katherine. She is their legal guardian. They said they hadn't heard from her since July 15th.

They were unable to contact her. A California judge has appointed T.J. Jackson, that's Tito's son, to serve as a temporary guardian from Michael Jackson's children. And Soledad, as you're following this whole family drama, CNN is now confirming that Katherine Jackson has returned to her home in California after driving nine hours from Arizona.

And that video you saw there was from "Nightline," by the way, not "Frontline."

O'BRIEN: OK. Christine, thank you. ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: What's going on with this? Come on.

MARTIN: Pure craziness.


MARTIN: I talked to Marlon Jackson yesterday. He said that his brother, Randy, said that his mom was somewhere else, and that he had to find out through another source where his actual mom was. And so, when your brother can't even tell you where your mom is, you've got some serious family drama.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Now, is it the family split in two? That seems to --

MARTIN: This is like split in 10, OK? You got nine kids. You have nieces and nephews. You have drama. You've got Paris with 600,000 followers on Twitter. She's out there Tweeting. It's just total chaos.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.




MARTIN: Mark Geragos actually ducking a question.

GERAGOS: I'm not going anywhere near it.

MARTIN: No, Mark, step up. Come on.


MARTIN: Give us something.

GERAGOS: You know, I'll just say, it's a big family. Lovely family. And, you know, there's always dysfunction in any family.

O'BRIEN: Who put the fun in dysfunctional, that's what we love to say.



O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the man who built one of the biggest banks in the world is now saying break them up, calling for more regulation, Sandy Weill. We'll talk about that straight ahead as STARTING POINT continues.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It is the ultimate Wall Street flip flop.


O'BRIEN: Some former CEOs of the world's largest banks are now saying the banks are too big to fail. The latest former Citigroup CEO, Sandy Weill. Nice to see you, Christine. She's going to talk to us about this. That's a shocker. I mean, he is the guy who sort of was the poster child --

MARTIN: The pioneer.

O'BRIEN: When you look this up in the dictionary, his face is right there.

ROMANS: Hell has frozen over, and pigs are flying, because the godfather of basically big megabanks is now saying, well, wait a minute, maybe we need to separate investment banking from commercial banking. It was Sandy Weill, the person on your screen. And people like him, mostly he is the face of repealing Glass-Stegall.

That was that depression (ph) era protection put into place to keep investment banking separate from commercial banking. That's the part that keeps our money and to keep taxpayer's safe.

O'BRIEN: Why the change now?

ROMANS: Well, let's listen exactly to what he said on CNBC.


SANDY WEILL, FMR. CHAIRMAN, CEO OF CITIGROUP: So, I think what we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking and have banks do something that's not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that's not going to be too big to fail.


ROMANS: He says the world is different today than it was 10 years ago, and it deserves a different kind of a system, I guess. When you talk about big banks, CEOs flip-flop, there's another person who got a lot of attention this week, Phil Purcell, the former chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley. This is what he said in a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed.

He said, "There is one benefit of break-ups that hasn't gotten much publicity. Shareholders would get greater value from their investments. Breaking these companies into separate businesses would double to triple the shareholder value of each institution."

So, it's interesting. You're hearing from people who've long been champions of, you know, big banks, financial market innovation, financial supermarket, who are now saying, well, look, maybe shareholders would benefit even from breaking up banking. CAIN: You know, Christine, you and I have talked about this. I have written about this. She seemed -- you will see or you have seen some pushback from people who are identified as conservatives or libertarians to breaking up the bank. It seems unseemly. The federal government steps in and breaks up (ph) an industry.

But the bottom line is, these are not free market players. These 10 largest banks are government subsidized entities. They are essentially quasi governmental. And if you're going to socialize your losses, you can't exist that way. If you're too big to exist -- if you're too big to fail, you're too big to exist.

O'BRIEN: Why? I mean, I'm a naturally suspicious person.


O'BRIEN: And to me, when I hear Sandy Weill who is a lovely gentleman saying the opposite of something that he said 10 years ago isn't like it's 100 years later --

MARTIN: And what you did caused the change. So, don't say, the world has changed. Changing that law is what changed the world.

ROMANS: I think a lot of conventional wisdom over the past 10 or 15 years is being shunted aside, because the conventional wisdom, frankly, led to the financial crisis, right? I mean, you even heard -- I wish I could remember exactly the percentage he said. But Alan Greenspan said in a Congressional hearing, he said, something of the effect, well, I was right 70 percent of the time.

And I thought if you were a plumber and you're right 70 percent of the time, you wouldn't have a job. If you're a journalist and you're right 70 percent of the time, there a lot of things making banks bigger, breaking down regulations, not worrying about derivatives. This is all conventional wisdom.


MARTIN: I'm with you.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a break.

MARTIN: Something's up.

O'BRIEN: Coming up next, today's "Tough Call," a city leader says he's going to keep Chick-Fil-A out of his town over its anti-gay marriage stance. Can he really do that? We're going to debate that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Today's "Tough Call," the Chick-Fil-A controversy version 2.0. Chicago's alderman, Joe Moreno, says that unless Chick- Fil-A comes up with a written anti-discrimination policy, he's going to block plans to build a restaurant in his ward, which is in Logan Square. Chick-Fil-A's president, Dan Cathy, recently said the company is against gay marriage. Previously, a Boston's mayor, Tom Menino, told the "Boston Herald" that he also would block Chick-Fil-A from opening a restaurant in his city. On Chick-Fil-A's side is Rick Santorum. On his Facebook page, Santorum asked Americans to, quote, "fight for traditional families and eat chicken at the same time."

CAIN: Look, first of all, let me say this. On Chick-Fil-A's side on this issue is not just Rick Santorum. This is not an issue even about what your position is on gay marriage. I am someone who supports gay marriage. But this is a blatant, easy, open, and shut case of a First Amendment violation in Chicago. You cannot deny permit to someone based upon their political opinion. You just simply cannot.

GERAGOS: Right. And all they're doing is trying to regulate this guy's speech. And that's all it is.

CAIN: Right.

GERAGOS: And they're using the Chick-Fil-A can't come in here as a proxy for saying, we don't like his speech. It's not as if -- if Chick-Fil-A was discriminating, if Chick-Fil-A was saying we're not going to let gays or lesbians either eat here or work here, they might have something. But this is somebody who's got an opinion. So --

MARTIN: Let's (INAUDIBLE) further. Chicago has been trying to get a casino in downtown Chicago. Mayor Daley (ph) supports it. You have Mayor Emanuel. You have many aldermen there as well. OK. So, Sheldon Alison has given millions of dollars to Republican candidates who don't believe in same-sex marriage.

He's supported all kind of different things. So, are you telling me an alderman is going to say, oh, I'm not going to allow his casino company to be one of the casinos because of his position? When you go there, you're opening up a whole different can because people give to different causes.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I don't think this tough call is a tough call. I'm not a lawyer like the whole bunch of people --


CAIN: Rahm Emanuel is also the one who is a little tyrant and opposed to the First Amendment as well.

O'BRIEN: I wouldn't necessarily say little tyrant oppose --


CAIN: Tyranny comes in the form of good intentions. I promise you.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT --

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: A new issue of "Time" magazine on the heels of the Colorado theater shooting. It's called "How Guns Won." We're going to take a look at why Democrats seem to be treading very slowly when it comes to this controversial issue. That's straight ahead. We got to take a break. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's get right to Christine Romans for the latest jobless numbers, just in.

ROMANS: Good morning -- 353,000 unemployment claims filed for the first time last week. That's a big drop from the previous week, with 388,000 claims filed. So that's some improvement. Stock futures already up because of positive comments out of Europe, so 353,000 jobless claims.

O'BRIEN: Christine, Republican.

A controversial cover for "TIME" magazine this week. The title is "How Guns Won." the author looks at why Democrats are so reluctant to speak about the issue of guns. This morning we talk to Michael Scherer in Washington, D.C. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: The article lays out why Democrats are shy on this issue, and no surprise it comes down ultimately to votes. Explain to me how that is when it would seem in some ways counterintuitive. Most of the constituents of Democrats are for gun control, right?

SCHERER: Well, Democrats are for gun control. If you're talking about mild gun control numbers, it polls sometimes 60 percent, 70 percent. But Democrats don't like to go to these issues for a couple of reasons. One, there have been bad experiences in the past -- 1994 election, 1998 congressional elections where the NRA went after Democrats, especially in red and purple states, rural areas who supported gun control measures.

The Democrats have learned from experience that even if you have 40 percent or 50 percent of your electorate supporting what you're doing, 10 percent or 20 percent this is the only issue for them. And there are people who own guns who maybe would support you for other reasons, for economic reasons and other reasons but guns are a defining issue for them. So it's not worth risking that vote.

The other thing is nationally concern over guns has gone down pretty precipitously since the 1980s. And a lot of that has to do with the decline in crime. In the 1980s, 80 percent of the country when pollsters asked them would say I want more gun control. Now it's down near 40 percent. It's just not a top issue the way it was before.

And the last thing is that president Obama right now is in a tough election where he needs to win a lot of these red states. He needs to win places with lots of guns, legal gun owners, responsible gun owners like Colorado and Pennsylvania. So there's a real risk, and not much to gain by going at this issue very hard.

O'BRIEN: Which is really why it was five days before we heard the president say anything in the wake of this aurora shooting. Here is what he said -- he said in New Orleans on Wednesday this. Let's play that sound bite, guys.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms, that we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that have passed on from generation to generation, that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage. But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals.



O'BRIEN: So that is not exactly going out on a limb. It's sort of the strongest thing we've heard him say, I think, and people were kind of waiting for the vacuum. Hearing what Mitt Romney said, considering his constituency, was not a surprise. How is this going to play out?

SCHERER: Well, I don't think we'll hear much more about it. He was in front of a very friendly audience, National Urban League. If you keep playing the clip, he's saying I'm work with both parties to find consensus. He is not saying I'm going to fight for rein statement of the weapons ban. He said I'd like to start a conversation and work with both parties.

And something very similar happened after the Gabby Giffords shooting. The president said very forcefully, we need to have a national conversation about mental health, guns, and we didn't really have a national conversation about those issues. And my expectation is that we're not going to have one before the election. It's possible years forward, reasonable heads can sort of come together and talk about guns in a way that doesn't divide the country. But right now, we're not at that point.

MARTIN: Michael, this week the mayors against illegal guns released a poll taken by a Republican pollster Frank Luntz of former and current NRA members where they talked about significant numbers having some gun control. I'm trying to figure out, you're handed a gift, and Democrats can't even receive the gift and take advantage of even that poll who Republicans love to talk about, Frank Luntz.

SCHERER: No, you're absolutely right. If you talk about relatively mild new gun controls, it polls very well. Even among gun owners. The problem is in elections, it doesn't play out that way. And there's more to lose for Democrats, especially in the states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado, than there is to gain by bringing up this issue because you're handing Republicans a sound bite. You're handing them, you know, the ability to exaggerate your position and say what this is really about is not just more background checks or mental health checks. This is really about taking away your guns.

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The NRA has completely reframed this issue.

SCHERER: That's right.

GERAGOS: And has kind of burrowed into the consciousness. It's taking away our guns. Anything that you talk about, any discussion you have about gun control always defaults to they are trying to take away our guns. It's a slippery slope.

CAIN: Let me just say. The influence of the NRA has almost become an overemphasized point in this debate.

MARTIN: Are you serious?

CAIN: The truth is that the NRA gives on average low percentages to congressional and Senate campaigns. Yes, they donate, but the amount to the overall budget of a candidate is miniscule. And by the way, their record of success isn't that great. Their guys don't always win.

MARTIN: Will, let me tell you something. That's like somebody saying, look, I don't have to kick your butt, but the threat of me kicking your butt works. The threat of the NRA coming after you will cause people to say --


O'BRIEN: Starting in 1994, I think that's true, very much credited for the landslide by Republicans in the House.

GERAGOS: But also they have a great strategy. What they do is they don't spend overwhelming amounts of money, but they target congressional districts and they go into those districts and they take out people strategically.

CAIN: I suggest you look at the record of success.

GERAGOS: When they do that, it is a very chilling effect.

MARTIN: It's the influence and the threat of their involvement that scares Democrats and Republicans.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting to see how the discussion will go. Every time there's a mass shooting, we have this conversation, and then I think because of the political influence it all peters out. Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for "TIME" magazine, Michael, always nice to see you. One day you can come join us in person.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Phil Mickelson, golf legend, will tell you how he's taking his talents from the green to help out in the classroom straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. It's a project called the Josh Project, and it was created by a woman in tribute to her son who drowned. Meet Wanda Butts, today's CNN hero.


WANDA BUTTS, CNN HERO: Josh went to spend the night with friends. I had no clue that they were coming to Bird Lake. Right about here is where Josh was where the raft capsized and he went down. It was very hard for me to believe that just like that, my son had drowned and he was gone. My father, he instilled in us the fear of water. And so I in turn didn't take my son around water.

Children don't have to drown. My name is Wanda Butts. I save lives by providing swimming lessons and water safety skills.

Jacob Kendrick.

African-American children are three times more likely to drown than white children. That's why we started "The Josh Project", to educate families about the importance of being water safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take the ring buoy right at the victim.

BUTTS: Many parents they don't know how to swim.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was afraid of the water. He was the first in my family to learn how to swim. And he's come a long way from not liking water in his face to getting ducked under.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you like it? All right.

BUTTS: I'm so happy to see that so many of them have learned how to swim. Good job. That's one life we saved. It takes me back to Josh and how the tragedy was turned into triumph and it makes me happy.

PEOPLE: "The Josh Project."

BUTTS: All right.


O'BRIEN: And coming up next, pro golfer Phil Mickelson will join us. That's next.



O'BRIEN: Phil Mickelson has three green jackets and 40 victories on the PGA tour. One of the game's most beloved players, Lefty, was inducted into the world's golf Hall of Fame this year. But golf isn't his only passion. Helping kids learn math and science is also a very big part of his life. Phil and his wife Amy founded the Mickelson Exxon/Mobil Teachers Academy, and it's where third, fourth and fifth grade teachers can hone their own skills and learn how to better inspire kids to love science and math. Phil Mickelson joins us this morning. Nice to see you.

PHIL MICKELSON, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: Thanks Soledad I'm happy to be here.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much it's unusual to have an advocate for careers in the STEM field -- science, technology, engineering and math who are not in the STEM field. I mean, your -- your career obviously is in golf. Why are you so passionate about STEM?

MICHELSON: Well, any job is going to have to deal with math and science, golf especially because I'm dealing constantly with the engineers at Calloway developing new product. And you have to have some type of science understanding to be able to head in the right direction whether it's aerodynamics of a golf ball, whether it's the load of a shaft, whether it's the moment of inertia or center of gravity on a wood.

All these variables come into play. So it's very fascinating for me to work with the engineers at Calloway on new equipment.

O'BRIEN: So when Roland is playing golf he's really working on science.


O'BRIEN: I get it.

MARTIN: And I play Calloway 22, so I understand.

CAIN: -- it's just essentially the game of golf that stoked your passion for science and engineering?

MICHELSON: I've always been inquisitive as to how things work, why things work. And so I've always enjoyed understanding math and science. And I've always applied it to golf. I'll give you a great example. When Bubba hit that shot at the Masters this year on number 10, he had to hit a hook with a wedge. And he closed the face and he was able to get a better grip on the ball and create hook spin by closing the face as a left-handed golfer.

If you're a right-handed player trying hitting that shot, you might not have been able to go for the green because you'd have to open the face so much you wouldn't get enough coverage on the ball, enough gripping, enough friction on the ball to create that side spin. And that might not have been an option for a right-handed player.

And so little -- understanding little things like that can -- can help with decision making processes on the golf course.

MARTIN: And of course most people who play golf, I mean, you're dealing with wind, you're dealing with water. You're dealing with -- even the club is different. Lies, all of the sort of stuff like that. The average person's lie, is like, I just can't even hit the ball.

But math -- I mean that is still a huge part, distance, all -- that's huge part of the game.

MICHELSON: It is. Distance control is one of the most important things as a good player to -- to be effective and to be able to win. And it varies from hour to hour, based on temperature. It obviously varies city to city based on altitude. But --


MICHELSON: That's it. When it gets hot at 12:00, the ball goes about 10 to 15 yards farther for me than per club than it does at 7:30 when it's cooler.

O'BRIEN: So how come you focus on teachers? Because a lot of times people who are trying to engage interest in science and technology and engineering and math focus on the kids. They try to get little kids to really, you know, want to have a passion for the sciences. And your focus is really to help the teachers have the passion.

MICHELSON: Well, it is. Because we've found that third through fifth grade students are losing interest and that the teachers that are teaching science, 93 percent of them do not have any type of certificate or accreditation or degree.


O'BRIEN: Just in that age group or all the way through?

MICHELSON: In that age group. And so what we find is that they don't teach it with the same passion. They teach it straight out of the textbook. If we can give them new techniques, new skills that they better understand, that passion is going to translate over into their students.

And so that's why we're -- we're trying to target third through fifth grade. Because that's where the kids are -- are losing some interest. And also where the teachers aren't as confident in their abilities.

So our academy is really geared towards that. And talking to a number of companies -- Exxon Mobil hires 18,000 scientists and engineers -- and talking to a number of companies, they can't fill their job requirement in the math and sciences. And so we --

O'BRIEN: It's such a typical story, isn't it? And such a tragedy when you think about it, especially in a down economy when those jobs really could be filled. But students can't do the work.

MICHELSON: Right. Well, if the students were to go into a STEM field, they would have a job immediately after college.

MARTIN: And of course we started the show off talking about this school in Virginia that was math and science, in the hope of trying to get more folks into it as well. So I mean, now a new question, Tiger Woods has learning centers. And your academy. You two are going to hook up when it comes to educating children?

MICHELSON: Well, he's -- he's doing a phenomenal job in -- in getting -- getting good young kids an opportunity to thrive in the world through education. And we're trying to do similar things. And I have a lot of respect for what he's done for the game of golf and what he's done in helping these kids.

COSTELLO: Are you going to focus specifically on women? Because as bad as the numbers are, it's even worse if you look at the subset of girls in that third, fourth, fifth grade. How -- how -- what's the strategy for that?

MICHELSON: Well, it's almost as though it's not cool to be knowledgeable and competent in science if you're a girl. And so we're trying to change that trend and that momentum. And I think a lot of it stems, again, from the teachers. Because if they can -- if they can teach in a way that their passion comes across, if they can make it cool, then the kids are going to want to -- to learn and know that it's cool to learn and be knowledgeable in math and science.

O'BRIEN: Did you want to be an astronaut when you were little?

MICHELSON: A little bit. I've always been fascinated by space. I would always talk to my kids about space before they would go to bed. We would talk about little tidbits and that's been an area that we've always been interested in.

O'BRIEN: That's what your wife says about you. She says you're an astronaut trapped in a golfer's body.

MICHELSON: There's worse things.

MARTIN: Hey, I've got to say I'm a left-handed player as well. So if you got any extra clubs laying around, help a brother out. I'm just saying.

O'BRIEN: Phil Mickelson, it's so great to have you. You can -- you can just ignore that side right there.

MARTIN: You might -- you might as well ask. He's sitting here.

O'BRIEN: You can just ignore it. It's great to have you this morning. We certainly appreciate it.

We've got to take a break. "End Point" is coming up next. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point". Roland, you want to start for me?

MARTIN: The conversation with Phil Mickelson set up our previous conversation, why we have to focus on STEM, that is science, technology, engineering and math in this country. Because when you talk about the job growth, the Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said that's where the job growth in America is going to be. We better focus on it as a country if we wanted to compete in the next generation.

O'BRIEN: Mark Geragos, what have you got for me?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, sitting here listening to the discussion about the gun control -- and it's amazing that you can have mass murder and still politicians are too timid to engage in a discussion of what needs to be done.

O'BRIEN: Even just engaging, right? It's kind of a sad thing.

GERAGOS: Yes. I mean even -- it takes five days for somebody to come out and say, AK-47s should be in soldiers' hands. I think there's something wrong with that.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain.

CAIN: Yes, ma'am. Normally I'm somewhat outrage deficient. I'm not when it comes to offenses to the First Amendment. And the Chick- Fil-A Chicago permitting story really kind of riles me up.

The thing is I said this last minute on that segment. You should know that tyranny and infringements on your freedom don't come in the form of jack boots. They come in the form of good intentions. Be on the lookout. This is a clear open and shut case, First Amendment violation.

O'BRIEN: All right. I thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate. Nice having you today.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.