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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Letdown in London; Romney in Poland; Gay Marriage On DNC Platform; Romney To Speak In Warsaw

Aired July 31, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A big letdown in London, the favorite U.S. men's gymnastic team falters.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Blood on the beach -- a shark attacks a swimmer off Cape Cod.

SAMBOLIN: Crazy.

And Mitt Romney in Poland, can he salvage what's been a tough trip with a speech about an hour from now, in Warsaw?

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. We're happy to have you. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East now.

Also coming up today, a community rallies behind a couple that was barred from getting married in Mississippi just because of their race. We reported this yesterday and I still can't believe it.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, totally shocking. An interesting outcome. So, this may be good news.

Plus, a school district that pays struggling students to go to summer school. Talk about outrage. We're going to chat about that this morning.

BERMAN: But we're going to begin with really the Olympics and the night that was filled with so much promise and ended in so much disappointment for the U.S. men's gymnastics team. After finishing first in the trials, they entered the finals last night as favorites. But a fall on the floor, two costly errors in the pommel horse and a fall on the vault -- undid Team USA.

Halfway through six rotations, they were actually in last place. Last. But they rallied at the last minute to finish in fifth place. Better, but still not great.

Amanda Davies joins us now from London.

And, Amanda, the U.S. team, they were talking so big going into the finals. What happened?

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys.

I think the mood here in London at the Olympic Park today probably reflects the mood of the U.S. men's gymnastics team. Gray and gloomy is pretty much the best way to sum it up. As you said, they were hotly tipped for a medal because they had qualified for the final in first place. But really, it was just a story of trips, tumbles and fumbles, but not in a good way.

Danell Leyva, he fell off the pummel, was supposed to get back off. He had a stumble and a wobble on the bars and there was a dreadful picture of him sitting beside the arena, in tears. It's not good to see a young man in tears. And it's put to him that the team has choke and he composed himself and his reaction was this: "We weren't really shaking or anything. It wasn't as if we were scared, we were just off. We didn't do what we knew we could."

There was a great amount of expectation, as you said. And it just seemed to get to them on the day.

So the wait goes on for the men's team, for the team medal. And of course, it's the women's turn today.

BERMAN: It really was one problem after the other for the men. As you said, we're hoping for more from the women tonight.

Now, one other place where there's been a lot of ups and downs and controversy, has been the pool. The U.S. had some mixed results yesterday.

DAVIES: Yes, disappointing day for Ryan Lochte. He came out without a medal in the 200 meters, free. A great day for Matt Grevers, though. He took gold in the 100 meters backstroke. And with it, a new Olympic record.

And, of course, for Missy "The Missile" Franklin, she got her first Olympic gold of this games in the 100 meters backstroke as well.

All the eyes today will be on Michael Phelps, a big, big day for him. He's back in action, looking to make history with a third straight gold with the 200 meters fly. And then, of course, he's in the relay as well. So, today could be the day that he breaks the record, 18 Olympic medals.

And then, of course, the Chinese sensation, Ye Shiwen, is also back in action. She's been forced to deny claims of doping. She's been forced to stand up for the Chinese team, after that sensational performance of hers in the 400 meters individual medley. She's up actually in the 200 meters individual medley. She, of course, set an Olympic record in her semifinal.

The only crime she's committed is swimming fast up to this point. So, a lot of pressure on her.

BERMAN: Well, way fast, Amanda. Thanks very much. She in fact swam five minutes faster than her personal best and she broke a world record.

One U.S. coach described her performance in the 400 meter individual medley as disturbing. She actually finished the last leg of her race, finishing faster than Ryan Lochte to win his last leg in the individual medley.

SAMBOLIN: Five minutes?

BERMAN: Five seconds. She shaved five seconds off her personal best time. It's that incredible disparity that has so many people talking.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: Moving on now to the medal count.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to, sorry about that. I'll take that, how about that.

BERMAN: Go for it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. The U.S. now tied with China in overall medal counts as we understand here. Let's see, 17. But trailing in gold, Japan now in third place with 11.

BERMAN: And what to watch for today. As Amanda said, Michael Phelps heads back to the pool, looking for the first gold medal of these games in the 200 meter butterfly. If he medals it will tie the mark of 18 medals, the all-time record.

Missy Franklin, the American phenom, looks to win her second gold in the 200 meter freestyle. And in gymnastics, we've been talking about it. The women try to win the gold in the team competition.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And at 5:30 Eastern, former U.S. gymnast, Bart Conner is going to join us, the member of the last men's gymnastics team to win gold.

Do you when that was?

BERMAN: 1984.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed.

We're going to ask him what went wrong in London. Is it inexperience? Are they too young of a team? We'll let him weigh on that.

BERMAN: There's a lot to talk about. A lot of questions this morning.

We're also talking politics this morning. Mitt Romney is in the Polish capital of Warsaw, about to wrap up his three-nation tour with a speech about the values of liberty. But the presumptive GOP nominee continues to make headlines and not the kind he would like, necessarily.

Palestinian officials are calling him racist for telling Israeli donors their culture is the reason they're more successful than the Palestinians.

The White House is pouncing on Romney's latest comments. Senior strategist David Axelrod tweeted, "Is there anything about Romney's rolling ruckus that would inspire confidence in his ability to lead U.S. foreign policy?"

And in an interview back here, actually in Israel, with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the former Massachusetts governor walked back comments he made last March about Russia being America's number one foe. This is his position now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The number one national security threat of course to our nation is a nuclear Iran. Russia is a, a geopolitical adversary, but is not an enemy with, with missiles being fired at one another, things of that nature.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Romney also told Wolf Blitzer he believes the U.S. should keep a military option available in Iran.

SAMBOLIN: The bloody struggle for control of Syria's largest city intensifying overnight. It seems like a repeat every morning. Tens of thousands of people are leaving Aleppo as rebel forces try to capture the last government checkpoint on the road to the Turkish border. Government forces stepping up shelling of rebel-held districts with rocket, field artillery and helicopter gunships.

CNN's Barbara Starr catching up with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on his trip to the Middle East. Panetta sounding certain the Assad regime is on its last legs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm sure that deep down, Assad knows he's in trouble and it's just a matter of time before he has to go.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What would you say to him?

PANETTA: I would say -- if, if you want to be able to protect yourself and your family, you better get the hell out now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Panetta's travels this week take him to Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, with Syria topping the agenda on each top.

BERMAN: A shark scare off the coast of Cape Cod, I hate hearing this, I swim in these beaches. Witnesses say a man swimming off Truro, Massachusetts, was bitten by a shark yesterday. Some bathers say they saw a large dorsal fin coming out of the water.

And this video from the "Cape Cod Times" shows the man being carried off the beach in a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. The man, thankfully, is said to be in stable condition. He had severe cuts on both legs. But the fire chief says he will not lose a limb.

Several great whites have been spotted off the coast of Cape Cod this summer. I hate, terrifying, I'm terrified of sharks.

SAMBOLIN: Are you going to continue swimming there?

BERMAN: I'm never going into a pool, forget the ocean.

SAMBOLIN: All right. An African-American couple turned away from a mostly white church right before their day. Listen to what they have done. They have inspired unity.

We first told you their history yesterday. Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson were married by the church's pastor but at a different location. City leaders in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, held a unity ceremony last night, because some members of that church didn't want them to marry there.

So, this is nice. So, it inspires us.

BERMAN: Well, good for them.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: And here's one to get psyched up for summer school. Pay your kids to go. Find out where that's happening, coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 12 minutes past the hour.

We're getting an "Early Read" on your local news that is making national headlines.

Where do we start?

BERMAN: We're starting in Penn State University where sports is the news. The Penn State football team starting to come back to school right now. We're beginning to learn which players will not be joining the team. They're allowed to transfer as part of the penalties imposed on Penn State.

Quarterback Rob Bolden has announced he is leaving the team and safety Tim Buckley is also leaving. A lot of other stores considering leaving, including linebacker Mike Hull and running back Silas Reed.

Now, we actually talked with Tiki Barber. And you remember, what Tiki told us was that if you're a player who hopes to play in the pros, you have to transfer. You have to answer because that's the only way the scouts are going to see you. Otherwise, you're not going to play in bowl games, not televised games, no post-season games, you got to get out of there.

SAMBOLIN: But he said don't forget this is a solid academic institution, so if you're trying to do both, it's a great place to be.

BERMAN: Exactly. If you want a good school, stay at Penn State.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. All right. We're going to move on here. This is kind of a wacky story.

Washington, D.C.'s public school system is actually paying hundreds of struggling students to attend summer school. This story comes from the "Washington Examiner." More than 300 students who signed up for summer youth employment program told to report to summer school for -- get this -- $5.25 an hour.

Why, right? Only 53 percent of students in the D.C. public schools are graduating high school on time. They're trying to get those numbers to be a little stronger. So, to beef up graduation rates, D.C. public schools looking to expand summer programs are going to have students retake classes they failed in the following semester.

So, some parents are complaining if students get paid to go to school in the summer, they should get paid to go to school year-round.

BERMAN: What kind of message you're sending the message --

SAMBOLIN: That's a terrible message. Work hard. I don't know. These are also kids that have behavioral problems. So, I don't know if it's an incentive short term. But it just sets a precedent.

BERMAN: I would think there's got to be another way. For an expanded look at all of our top stories, you can head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 14 minutes past the hour.

Opening arguments begin today in the much-anticipated trial of an ex-cop, Drew Peterson. Peterson is charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. She was found drowned in her bathtub. This was back in 2004. That's a picture of her.

Her death was ruled an accident at that time. But the case was reopened in 2007 after Peterson's fourth wife Stacy vanished. She disappeared. Peterson is not facing charges in that case, however.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is on the phone in Joliet, Illinois.

And, Ted, by no means is this an open-and-shut case. Prosecutors are facing a lot of challenges. What can you tell us?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Absolutely right, Zoraida. In fact, there's a very good chance, people don't realize this, that Drew Peterson at the end of the trial is going to walk out of the courtroom a free man. And the problem for the prosecution here is that there's no direct evidence tying him to the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.

And prosecutors can't really bring up the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacey. Let's be frank, he never would have been investigated for Kathleen Savio's death if Stacy Peterson, his fourth wife, wouldn't have gone missing.

In this case, there's an autopsy report, there was a coroner's jury done on Kathleen Savio's death and it came back as an accident. So it's a huge hurdle for prosecutors. They do have some hearsay statements that they'll be able to bring in which are damning towards Peterson. Things he said, threats he made to his ex-wife, and quite frankly it's a very tough case.

The defense team here is very pleased with their case moving in. One of the big questions is the Stacy Peterson factor. How much will the jury hear? Here's what the defense team said about that a few days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What do you make of the Stacy factor in this trial?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who?

REPORTER: The Stacy factor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who? Stacy who?

REPORTER: She's on your witness list.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That Stacy. We're hoping she shows up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Maybe she'll show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she got the subpoena.

REPORTER: Does anybody think she's really alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely she's alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: Well, the honest truth there is that she likely is not alive and that the defense attorneys are very pleased and they're joking obviously outside the courthouse there, because they know that the judge has barred any mention of Stacy Peterson in this trial. They have that on their side.

It's going to be a fascinating trial to watch. And it gets under way in just a few hours here in Joliet.

SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you, Ted, for a lot of reasons, there aren't many people who don't know the name Stacy Peterson. You know, so they're going to be, this is going to be really tough. So, we're glad you're there following it for us, we'll continue to check in with you. Thank you.

ROWLANDS: OK.

BERMAN: I can't believe the tone in the lawyers' voice.

SAMBOLIN: No, that is incredible. But that's the way this has been. This entire time. It's Joel Brodsky (ph) who is like that, and also, Drew Peterson himself. And Joel Brodsky has said, you know, his guilty of a lot of things, maybe being an idiot. But does that, you know, make him a murderer?

So, they both have similar personalities. It's been quite a circus.

BERMAN: It will be an interesting trial. You want to stick with us this week.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: It's now 17 minutes past the hour. We want to get you up to date on all the stories this morning.

The U.S. women on top of the standings in gymnastics heading into the team competition today, one day after the men stumbled in the finals. And in the pool today, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin go for gold.

SAMBOLIN: Aurora massacre suspect James Holmes facing 24 counts of first-degree murder this morning. Two counts for each of the 12 people he is accused of killing, 12 of those charges cite extreme indifference to human life, 12 other cite deliberation. Holmes is also charged with 116 counts of attempted murder.

Prosecutors say the decision whether or not to seek the death penalty could be months away.

BERMAN: A woman who stole a baby from Manhattan hospital 25 years ago and raised her as her own has been sentenced to 12 years in prison. The woman, Ann Pettway, expressed remorse, but the parents of Carlina Renee White weren't having it, saying, quote, "What they should give is 23 years from what you took from me."

Carlina White became suspicious of her supposed mother as an adult. She browsed the Web site of the National Center for Missing and Exploited for her clues to her identity and she matched the photo of herself with one on the site. She tracked down her true mother and they had a DNA test to confirm her identity.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

All right. Check out this time lapse video. It's preparations for the Republican National Convention. The event doesn't kick off until August 27th. Several hundred people are hard at work at Tampa Bay Times Forum. It is a building on the stage at which Mitt Romney is expected to accept his party's nomination.

BERMAN: It takes a lot to get ready for that kind of stuff.

SAMBOLIN: I love those time-lapse videos. Kind of cool.

All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Small farmers are struggling through the worst drought in decades. Christine Romans went back to her hometown. She talked to some of them and get a firsthand look. That is live from Iowa corn country, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-three minutes past the hour.

As half the nation suffers through the worst drought in 50 years in record heat, it's toll is being felt especially hard by U.S. farmers. More than 90 percent of the country's corn crops are in drought-ravaged areas and the price of corn is up more than 50 percent, in the last six weeks, hitting an all-time record on Monday.

BERMAN: And joining us now live from Davenport, Iowa, is our friend, Christine Romans.

Christine, this is home for you and home is having hard times.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, I'm telling you, all 99 counties in Iowa have been declared as a disaster. Where I am in Scott County here, you've got patches of decent fields, but you can see, you can see that this corn is baking, it is dying from the ground up.

I mean, quite honestly, you drive through some of these counties here and the corn still looks green. And then you go into the fields, and you peel back an ear and they're not growing any more.

So there's still a little bit of hope for the soybean crop, but these corn crops are basically cooking out here. Right now, guys, this is the happiest the corn is going to be all day, because it's about 79 degrees right now. It is dark, so it doesn't have to curl up its leaves to protect itself against the sun. This is the only time it's sort of recharging its battery.

Talked to a farmer yesterday, Joe Dierickx, about 30 miles north of where I grew up and he took me through his field. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: What are the two things farmers talked about when they sit around with a cup of coffee?

JOE DIERICKX, FARMER: Will it rain, did you get any rain? Is it going to rain?

ROMANS: Three versions of rain.

DIERICKX: Every farmer in Iowa feels like they have a moral responsibility to do everything they can for this crop, to grow as much as we can, even though we know it's going to be short. This is one of the good-looking fields.

ROMANS: This is good-looking?

DIERICKX: You know, from the road. I mean, this is a nice- looking field and it's pathetic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A couple of things about Iowa farmers, guys, they all keep telling me things are worse in Wisconsin and southern Illinois. So, they have a little bit of an optimistic disposition because they know that there are other farmers who have it worse than they do.

Another thing is they all lived through 1988, which was a really tough time around here. Many of them have crop insurance. If they're involved in any government programs, they have to have crop insurance. They won't know what happened to this crop until they get those combines behind me and they harvest this crop in about I don't know, maybe starting in four, six, probably eight weeks.

So, they're not going to know for sure, they're not going to be able to put pencil to the paper to figure out what the economics of the summer going to be until much later on -- guys.

BERMAN: Christine Romans in Davenport, thank you so much for being with us. We know this is home for you. We see the tractor behind you. You know very much about this issue.

SAMBOLIN: Very personal.

BERMAN: And moving back on to the Olympics now. They were supposed to bring medals home from London, but instead, they're bringing disappointment. The men's gymnastics team. And coming up, we talk to a man who knows about the pressures of the game, gold medal gymnast, Bart Conner.

If you're leaving the house, you can watch us on your desk top or mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: No medal for the U.S. men's gymnastics team. Coming up, we talk to 1984 gold medallist and legend, Bart Conner, about what went wrong in London.

SAMBOLIN: Round two in the tax cut battle. The House GOP will push its own bill this week.

BERMAN: And this billboard is getting a lot of double-takes in Idaho. It compares President Obama to an accused mass murderer.

SAMBOLIN: Goodness. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome back, everyone, to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour here.

So, you know, it was a shocker. The men's gymnastics team seemingly collapsing under pressure coming in fifth after being on the top in the qualifying round. So, when it was all said and done, China claimed their second consecutive gold medal in this event. And Great Britain was on the podium for the first time in a century. We're excited for them.

Japan took the silver after the coaches made an official inquiry over the scoring of their final athlete, a decision that ended up moving the team from fourth to second place. So much drama. The Americans haven't won a men's title since 1984, which was when gymnast Bart Conner was on the team.

So, guess who's joining me now live from London. Bart Conner, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it. So --

BART CONNER, FMR. U.S. OLYMPIC GYMNAST: Good morning Zoraida. How are you?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I'm doing well, but. the question is what happened to the team? You watch it with a different perspective and different eyes than we do. What happened?

CONNER: Well, unfortunately, it really was a heartbreaker for the U.S. men, because they had qualified so well. The way the finals format works is you put up three athletes on each event and all three scores count. So, there's no buffer if you have a mistake. And unfortunately, the U.S. men made four mistakes. So, they just had an off day, and it was during the team finals.

So, even though they have six more opportunities to win medals for the men here at these Olympics, that was a really heartbreaking missed opportunity.

SAMBOLIN: No. Absolutely. And after they were first in the qualifying round, do you think the pressure of that actually affected their performance?

CONNER: Well, I think the U.S. has the quality to win the gold medal, but I think there were some, perhaps, pressure, you know, clutch performances that just didn't happen. Maybe it was nerves, I'm not really sure. I think what really surprised people was the Chinese men, they scored six points higher in the final than they did in qualifying.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. CONNER: Nobody expected them to do so well. They had sent home one of their best athletes with an injury. Another one of their athletes had a knee surgery just ten days ago. So, we had really low expectations for the Chinese team, and they had all of their performances. On every event, they nailed their performances.

And the Japanese men were also quite good. And as you said, we're thrilled for the Great Britain team, because they deserve that bronze medal. And that was a spectacular night. What an energy in that arena. It was incredible.

SAMBOLIN: No, absolutely. But you know, I do want to stick to the Americans, because we're trying to figure this out. A lot of people are writing that, perhaps, it's inexperience. And a reporter asked Leyva if inexperience had been a factor. Here's what he said.

"I don't know what to expect, but now I do. Now I know what the crowd is going to be like. Now I know what the air is going to taste like." What do you make of that answer?

CONNER: Well, I can relate to that. My first Olympic experience, I was 18 years old. It was Montreal in 1976. We took seventh as a team, and I took 46th place. I was completely overwhelmed when I walked in the arena and I saw all my heroes from what -- it was then the former Soviet Union and Japan, and it was very intimidating to sort of (ph) ground myself.

So, it took eight more years. I was 26 years old by the time I was actually able to calm down in the 1984 Olympics and have a great meet. So, you know, you try to treat the Olympics like it's any other competition.

But I like to tell the Athletes, it's not like any other competition and don't try to pretend that it is, because you're going to feel an energy and an intensity that you've never experienced before. So, be prepared for that. So, perhaps, they were just slightly overwhelmed.

SAMBOLIN: And what about going from team all-around to individuals? How do you think they're going to fare now?

CONNER: Well, I think, obviously, it was an important learning experience. As I said, there are six more opportunities, the all- arounders, Danell Leyva and John Orozco have a chance to redeem themselves in the all around. And, Leyva qualified first in the all- around in their qualification.

So, they still have many other opportunities, as I said, six opportunities to win medals. And hopefully, they'll learn from the team disappointment and rebound.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it's really nice to have your perspective. Really nice for you to join us this morning. And I hope that if anything else major happens, you will come back, Mr. Bart Conner. We appreciate it.

CONNER: It will be my pleasure. Thank you so much.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: How cool is it to hear from Bart Conner on that?

SAMBOLIN: Fantastic.

BERMAN: One of the best of all-time for the Americans, and boy did he have some neat perspective on that.

Sticking with the Olympics right now, Michael Phelps may be just hours away from another signature Olympic moment. He'll be looking for his first gold medal of the London games when he hits the pool later today to compete in the 200-meter butterfly. And if he finishes in the top three, he'll tie the all-time record of 18-career Olympic medals.

Phelps telling CNN's Piers Morgan when this competition is over, his swimming career is over, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: I'm retiring and I won't be coming back.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: That will be it.

PHELPS: Yes. If I can look back at my career and say I've done everything I've ever wanted, no matter how many medals, no matter how many records, no matter how many this, that, whatever. If I can look back at my career and say that, it doesn't matter anything else. I consider my career a success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: What more could he possibly want?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Phelps already has the most gold medals of any Olympian, 14, and he shattered Mark Spitz's record with eight wins in Beijing four years ago.

SAMBOLIN: And still more opportunities, right?

All right. Democrats are on track to support same-sex marriage as part of their convention platform.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The party's platform draft committee unanimously approved a pro-gay marriage language at a meeting. This was over the weekend. The draft now goes to the full platform committee, which meets in two weeks. It reportedly won't be a central issue in either party's campaign.

BERMAN (voice-over): And you have to check out this billboard in Western Idaho. No surprise it's getting a lot of attention. It compares President Obama to movie massacre suspect, James Holmes. That's right. The message by Holmes picture says, "kills 12 in a movie theater with assault rifle, everyone freaks out."

The message by the president's picture? "Kills thousands with his foreign policy, wins Nobel peace prize." The group behind it says all it's trying to do is argue against the president's war policy. Still pretty controversial.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed.

A showdown over taxes looms with both parties keeping an eye on how tax cuts will play into presidential election. A House GOP bill that extends all tax cuts is expected to narrowly pass this week. Last week, the Senate eked out a bill pushed by Democrats and the White House that lets tax cuts for upper-income Americans expire at the end of the year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (on-camera): It is now 36 minutes past the hour. There is the threat of severe weather today in the southeast. We're seeing hot temperatures all around the country, and we are joined by Rob Marciano in Atlanta. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning, guys. Yes, getting some thunderstorms right now across Alabama, severe thunderstorm watch in effect until eight o'clock local time. Some ramblers rolling through Birmingham, getting into Montgomery as well. Some across the Tennessee Valley, just east of Nashville heading towards North George, including Atlanta and potentially later on today.

That's one of the areas that we're watching. Also, pretty strong line of thunderstorms just moved through Chicago and through South Bend, Indiana. Weakening a little bit as it heads towards the Fort Wayne and Detroit, and this expected to continue to weaken as we go through the day today. A couple of fronts that will bring the rainfall, that one.

And then also kind of a trailing up into the northeast. You still have a threat for seeing some showers and maybe some thunderstorms or some steady rain along the coastline, but the bulk of the heavier action, we believe, today as far as severe weather goes will be across the southeast. That does include Atlanta back through Charleston and in through Jacksonville as well. Mostly large hail and maybe some damaging winds.

We don't see the set-up particularly for tornadoes, although can't rule out an isolated one. Record highs again yesterday, 110 in Hayes, Kansas, 107 in West Plains, Missouri. Hot springs, you bet. Arkansas, 106, and this is the same area today that we expect to see excessive heat. Heat advisories and warnings, including parts of Wichita and through Tulsa, back through the lower Mississippi Valley as well.

So, these are areas that are in drought. The Mississippi River very, very low and temperatures in Kansas City, by the way, 102. Not going to be very cool in Iowa where Romans is, 77 in New York and get some clouds and raindrops to deal with, but that's kind of chilly compared to what we see for the Big Apple this summer.

BERMAN: Look at those temperatures at where Christine is where having that dry (ph), a 100 degrees out there. Rob Marciano in Atlanta, thanks very much.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. It's been a rough overseas trip for Mitt Romney and all eyes will be on him once again when he speaks about a half an hour from now. He is in Poland. We're going to have a live report from Warsaw coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, Washington, D.C. It is 75 degrees right now. A little bit later, 87 degrees. You are going to have some isolated storms. Take your umbrella this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I am John Berman. It is 42 minutes past the hour. And in just about half an hour, Mitt Romney will give a major speech in Warsaw, heralding the close ties between Poland and the U.S. There is a lot on the line for Governor Romney this morning after being lampooned in London for his criticism of Olympic security.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney was called a racist by Palestinian leaders for suggesting to Israeli donors that their culture is a reason they're more economically successful than Palestinians. CNN's Jim Acosta is in Warsaw right now. And Jim, so far, Romney has had a much easier time in Poland. He's getting ready for this big speech where I understand he's going to talk about Poland's path to Democracy, but also, its economic success.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Mitt Romney is going to try to get his campaign and this trip back on message today with this foreign policy address here in Warsaw. And as you said, he's going to be talking about some of the good things that he sees here in Poland. His aides have talked about how this economy here is really roaring ahead of much of Europe.

And that is something that the rest of Europe, he says, might want to take a look at. The other thing he'll be talking about, I think, he'll be also honoring this country's commitment to the war in Afghanistan. So, we may be hearing some of that as well, but you're right. There have been a few gaffes on this trip for Mitt Romney.

The Palestinians are very upset about what the GOP contender had to say down in Israel at a fundraiser with some of his donors. Let's put his quote up on screen that really got the Palestinians so fired up. This is what he had to say. He said, "Culture makes all the difference." He said in regards to why the Israeli economy is doing better than the Palestinian economy.

And he said, "And as I come here and look out over the city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things." And as you mentioned, Palestinian leaders were not happy about this when they heard some of these comments or read some of these comments.

A spokesman for Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas (ph), put out this statement saying, "It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation." We should also mention that Mitt Romney sat down for an interview with our very own Wolf Blitzer.

And Wolf asked the GOP contender about something that he said a few months ago. When he described Russia as the nation's top geopolitical foe, he got criticized for saying that, notably, from Colin Powell. Here's how Mitt Romney explained it to Wolf Blitzer in this interview just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The last time you and I spoke in an interview, you told me that Russia was America's number one geostrategic foe. Do you still believe that?

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there's no question, but in terms of geopolitics, I'm talking about votes at the United Nations and actions of a geopolitical nature. Russia is the number one adversary in that regard that doesn't make them an enemy. It doesn't make them a combatant.

They don't represent the number one national security threat. The number one national security threat, of course, to our nation is a nuclear Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So here -- there you hear that explanation from Mitt Romney. Now, we should also mention, John and Zoraida, that just a few moments ago, Romney wrapped up a trip to the tomb of the unknown soldier here in Warsaw. They have a monument also for their war dead here in Warsaw. And, as Mitt Romney was leading that monument, some members of the traveling press corps that's been following his trip attempted to ask some questions of the GOP contender.

He ignored those questions. But John and Zoraida, his traveling press secretary, Rick Gorka, sort of dressed down some of the reporters as they were trying to ask those questions, at one point, telling one of the reporters to shove it. So, there have been some tensions out here this morning on this final day of the trip, John and Zoraida.

BERMAN: That's really interesting. And the reporters have had a very tough time getting questions to Romney this entire trip. It's been a largely staged event after event. Although, as you said, Wolf Blitzer did get to sit down with him for quite a bit. Jim Acosta in Warsaw, we'll check back in with you a little while.

SAMBOLIN: Gorka said holy site for the Polish people, show some respect. So, that's what he took exception to.

Forty-six minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date with this morning's top stories.

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SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The U.S. women on top of the standings in gymnastics and aiming for gold today in team competition. This is one day after the men totally collapsed in the finals. After finishing first in the trials, they entered the finals last night a favorite but ended up a disappointing fifth in team competition. China took the gold.

BERMAN (voice-over): An Olympic judo fighter from Saudi Arabia will be allowed to wear her head scarf during competition. Saudi officials insisted the 16-year-old wear clothing that, quote, "sticks to Islamic principles." The International Olympic Committee has given its permission now. This is the first year Saudi Arabia has allowed female athletes to compete in the Olympics.

SAMBOLIN: An Atlanta woman who survived cancer twice is now fighting an extremely rare bacterial infection that has cost her both her hands and her feet. Doctors believe the victim may have contracted the disease from a dog. And the bacteria is common in dog's saliva. And the victim may have been more susceptible to infection because of her battles with cancer.

BERMAN: A single inmate is being blamed for inciting a riot that destroyed unit in Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi. Sheriff Tyrone Lewis says it began early Monday morning when 25-year-old inmate Kendall Johnson (ph) escaped from guards and used a fire hose to flood the unit.

Johnson then allegedly began releasing other inmates. The standoff was brought under control early Monday afternoon.

SAMBOLIN: Listen John, if you curse on the job --

BERMAN: What do you mean, listen John?

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: It could be holding you back. You never curse. A new career builder survey finds that 64 percent of employers say they would think less of an employee who repeatedly -- operatively word there -- uses curse words. Fifty-seven percent say they'd be less likely to promote someone who swears in the office. At the same time, one in four employers admitted to swearing at their employees.

BERMAN: The story is a load of -- well, never mind. (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: We'll leave it at that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): You never, ever, ever curse. So, I just want to make that clear. At least, I haven't heard it yet, but you haven't been here that long.

BERMAN (on-camera): That's right. It's really been a couple of weeks. So, give me some time.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: It is a long way from the NFL. And coming up, Brett Favre's first day in his brand new football job. Would he hear (ph) what it is?

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone, just go to CNN.com/TV.

SAMBOLIN: I love that Brett Favre story. I'm going to go watch it.

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BERMAN: We have some great stories for you today. Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 51 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with John Berman. We're taking a look at what is trending on the web today.

BERMAN: it is one of the things trending on the web, from title town to tiny town. We're talking about Brett Favre back on the field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect. Perfect.

(INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That is Coach Brett Favre to you. He is now an assistant coach at a high school near his home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He, we think, is an unpaid offensive coordinator for this team. You can see him there, barking orders, calling plays, and everyone paying very close attention. Oh, wait. Is he taking snaps? The running back there.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: I don't know what he was doing there, but he looked sharp, very gray, I might say.

(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: The aging Brett Favre no doubt about to come out of retirement and play again in the NFL.

SAMBOLIN: I'm so excited about this. Can you imagine the people that are going to flock there to watch the team? This is incredible. Of course, they're going to listen. Brett favre. This is so cool.

All right. We have another really cool story. A big kid at heart, LL Cool Jay stopping by Caine's Arcade. The rapper and actor taking a turn at a cardboard whack a mole at a summer camp in Campton, California. Pictures posted on Facebook, and check out the guns there. All right. So, we showed you Caine's Arcade a few months ago.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: Let's get back to the story. It's a touching video that went viral. So, this nine-year-old boy, he built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad's used auto parts store. Just loads of cardboard tape and a really big imagination. Well, he brought his arcade to camp, and it was a hit with kids of all ages, and apparently, a lot of celebrities have stopped by.

You know what I'm going to do? I am going to send this out via Twitter and Facebook, because it's an amazing story that you should share with all your kids.

BERMAN: It is so cute.

SAMBOLIN: Perseverance, and yes, it's just an adorable story. Never give up. Never give up. This is fantastic.

BERMAN: I have one more sports item to talk about --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- something very rare, one of the most rare things in baseball last night. More rare than a no-hitter --

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: That is Kendry Morales (ph) hitting a home run. What's remarkable is Morales hit two home runs from both sides of the plate in the same inning. So, he hit one righty. That was there before he hit one lefty.

SAMBOLIN: Wow!

BERMAN: It's really -- it never happens in baseball. He's just the third person to do whatever. The first two were Carlos Baerga and Mark Bellhorn. It's very, very -- you have to get up twice in the same inning to have it happen at all, then you have to face different pitchers. I'm telling you, it's a really big deal.

SAMBOLIN: It's a rare moment.

BERMAN: Better take this very seriously. SAMBOLIN: I am.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to tweet that out, too.

All right. Fifty-four minutes past the hour. Late-night laughs and the boys getting their first crack at Mitt Romney's overseas trip and the summer games. So, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, TEAM COCO: Mitt Romney campaign still trying to do damage control after remarks that Romney made while in the UK. Probably Romney's worst gaffe was when he visited Buckingham Palace and said to Queen Elizabeth, you call this a house?

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": The games are on, and American is doing great. Right now, the United States and China are tied in total medals. Naturally, the U.S. trails in gold, because every time we win one, we hand it over on the podium to pay off our national debts.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Nice. All right. The guy is having some fun there with the overseas trips and the Olympics.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, boy!

BERMAN: It is 55 minutes past the hour. We're going to have all of our top stories coming up after the break. We're also expecting Mitt Romney to give a very big, important speech in Warsaw in the next half hour. He's wrapping up his European tour with this speech. We'll bring it to you. You're watching EARLY START.

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