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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

The Swing State Vote; Suspect's Links To White Supremacists

Aired August 8, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm John Berman.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. Happy Wednesday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Soledad is off this week.

And our STARTING POINT this morning: guilty. Jared Lee Loughner takes a plea deal for going on that shooting rampage and killing six people, avoiding the death penalty.

BERMAN: And responding to Romney Hood with Obamaloney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have been watching the president say a lot of things about me and my policies, and they are just not right. And if I were to coin a term, it would be Obamaloney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The jabs fly as the presidential campaign heats up. You heard from the Romney campaign before. This hour, Obama campaign deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter joins us.

BALDWIN: And "True Blood" -- hang on, because actress Deborah Ann Woll, she is stepping by in studio. We're going to get the scoop here on the upcoming season finale and she studied animal attacks to actually prepare for the role in the TV series.

BERMAN: I'm definitely sticking around for that.

BALDWIN: We're excited. We're fans.

BERMAN: It is Wednesday, August 8th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BALDWIN: And we just want to welcome and say good morning to our handsome and lovely panel here.

We have Abby Huntsman here. She is the host of "Huff Post Live." Richard Socarides, a former senior adviser to President Clinton and writer for the NewYorker.com. And Naftali Bendavid, he's a political reporter for "The Wall Street Journal".

Welcome. Good to have you with us.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, "HUFF POST LIVE": Good to see you guys together.

BALDWIN: Thanks. He's all right.

BERMAN: It's our second day together.

BALDWIN: Our second date.

BERMAN: Couples therapy begins tomorrow.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, NEWYORKER.COM: Soledad does not usually refer to us as handsome.

BALDWIN: Oh. Did you like that?

SOCARIDES: Well, yes. That was nice. It's very nice.

BERMAN: We are expecting good commentary for you today for that.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Our STARTING POINT this morning is winning votes in the swing states. While Mitt Romney visits Iowa today, President Obama is making campaign stops in Colorado.

And, you know, and he may have his work cut out for him there. A new poll out this morning shows that Romney is ahead in Colorado. Voters there would choose Mitt Romney 50 percent to the president's 45 percent.

But in Virginia, the president is ahead 49 percent to 45 percent. And Wisconsin, he has the advantage 51 percent to 45 percent.

This is all from the latest Quinnipiac/"New York Times"/CBS poll.

I am joined now by Stephanie Cutter, who is the deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign.

I want to start with Colorado there, because there's been a lot of polls last few months coming out of swing states right now. This is the first that I've seen with you trailing in this key, key swing state -- one that the president is visiting today. Why do you think this margin?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, you know, John, I think that there are polls all over the place, even the polls that you cited in Virginia. You know, they are going to go up and down. This is going to be a very close race between now and Election Day.

But what I do know about Colorado is that the women's vote is very strong there. The president is going to Denver, Colorado, today to talk about those very women's issues. And remind people that it was Mitt Romney that wanted to take control over their health care, make their decisions about their health care, get rid of Planned Parenthood, which takes away cancer screenings and preventive care for thousands of women in the Denver area. And those are the issues that are really going to resonate and is going to make a difference to them and who they vote for in November.

So, I think today's trip is a very important trip. And I think ultimately the polls are going to go up and down. It's going to be very close until the end. And we're going to fight for every vote.

BERMAN: So the women vote matters, but so does the white working class male vote. And that seems to be a target with a new series of ads from the Romney campaign, dealing with he issue of welfare reform and also some stump language from Mitt Romney recently. Let's listen to what the governor said yesterday about the president in his recent moves on welfare reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I very much agree that those who are seriously disabled or are unable to work need to have the help of the rest of us. But those who can work ought to have the opportunity for a good job, and if they are getting state assistance, they ought to have the requirement for a good job. We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good hard work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: They are backing up this rhetoric with a new ad. And just last hour, I asked a Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul to explain further what they are doing with this attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA SAUL, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: If President Obama didn't want people to think that he was going to waive the central work requirement and welfare reform, his administration shouldn't have written a memo saying it was going to waive the work requirements and welfare reform. And that's just what they've done. And they can issue blog posts and, you know, have surrogate statements saying that's not what they meant, but the memo still stands and hasn't been revoked. And that's exactly what it says.

And that's like giving a teenager saying, hey, give me the keys, I'm not going to drive your car, I promise. It's just ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Stephanie, your response?

CUTTER: Well, apparently Andrea didn't read the memo because that's not what the memo says. And I think that I would take President Clinton's word over Andrea Saul's word any day. And President Clinton said last night that the Romney ad was very disappointing, and that what the president did was exactly in the spirit of President Clinton's welfare to work law, where it gives states flexibility to meet these requirements.

And in exchange for that flexibility, flexibility that Republican governors were asking for, they had to increase their work requirements by 20 percent. I heard you, John, earlier when you were talking to Andrea and asking her about that work requirement. She completely dismissed it.

So she apparently hasn't read the memo. But that's not unusual for the Romney campaign. They don't care about the facts. They were just launching these attacks.

And, you know, if I were on their side, I might be doing the same thing because they've got taken on a lot of water that they've taken on over the last several weeks from their trip to Europe, where they insulted our allies and embarrassed our country, to the independent economic report that came out last week that showed if he wanted to --

BERMAN: Stephanie --

CUTTER: -- if he wanted to pass his $5 trillion tax plan, he was going to have to increase taxes on the middle class. I understand why they are trying to change the subject, but it's just not factually honest.

BERMAN: Let me jump in here. PolitiFact has said, you know, declared that ad pants on fire, meaning really false.

CUTTER: Right.

BERMAN: What's not false is that then-State Senator Obama said that the welfare reform bill passed in the 1990s is not something he would have supported. This was pointed out by the Romney campaign here. I think we have a graphic of this. He was asked repeatedly whether he would support the welfare reform bill, and he said, "It's not something that I would have supported."

It's not something he supported now. Why should we think it's something that in his heart he basically is in favor of?

CUTTER: Because, John what, you're not talking about is what he did in the Illinois Senate. He said he may not have supported that law, but the devil was in the details.

And you know what he did? He worked on those details across the aisle with Republican senators and the Illinois Senate and won praise from Republican senators for the way he implemented that law in Illinois, to ensure that people could have the opportunity to work and get off welfare. But we were doing it in a compassionate way, to ensure that everybody could make ends meet and get ahead.

So that's what that ad doesn't tell you, that he actually won praise from Republicans across the aisle for how he implemented that law.

So that's why you know what's in his heart. He's implemented it. He's implemented it effectively, and now he is doing what Republican governors wanted, give them flexibility. Get rid of the paperwork. Become more efficient.

But in exchange of that flexibility, increase those work requirements. That's what the president is doing today. The Romney campaign doesn't want everybody to know that because they are launching dishonest, un-factual ads to change the subject.

But those are the facts. And I think the American people understand that.

Look, you said pants on fire. There are other fact checks out today saying it's dishonest. You know, dubious. All of those things that, you know, it got panned across the board because it's just not true.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Well, Stephanie, while we're on the subject of ads, of questionable honesty and reliability, there is a new ad today out or yesterday from Priority USA, which is the super PAC which does support President Obama, run by people I believe you have met, including Bill Burton who is the deputy press secretary in the White House. Let's take a look at this ad.

CUTTER: I have yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SOPTIC: I don't think Mitt Romney understands what he's done.

When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And I don't know how long she was sick. And I think maybe she didn't say anything because she knew that we couldn't afford the insurance. And then one day, she became ill, and I took her up to the Jackson County hospital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: There are plenty of questions about the timeline of this. This man obviously, and we are sorry he lost his wife, you know, is suggesting that she died because of action that Mitt Romney took. He, of course, had left Bain years before this Bain took over this company. And then his wife died --

CUTTER: That's not true.

BERMAN: -- years after. What's going on? Is this ad accurate? Is it fair?

CUTTER: Well, that's actually -- well, John, here are the facts. I don't know the facts about when Mr. Soptic's wife got sick or the facts about his health insurance. But here's what I do know, that Mitt Romney personally handled the deal to take over G.S. Steel and personally handled some of the decisions made to load that company up with debt so much that it went underwater, it went bankrupt.

And you just said that he left the company before the deal was made. That's not true. Mitt Romney made that deal. You know, he says that he left Bain Capital in 199 to go run the Olympics. But if you remember, according to the SEC forms that he filed, he was still president and CEO of that firm. He was still taking a salary.

And I guarantee you that when G.S. Steel went bankrupt that Mitt Romney personally walked away with a significant profit while Joe lost his job. So that's what really that story is about.

BERMAN: This gets back to the argument that -- let's leave aside when he did or not give up oversight of Bain Capital, because that's fairly in dispute, although you know, it does appear that it was soon that it was soon after the 1999. But the idea that --

CUTTER: But I do think that most people think that if you're still CEO, that you're in charge.

BERMAN: Leave that aside for a second. This woman died in 2006, and this ad basically accuses Mitt Romney of practically killing her.

Is that the kind of rhetoric you want to hear in a campaign like this, especially from the side of the president of the United States, especially a president who ran four years ago on raising the level of rhetoric?

CUTTER: Well, you do know that we don't have anything to do with Priorities USA. That by law, we're not allowed to coordinate with them, and by law we don't have anything to do with their ads. I don't know the facts of when Joe Soptic's wife got sick or when she died.

But as I said before, I do know the facts of what Mitt Romney did with G.S. Steel. I do know the facts of how Joe Soptic lost his job, lost his health care. The entire company went bankrupt.

But Mitt Romney walked away with a pretty hefty profit. Those are the facts -- those are the facts that matter. And those are the reasons that in other polls out today, in ABC/"Washington Post" poll, that he is completely underwater in his favorability numbers, with independents by double digits, because people don't trust him. They now understand that this private sector business experience that he's talking about was al about making profits for himself, at any cost, at any consequence to anybody else.

And, you know, they are questioning whether that's the type of experience they want of somebody running the country. And I think that they are concluding no.

I heard, you know, on your interview with Andrea that she was saying these favorability numbers were all about people getting to know Mitt Romney. She's correct. They are getting to know Mitt Romney and they are not liking what they are seeing. There's a reason why coming out of the primaries, normally a time when nominees reintroduce themselves to the country and gain favorability numbers that Mitt Romney has dropped like a hot potato, because people are getting to know him.

BERMAN: Some of the other things that are happening in the campaign, we hearing phrases like Romney Hood and Obamaloney. You've been in a lot of campaigns. You've been in this game for a long time. Is this the kind of rhetoric that you like to see as a political operative?

CUTTER: You know, John, I think it's something that voters don't pay attention to. Voters don't care about it. You know, I saw Mitt Romney use -- I don't even know how to pronounce it, Obamaloney a couple of days ago.

BERMAN: You're doing a good of it. It was Obamaloney, yes.

CUTTER: Thank you. And, you know, I think this is a campaign. We have every right to question the facts about his policies.

He doesn't want to talk about his policies. Excuse me. I understand that because his policies have pretty dire consequences for the middle class. And we all know that the middle class is what's at stake in this election.

So, I understand he doesn't want to talk about his policies. He doesn't want to fill in any of those details, but we will. We are going to talk about his policies because that's what's at stake in this election. So, I think that's what voters care about, not the phrase that you're talking about. Or what you're calling your opponent but what his policies do.

And we're going to continue talking about it, whether he wants us to or not. Voters need to understand where he's going to take this country. And when they see a $5 trillion tax cut giving millionaires and billionaires, $250,000 in tax cuts, but in order to pay for that we have to raise taxes on the middle class, I think they are really going to care about that. And I think that's going to influence the election, because that's not the direction they want this country to go in.

BERMAN: All right.

CUTTER: We've been there. We saw those policies crash the economy. They don't want to go back there.

BERMAN: Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign. Get yourself some water. Thank you so much for joining us.

CUTTER: Thank you. Have a good morning.

BERMAN: So Obamaloney. Romneycare. We have a pants on fire ad on welfare. We have a super PAC ad basically accusing, you know, Mitt Romney of killing a woman.

What's going on here?

HUNTSMAN: You know, I was listening on my way over here to your interview with Andrea, and listening to this, where are they talking about the issues about what the candidates are actually going to do? I didn't hear one thing that either one was going to do. And that is so frustrating to voters. So frustrating.

BENDAVID: Well, it's a fine line, I think, between a pithy zinger that really gets at something a candidate is trying to do and just name calling. And I think we're dangerously close to crossing that line.

BERMAN: You don't think we're there yet?

BENDAVID: Well, we probably are there.

(LAUGHTER)

BENDAVID: The Romney Hood line was intended to say his tax plans would take from the poor and give to the rich or something like that. Obamaloney, I assume, was intended to say the president is not telling the truth.

But I think whether or not those things are effective or whether or not they're meaningful, I think, has to do with whether or not they're getting at the deeper message that the campaign wants to put out there as opposed to just sounding line playground taunts.

BERMAN: I know we don't like it, but the question is, does it work in -- is it working for one candidate more than the other?

SOCARIDES: I don't think it's going to work for anybody. I think, at some point, everybody is just going to get -- it's so frustratingly negative, much more so than, I think in the past and very early.

I mean, I don't really mind the, you know, Romney hood or Obamaloney, but what I do mind and what I think people really mind is the constant negative back and forth where you can't really tell the truth. I mean, this ad this morning about the welfare reform bill, I think, is pretty much just made up.

HUNTSMAN: And you forget the people that care about welfare are those that are struggling the most, and they want to hear what the plan is. They want to hear, how am I going to get out of this mess, and they're not hearing that.

SOCARIDES: It's not believable, right? I mean, I think that -- you can agree or disagree with President Obama's policies, but nobody thinks he doesn't want Americans back to work. I mean, you know, he's trying his best. It may not be working, but he's trying his best.

HUNTSMAN: There's a big difference between what you see on the campaign trail and what actually happens when you're in office. We saw that with Obama. He signed that waiver, but -- if you were a president, he probably would do it again. But right now, he's saying and do (ph) the opposite.

BENDAVID: But I think -- I guess, I have to disagree a little bit. I think these things are effective. I mean, I think we all wish they were --

BALDWIN: She said Americans weren't paying attention and you disagree with that?

BENDAVID: I think that negative -- not only criticisms but even some of the name calling does lodge itself in people's consciousness, and that's why the campaign --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Guys, I promise you, my word here, we're going to talk about this later.

SOCARIDES: More?

BERMAN: More. Much more.

SOCARIDES: Do you think between now and November, we're going to talk about it more?

BERMAN: This very day, we're going to talk about it more.

BALDWIN: For now. Still to come here on STARTING POINT, the skinhead rocker accused of the Sikh temple massacre now linked to the most violent neo-Nazi group in the nation. Was he or was he not on the radar for the FBI? We're going to talk to a counter terror expert who tracks these particular hate groups.

BERMAN: And get this, and a high school forcing some girls to take pregnancy tests, and they kick them out of school if that test is positive. Is this even legal? You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: And that breaking news right here in New York City where there are now pictures of a fire on the 88th floor of one World Trade Center. You're looking at pictures of it right there. Not sure if we can make out the smoke or not. This floor is unoccupied right now. In fact, the whole building is unoccupied.

The fire department is on the scene and taking care of the situation. But, again, those pictures you're looking at right now, a fire on the 88th floor of one World Trade Center. We will keep looking at this and see how things develop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that the new building going up?

BALDWIN: All right. John, thank you. Police are still looking for a motive behind the tragic Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Authorities say Wade Page, the man who allegedly killed those six and injured four did not leave behind a note, but we do know he spent the last few weeks in seclusion. We know he quit his job, moved out of his apartment that he shared with an ex-girlfriend. That ex-girlfriend, by the way, we've learned just this morning, has been arrested by South Milwaukee Police on a gun charge.

Page was a member of White supremacist bands and posed in photos just like this one here that display his sympathy, clearly, to White supremacist beliefs, but police are still not confirming he was, in fact, a member of a White supremacist group or whether his beliefs were motive enough for opening fire on this temple.

J.M. Berger is a counterterrorism analyst who tracks the White supremacist groups. He's the editor of IntelWire.com. J.M., good morning to you. I just want to begin here with the sources, because you have sources that tell you that Wade Michael Page crossed paths with the FBI at some point in time, though, he was never actually a suspect of any particular crime.

Can you explain to me crossing paths? What does that mean and what do you know?

J.M. BERGER, COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure. What I discovered, I was looking into Wade Page, obviously, as we all were in the immediate aftermath of the shootings. And I was looking at some of the web postings that he made on the Hammerskins skinhead site.

You know, the police aren't totally confirming that he was a member of the Hammerskins, but it's pretty clear that he was very closely associated with them. I saw references in those posts to some activity in Florida, which I sort of crosschecked and a source pointed me to some documents, court documents that had been released very recently regarding the American front skinhead organization in Florida.

The American front was a similar organization to the Hammerskins. They were planning to instigate a race war. They were training very heavily for this. And 13 of them were arrested in May of 2012, which is where these documents came from. And an informant who was involved in that investigation reported seeing Wade Page's bands at an event in March of 2011.

So, he was in the room with this guy. And in addition to the informant reports which we have, what we don't know is what kind of FBI records are related to this. There were two FBI agents involved in this undercover in this investigation as well as a local law enforcement agent undercover. So, there are probably some records on this.

BALDWIN: J.M., here's my question, and I was talking to Mark Potok yesterday with the Southern Povery Law Center, and they'd been tracking him for some 12 years. My question is this. And he said, you know, they're tracking thousands of people like Page, which is frightening enough.

What is it that these individuals need to do beyond associating themselves with this hate groups to do more than simply tracking someone?

BERGER: This is the big challenge of counterterrorism. You're looking at extremist groups which have thousands of members, each one, you know, each different kind of extremism has thousands of adherents. All of these people are very busy. They talk to each other. They post online. There's a tremendous massive data.

And you know, you probably heard the phrase after 9/11 that processing the intelligence was like trying to drink from a fire hose, and it's the same thing here. The people who are going to act out violently are often pretty subdued in some of the stuff that they put out there whereas, you know, somebody who -- isn't ever going to do anything might talk a very good game and sound very scary.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BERGER: So, this -- you know, there's no sure way to know who's going to act out without, you know, intelligence on the ground and the person discussing it.

BALDWIN: And that is part of the frightening part. And that certainly -- I hear you, that is challenging. And I want to ask you, though, a little bit. We're learning a little bit more when it comes to Page and his career in the military and sort of the roots, perhaps, for him of this movement.

And so, Anderson Cooper, he actually talked to someone who spent time with Page while he was in the military. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE SIMI, CRIMINOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: Well, he told me during the course of our time together was that he really started to identify with the neo-Nazism during his time in the military. And specifically, what he told me at one point was that if you join the military and you're not a racist, then you certainly will be by the time you leave.

And what he meant by that was that he felt like that he learned while he was in the military that the deck was stacked against Whites.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I hear that, I think. Well, the members of the military are our nation's heroes, certainly. But, I mean, it sounds like that in certain, perhaps, niche groups within our military and our bases, there is most definitely part of a signs of a movement here.

BERGER: Well, when Wade Page was stationed at Ft. Bragg in the 1990s, he arrived on base right about the time that authorities discovered a fairly significant neo-Nazi skinhead movement on the base. Three soldiers from Ft. Bragg were prosecuted for murdering a Black couple right around the time that Wade got there.

And the army actually did take a first stab at reforming its policies on extremism in the ranks. There are a lot of things that contribute to this. But, you know, one thing that we really have to keep in mind is that extremists are often explicitly interested in joining the military because they get training that they can use later.

You know, if you're somebody has that kind of inclination, there have been some explicit discussions among leaders of some of these groups that their followers should join the army to get trained. In addition to that, you know, I mean, I talked to some veterans. I hear different things from different people.

Some say that there's not a massive problem. Others have expressed concern to me about what they've seen in the ranks. And, you know, the military is a massive operation like the U.S. population. There are going to be some people who are problems.

BALDWIN: J.M. Berger, counterterrorism analyst, editor for IntelWire.Com. J.M., appreciate it. Thank you so much.

BERGER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And we will be back in a moment. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, at one high school a pregnant students told to leave. Details about a controversial policy now facing a strong challenge.

BALDWIN: Also a man goes to a "Dark Knight Rises" screening with a loaded gun and three knives. Why his attorney says he is no Aurora copycat.

And from the hit show "True Blood," actress Deborah Ann Woll who plays teen vampire Jessica, she stops by our studios in the daylight hours. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We have an update on our breaking news this morning. There was a fire scare at One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan this morning. Firefighters rushed to the scene after reports that a fire had broken out on the 88th floor. But CNN has now confirmed that the fire is out.

BALDWIN: Other stories this morning, Jared Lee Loughner now facing a lifetime in prison after pleading guilty just yesterday to that shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona. He now admits, yes, he killed six people and almost killed a former member of congress, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Under the plea deal, Loughner will be sentenced to life in prison without parole but will be avoiding the death penalty in the state of Arizona. He will officially be sentenced in November.

BERMAN: He says he was just trying to protect himself. An Ohio man was arrested with a loaded gun and three knives at a showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" this weekend. His lawyer claims he just wanted to protect himself in a gunman entered the theater like what happened in Colorado last month. Investigators say he did not have a concealed carry permit for that weapon.

Heavy gunfire and rocket propelled grenades going off in Syria. The city of Aleppo, there is fighting, as you can see, very much so, raging on in the streets. This is amateur video. It shows multiple explosions, and as always, we have to say CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the tape. Opposition groups say at least 170 people were killed across the country just yesterday. All of this as the former prime minister who bolted Syria arrived in Jordan.

BERMAN: A charter school in Louisiana is reviewing a controversial policy that forces pregnant teens to leave the school. Delhi charter school requires students suspected of being pregnant to take a test. And if they're pregnant, they cannot attend classes on campus. And if a student refuses the test, they'll be treated as if they are pregnant with the same consequences, which means they're out.

BALDWIN: Now the ACLU is threatening to sue over this policy. They say it violates a number of constitutional rights here. In fact, in a statement the school says, it is rethinking the rule, and I'm quoting them there. They have never - "There have never been any complaints from students and parents about the school policy. However, in light of the recent inquiry, the current policy has been forwarded to the law firm of Davenport, Files, and Kelly, to ensure necessary revisions are made so that our school is in full compliance with constitutional law."

Louise Melling is the deputy legal director of the ACLU. Welcome. I'm reading "necessary revisions." In your mind, what does that entail?

LOUISE MELLING, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ACLU: Well, first of all, we are pleased they are looking into the policy. It's blatantly illegal. You can't force girls who are pregnant out of school any more than you can force women out of the workplace because they are pregnant. So what a correct policy would entail is that girls have a right to equal education, the same as everybody else, whether they are pregnant or not. They can't be pushed out of the classroom.

BALDWIN: Have you seen this before?

MELLING: I think this is the first time I have seen anything this blatant. What we eventual see are instances where, you know, pregnant girls often are pushed into other arenas, pushed into alternative schools. They don't necessarily offer the same kind of curriculum as the regular schools. So there's definitely issues about the adequacy and sufficiency of schooling of pregnant girls. But this is exceptional that I've seen.

BALDWIN: I know part of the policy is not just if you are pregnant, but if you are suspected, that's the word, if you're suspected of being pregnant. Do we know, and I know we're reaching out to the school as well, how do they suspect pregnancy? MELLING: This I don't know.

BALDWIN: Does that mean you look a little bloated or something?

BERMAN: Is it possible this is just something they hadn't thought through? Rather than a massive civil rights violation, this school believes in tough love. Apparently they never used the policy. They say they are reviewing it. Is it possible they just didn't give it a lot of thought when they put it into writing?

MELLING: I think anything is possible, but the policy is from 2006. In 2006 we all should know that you can't segregate or push out of school, push out of the work place, push into the home girls or women because of our pregnancies.

BERMAN: Let me read you a section of the school's manual. They really lay it out. It's crystal clear. They say "As a school of choice, parents and administrators and the board of directors place high expectations to the students and require that all of the students adhere to the school's high standards. Delhi charter school has established an environment whereby conduct of its students must be in keeping with the school's goals and objectives relative to character and development." This is a school of choice. If they are choosing this, and it's spelled out clearly, isn't that ok?

MELLING: No. It's illegal. You can make choices among schools, but schools, especially schools that receive government funding, still have to comply with the law. You can't choose to participate in a school that's racially segregated in America today. You can't choose for this.

BALDWIN: But Louisiana holds the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. This is according to the CDC. And 30 percent of teenaged girls cite pregnancy or parenthood for dropping out of high schools.

SOCARIDES: Why should that matter?

BERMAN: What's the solution for that?

SOCARIDES: I think the shocking thing about the entire story, right, is that anybody in this day and age would think that this was appropriate or legal or, you know, it seems to me like it's the school district trying to sort of govern -- sort of lay down some morality tests for whether or not you're allowed in school. And that's the real problem.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But how do you change those numbers?

MELLING: In different ways. And one of the ironies, if you look internationally, one of the ways to change those kinds of ways is education and opportunity. So how ironic in some sense to sort of push all of the girls out. What's also important is that girls and families need to -- when they -- to be able to have a choice to stay in school or for example if medical conditions require it to be accommodating. The goal is to keep goals in school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any consequence for the male student who results in a girl getting pregnant?

SOCARIDES: So it's sexist too, right? Not only is the policy illegal, but it's sexist.

BALDWIN: Well, yes. It is the irony. If it's about character, then we can assume it's about character then it's about sex. That's why I assume is implicit in that. And it's the girls who are getting tested and getting pushed out. And that's not uncommon in other contexts.

BERMAN: Hypothetically, I can't imagine how you would do it, but if you did make it gender neutral and tossed out the boy as well, would that remove the legal barrier here?

MELLING: No, no. That at least would eliminate one kind of gender discrimination. But we have a history in the country, as I said, of pushing women out and pushing women into the home in the face of pregnancy. We don't have it in modern day as much, but we certainly have a long history of it. So the laws protect girls and women who are pregnant to say you can't say that the house is the proper place and we're sort of unfit for the classroom or unfit for the workplace or unfit kind of to be seen or to function. No matter what your reason, you can't do that.

SOCARIDES: There is a lesson to this story.

BALDWIN: Which is, Richard?

SOCARIDES: The lesson is this is why we need the ACLU in this country.

MELLING: I love that line.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: The school says they have gotten no complaints. We'll follow up and see what happens with the said law firm and see if the policy changes. Louise, thank you so much. Let us know what you think. You can send us a tweet.

BERMAN: Do it.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Louise. We appreciate it. We'll keep the conversation going.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, she plays the teenaged vampire, some call her sexy, on the hit show "True Blood." Actress Deborah Ann Woll is here with the season finale scoop. We'll get all the details. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Your Olympics update this Wednesday morning. U.S. women's gymnastics finishes the competition on a high note in London. Aly Raisman takes home the gold in the floor exercise and a bronze on the balance beam.

But it was not without some drama. Raisman was initially in fourth place, but after the team challenged her score on the beam, the judges decided she actually did earn the bronze.

Fellow American and all-around champ Gabby Douglas she didn't fair as well, she took a fall on the balance beam, and she finished seventh.

Checking the medal count now: China has the most medals at 73 and the most golds, 34. Team USA has 70 medals total, 30 of them gold. Great Britain and Russia each have 48 total medals.

We want you to take a look at this. It's today's Google Doodle on the home page. It's an interactive basketball player that lets you shoot hoops. This is in honor of the Olympics basketball tournament, of course. The men's quarterfinal takes place today. The U.S. plays Australia. I'm sure the U.S. men's team needs all the help they can get, so cheer for them.

And ahead on STARTING POINT, a very special guest. She is one of the -- she's a star on one of the biggest shows on television. Get ready to vamp it up with one of the stars of "True Blood." Deborah Ann Woll.

DEBORAH ANN WOLL, ACTRESS: Hi.

BERMAN: There she is. She joins us next.

BALDWIN: I'm Brooke. Nice to meet you.

WOLL: It's nice to meet you.

BALDWIN: Good morning.

WOLL: Hi good morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Actress Deborah Ann Woll is best known for her role as Jessica, the teen vampire on HBO's hit show "True Blood."

BERMAN: You will, of course, remember she was turned into a vampire by Bill Compton. So now she's learning how to be a new vampire and, of course, at the same time, deal with teen angst.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLL: I know how -- how awful and scary, lonely, it can be. But it gets better. Really -- it really does. You know, I think the hardest part is that like nobody gets you. Like Pam and Eric and Bill. They are all just so old. And then humans, you know, even if they love you, or even if they try, you know, they don't get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Here she is.

The show is about to wrap up its fifth season. Deborah Ann Woll here to give us the scoop. And I was watching you watch yourself. What's that like?

WOLL: It's hard. I'm really -- I'm not good at it yet. My boyfriend and I talk all the time about how I probably just shouldn't do it anymore.

BALDWIN: You should. You're phenomenal.

WOLL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I just begin -- I mean, I remember the scene when you sort of were introduced in the show. You were coming out of the trunk of a car, right? You were this innocent --

WOLL: Yes, virgin.

BALDWIN: Virgin, now --

WOLL: Eternal virgin, yes.

BALDWIN: Talk about your character.

WOLL: Sure yes. I mean, she came from a very conservative upbringing. I think a very scary upbringing where her parents were abusive towards her. And immediately sort of the first time she did something naughty and tried to sneak out to go to a party, she gets picked up by this gang of vampires and essentially, you know, tortured and turned into a vampire. Her whole life has changed.

HUNTSMAN: I'm curious when you first got the script, what went through your mind? Were you like this is the weirdest thing I ever read, or this is my dream come true? I've always wanted to be a vampire.

WOLL: Well it was sort of -- I feel like I was born like the color of death.

BALDWIN: Piercing blue eyes, might I add.

WOLL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Piercing blue eyes.

WOLL: But I fit very well into that. I hadn't ever thought about playing a vampire. But I do -- I do love material that pushes the bounds a little bit.

SOCARIDES: I mean, it must be fun to do the show, right? I mean, it must be fun --

WOLL: Oh it's a blast.

SOCARIDES: -- I mean, even when it's serious, it's fun.

WOLL: Yes.

HUNTSMAN: And I'm also curious that the blood that you drink, what is it made of?

WOLL: We got a lot of different blood, the actual true blood in the bottles was purple carrot juice for a while we've had that. It's been beet juice. It's been cranberry juice, it's sort of depends on what your -- what your taste is.

NEFTALI: So all of this stuff on the show that sort of seems like it could come from present day life. I mean, you know there's an anti-vampire hate group.

WOLL: Yes.

NEFTALI: You know stuff like that. I mean, how much does the show self consciously take a page of what's going on now and how much of it is just having a good time with a great story?

WOLL: Well, I mean, my hope is that it's both. Really, hopefully about 50/50. And we really want it to be entertaining. But, you know, the point is come in and watch for the violence and the fun and then the --

UF2: The sex.

WOLL: -- the sex, of course. But then you know maybe within that we can talk about something that's interesting.

BERMAN: The panel is jumping to ask questions here. Everyone is dying to ask questions here. My question is kind of a hypothetical question here. Because I always look at the show and then think about how it compares to real life.

WOLL: Right.

BERMAN: If you could turn one person in our modern society and public life here into a vampire --

HUNSTMAN: And John Berman doesn't count.

BERMAN: I don't count --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Present company excluded.

BERMAN: Just to see how they would react, who would you turn?

WOLL: Oh, boy. That's a very good question. I mean, I would hope that I would turn someone who does good for this world in a way, you know. Maybe the lovely woman you just had on. We were just talking backstage. She is so poised and you know fighting for something so important.

BERMAN: So she could live forever?

WOLL: She could live forever and continue to do the good work.

BALDWIN: So you studied animal attack footage to prepare for your role?

WOLL: I did.

BALDWIN: Why?

WOLL: Well, because I think we don't live in a world any longer where we are afraid of being eaten or attacked in that way. We're not predators. And vampires really are. That's the difference in that world. So I wanted to look at what is it like, one, for the victim to be attacked, and then two for -- once you become that predator.

BALDWIN: What do you think it is about vampires that so resonated with our culture?

WOLL: I think it's about our inner deep desires, this dark sort of forbidden taboo impulses that we have as human beings and we are never allowed really to express them. But vampires can.

HUNTSMAN: Do you think it has lasting power? I mean over the two years it's been such a hype? Or do you think it will continue to be?

WOLL: I hope so. I mean I think for that reason alone, that we do talk about some things that are true about humanity, even if it's exaggerated.

NEFTALI: Yes there are so many things that are so shocking, they're either graphically violent, they are graphically sexual alarm some combination on a lot of the time. People eating each other, sucking each other. I mean --

WOLL: Right.

NEFTALI: -- what's it like to --

WOLL: Please, please don't --

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: Oh my God, this is like morning television, right?

BALDWIN: Put down the cereal.

NEFTALI: I mean, you know, what's that like to do? And why do you think audiences are drawn to that kind of shock? WOLL: Sure. I mean it's fun. We'll have a guest star come in. And I'll be like, hi, I'm Deborah. I'm going to be biting your neck. Would you like hard fangs or soft fangs?

NEFTALI: What do people say?

WOLL: Usually soft fangs. People tend to be a little skittish right at the beginning. But you know again I do it because it's part of that primal interest. You know, and I (inaudible) something like something like sex and aggression is something that sometimes we are nervous about putting together, but I think it's very true about humanity.

BERMAN: All right, Deborah Ann Woll, I think we'll all going to watch the show differently now.

WOLL: I hope you do.

BERMAN: Thank you so much for joining us.

BALDWIN: It's such a pleasure. You're so lovely.

And the "End Point" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, everyone time for "End Point" now. Neftali?

NEFTALI : I would just say that after months of being of being on defensive this week showed the Romney's campaign attempt to at least to go on offense. And we're going to see if that works.

BERMAN: Richard. SOCARIDES: I mean you know, I think that we're going to have to get away from some of this negativity and starts -- the candidates are going to have to start saying something positive otherwise they're going totally lose the voters' attention.

BALDWIN: Richard, Abby, Neftali, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Berman, tomorrow, STARTING POINT, pay attention. U.S. swimming gold medalist Rebecca Soni is with us. Also, gymnast Jordyn Wieber. It's so exciting.

BERMAN: That's awesome.

And "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello, equally awesome, begins right now.