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Mitt Romney Picks Paul Ryan as Vice Presidential Running Mate; Interview with Randy Forbes; Wildfires Burning In Northern California; Sinkhole Evacuees Won't Go Home Soon; Not Letting "Fast And Furious" Go; McIlroy Routs Field In PGA Championship; Democrats Attacking Paul Ryan In Force; Medicare Facing Insolvency By 2024; No Man's Land, Saudi Arabia Planning All-Woman Business District; Whitney Houston's Swan Song

Aired August 13, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, a campaign jolt. Mitt Romney and his new running mate, Paul Ryan, hitting the road, drawing huge energized crowds. On the attack, Democrats who are pouncing on the pick, blasting Ryan's stance on taxes and spending and entitlement programs. What is the so-called Ryan budget plan? We're going to talk about that.

And prayers for a quick recovery as 93-year-old evangelist, Billy Graham, is taken to the hospital. He has a lung infection.

We have a packed show. Spiritual leader turned movie producer, Bishop T.D. Jakes, will be joining us. Olympic gold medal skier, Picabo Street, Maryland congressman, Chris Van Hollen is our guest. Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, and Democratic Party chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Shultz all joining us this morning.

It's Monday, August 13th and STARTING POINT begins right now.

This morning we're talking about Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's new running mate. One man who knows him very, very well is Ryan Lizza. You'll remember he's the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker." He was writing an in depth article about how Ryan won over the GOP. Ryan is with us this morning. It was eight days, nine days ago we were discussing Paul Ryan, the article in the "New Yorker" called "Fuss Budget." Did you know then he was actually on the fast track to be a pick for the VP?

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": No, we barely talked about it in my interview. The reason I wrote the piece, I wanted to think about what is Romney going so do if he wins. If you want to understand what Republicans will do if they gain the White House, Paul Ryan is the guy to understand. It was his policy agenda that you knew Romney was going in the direction. I didn't think he would take Paul Ryan himself.

O'BRIEN: You could have said yes and told us you did --


LIZZA: I want to be honest. I did say he was a long shot for veep.

O'BRIEN: We're talking al about Paul Ryan today. In fact, we want to get up close and personal with the congressman. Mitt Romney says he is very happy with his new running mate, Ryan seems genuinely moved by the appointment and at point practically crying with emotion. Last night on "60 Minutes" Paul Ryan said Romney has been battling on an uneven playing field for too long.


PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Going to help him win the race to do it for the American people. We're going to split up more of often than not and double our efforts. It was one against two for a while now it's two against two. We'll bring a message to the country. Here's how you get the country back on track.


O'BRIEN: We're going to talk more this morning about that message. President Obama is leaving Chicago kicking of a three-day bus tour across Iowa. Vice President Biden has a campaign event in Durham, North Carolina. And Ryan will make his first solo appearance as Romney's running mate at the Iowa state fair in Des Moines, while Romney makes two stops in the state of Florida.

All of that brings us right to CNN's national political correspondent Jim Acosta. He's joining us from Saint Augustine, Florida, this morning. Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. I had a chance to talk to a couple of advisers and they do like the response to the Romney/Ryan ticket. They had some of the biggest crowds at the campaign as seen over the last 48 hours in states like Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin. And they do recognize that the Ryan budget plan you just mentioned has stoked some controversy but they emphasize Mitt Romney is at the top of the ticket.

They also like the visuals coming out of this team. Paul Ryan, as they like to point out, first generation x vice presidential candidate in this country's history. He's got a young wife and family that they had out there on the campaign trail as well. But these two men have gone their separate ways, Paul Ryan off to Iowa and Mitt Romney in Florida. We saw the two of them shake hands and get on separate planes last night on a tarmac in Wisconsin, but not after the Wisconsin congressman had an emotional home coming at an event in Wisconsin late yesterday. Here's what he had to say.


RYAN: I'm fifth generation from this state. My family came here back in the 1800s, made a go of it. It's where we've all raised our families ever since. This is such a phenomenal place to live and to work and to raise your family. My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little spot of linies and some Miller.


ACOSTA: Now, for our non-Wisconsin viewers, Soledad, that linies, he's referring to are Line and Koogle's. He was also talking about some other Wisconsin beers there. Paul Ryan flexing his Wisconsin muscles, talking about his Wisconsin roots.

We should mention getting back to the Medicare issue. The Obama campaign has released a new campaign video hitting Romney and Ryan on Medicare, featuring seniors down here in Florida. We'll get a chance to see how this Ryan plan for the budget will play with seniors later on this week. And the Romney campaign is pushing back on the notion that they are hiding Paul Ryan from Florida. They say he will be down here for a campaign event later on this Saturday. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: We're going to obviously be watching. Thanks, Jim.

In a couple of minutes we'll talk to Congressman Randy Forbes from the state of Virginia. He spoke at the rally when Paul Ryan made his running debut. First let's get to John Berman with a look at the day's top stories.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, an Illinois man charged with shooting his air rifle at the mosque during Ramadan services will appear in bond court. The leader of the mosque thinks David Conrad should be charged with a hate crime. But police say prosecutors rejected hate crime charges in this case.

Gabby Giffords is back home 19 months after being shot at a political event. The former Congresswoman and her husband moved back to Tucson yesterday permanently. Giffords had been spending most of her time in Houston rehabbing. Her husband Mark Kelly tweeting, "Gabby has been waiting for this day for a long time."

Evangelist Billy Graham is alert and good spirits in a North Carolina hospital this morning. The 93-year-old preacher has been battling a pulmonary infection believed to be bronchitis. Graham's spokesman has said no date has been set for his discharge.

NFL star Chad Johnson, formerly known as Chad Ochocinco is known as a dolphin. He was arrested for head butt being his wife. According to the arrest report, Lasada was asking for a receipt for condoms she found when he grabbed her and head butted her, causing a laceration, Johnson tells police. There's a lot going on with that one.

Next stop, Rio. London promised a party and they delivered. Spice Girls, George Michael, The Who, Annie Lennox and even an appearance by Monte Python phenom Eric Idle helped close out the 2012 summer games. The U.S. topped the medal count with the most total medals, 104, and the most gold with 46. So what do these Olympians do next? Coming up next hour, Soledad sits down with gold medal skier Picabo Street. Perhaps she can shed some light on life after the Olympics.

O'BRIEN: I'm guessing they go to a bar and take a week off from practice, and then go back at it. BERMAN: They don't all make it and come back and get the big Wheaties box.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Ryan. Moving on now.

BERMAN: I was sad to learn that.

O'BRIEN: Our STARTING POINT this morning, of course, is the new Romney/Ryan ticket. They are trying to earn some of the key swing state votes. As we mentioned they will hit Iowa and Florida separately. They gave their first joint interview last night where Mitt Romney gave Paul Ryan high praise. Listen.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Paul could become if it were necessary, could become president. He has the experience and judgment and capacity and character to become president. That was the first and most important criteria.


O'BRIEN: Randy Forbes is a Republican congressman from state of Virginia and member of the arms services and Judiciary Committee. He spoke at the rally on the USS Wisconsin when Paul Ryan made his running mate debut. Thanks for talking with us. I know we have some of the great photos you took in Virginia where folks were going wild cheering. Do you think you'll be met with cheers from what I think what's a critical group here, the independents and undecideds, will they have the same energetic take on Paul Ryan being added to the ticket?

REP. RANDY FORBES, (R) VIRGINIA: Soledad, I think they will. I've known him politically and personally and governmental capacity. He has such a strong character and strong family man. Most importantly Paul Ryan is a brilliant guy. He has more good ideas about breakfast than most people have in their entire career. What most independents are looking for, they are tired of this these political attacks and want new government ideas. That's what Paul is going to bring to the table. I think it's going to excite them.

O'BRIEN: He's an unknown if you look at the polling. And there isn't a lot among independents and this was done before he was tapped to be VP pick, favorable 27 percent, unfavorable 22 percent, no opinion, 15 percent and never heard of the largest there at 36 percent. Which is most concerning statistic of those that I just read to you as you look at that list right now? What worries you on that list?

FORBES: None of those statistics. He's been announced a little over a day. And I think in just a few weeks America is going to know Paul Ryan. The more they know about Paul Ryan, the more excited they are going to be, because if in fact the economy is the number one issue in the country for most people and jobs are the number one issue in the economy, they can't find anybody better than Paul Ryan to bring the ideas to the table that we need to turn this economy around and start rehiring people across the country.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk budget in a moment. I want to talk about Medicare, best known for the dramatic changes he would like to see am Medicare. And 55 and older as he proposes it wouldn't change. Under 55, the goal is a voucher system where seniors could pick what they want go into effect in the year 2023. Do you worry that talking about dramatic changes for Medicare is going to be of great concern for the people in the swing states that have an older population, like the state of Florida and Pennsylvania and Iowa?

FORBES: Soledad, I don't. And a couple of reasons for that. First of all, I think the most dangerous approach to Medicare is Vice President Biden's approach. I think the second most dangerous approach is what the president wants to do in taking $700 billion out of Medicare, which he's proposed to do. I think the third thing is in what I think is going to be very concerning to people in reassuring to them is the fact that Paul has made it clear for people 55 and older, they won't have a change in Medicare. But he's emphasized Medicare is going to go bankrupt if we don't do something to change it. He wants to make sure he strengthened it and preserves it for generations after us.

O'BRIEN: I want you to elaborate for me when you say Vice President Biden's plan. Give me some specifics on that. But I have to tell you as I'm sure you know, $700 billion dollar figures has been debunked by CNN and the congressional budget office. That number has been battered around a lot. And that's very much political spin. Tell me Vice President Biden, what plan does he have.

FORBES: Soledad, that's just it. He doesn't have a plan. If you have no plan at all, then Medicare is going to go bankrupt and we won't have it at all for people under 55. We decide we're going to do with the vice president has done and put our head in the hole and do nothing and led Medicare go bankrupt or do something to make sure we're preserving for people 55 and under.

Paul is trying to do is put ideas on the table and say if you're on Medicare, approaching the time to be on Medicare, you're not going to be impacted at all. But for those who are younger than 55 who know that they won't have Medicare when they are there because it's going to be bankrupt, we want to do something to make sure we're shoring that up and it's going to be there for them. I think doing nothing is not a satisfactory approach.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia, nice to see you, sir.

FORBES: Always good to see you.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate that, thanks.

FORBES: Let's get right to Ryan Lizza. You heard from the congressman, the theory that do something is better than do nothing. I was sort of confused when he brought in the Vice President Biden.

LIZZA: I was too, didn't understand what he meant. He was just saying he's proposing nothing.

O'BRIEN: As opposed to Paul Ryan who proposed something.

LIZZA: They will be debating in the vice presidential debate what Congressman Forbes is saying, rather than Obama he's pointing to Biden. It seemed very deliberate, I wonder if he's trying to change the debate to Paul Ryan to the man he'll be running against, Joe Biden. In a way it raises Mitt Romney. He was somewhat diminished because we were talking about Ryan's plan not his.

O'BRIEN: Interesting strategy, do something versus do nothing. If that's the plan when you're going to have clearly over the next I'd say starting yesterday to continuing on, an attack and focus by the Dems on this budget and Medicare.

LIZZA: The Medicare -- look the Republican line on Medicare is to point out to this $700 billion figure. They are going to say, you want to say Paul Ryan is going to hurt Medicare, wait a second the president of the United States took $70 billion out of Medicare and used it to pay for Obama care. What's important to point out as you were getting at in the interview, that $700 billion was not cuts to beneficiaries. They took $70 billion out of payments to actually decrease in the rate, in the rate of increase to providers. It's not beneficiaries that got -- we'll hear that number a lot.

O'BRIEN: Clearly.

LIZZA: It's important to spell out what went on.

O'BRIEN: He was signaling a lot of what we'll see in the debate as we move forward. We'll keep talking about this this morning. Still ahead, Delaware's Democratic governor Jack Markell will join us. He's calling Mitt Romney's VP pick, quote, "out of touch with the middle class." I think I hear another strategy.

And how much would you pay for your child's school back pack? Gucci is hoping you're comfortable with $800.

LIZZA: What?

O'BRIEN: God, I have so many children, I could never possibly afford that. Top fashion designers are pushing super expensive duds head back to school. We say, get real.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. They've only been running mates for 48 hours, but Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan are dividing and conquering today. Ryan is making his first solo appearance on the Romney ticket at the Iowa state fair. Romney is holding an event in Saint Augustine Florida. At 8:45 CNN will bring you live coverage when it happens.

I want to bring in Delaware's governor Jack Markell. He's the head of the Democratic Governors Association. Nice to see you, sir.

MARKELL: Nice to see you. Former head of the Democratic --

O'BRIEN: That's right, former head. We talked about why are transition up u that must free up your time for other things like talking about Paul Ryan as VP on the ticket. So what do you think of him as a choice?

MARKELL: First of all, I want to congratulate him and his family. It must be a very exciting moment for them. But I think this sets up a very stark contrast between the two. I think as more Americans become more familiar with his approach, with his plans and policies, they'll see there's an incredible mismatch between some of the rhetoric and the reality, and particularly around helping the economy.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk specifically about that. You see cheers, it seems and I was over the weekend talking to upstate where I live, some of the folks in the Republican party there, were thrilled, like, he's a strong choice, bowled choice, these are their words, that he's defined and true conservative. He puts solutions on the table. They were lift rally he is static about his choice.

MARKELL: So the question is, are those solutions the right solutions? If the only thing that matters growing the economy and particularly for the middle class, I think the answer is no. Let's take a look at the two choices. The Romney and Ryan approach is very much focused almost exclusively on cutting taxes for the very, very wealthiest. We certainly all want low taxes.

But then you take a look, how do you really grow middle class? You need investments in education. You need investments in infrastructure and you need investments in science and research. Those are things that the Ryan budget cuts, cuts, cuts. Those are different approaches. If you're trying to build an economy, from the middle class out, I think that's a much better approach.

O'BRIEN: Paul Ryan has said his strategy for building a middle class and upward mobility is clear out government, move it out of the way. It's not -- I think his words were more about don't enable the poor but instead enable entrepreneurship and enable people to make their way better and that they are being hampered by the government. A lot of people agree with that.

MARKELL: We certainly don't want more government than we need. But there are things only government can do. Only government will make the investments in education. Only government will make necessary investments in basic research that then gets commercialized. Government is in a very strong position with respect to public schools to make sure that we continue to provide opportunities for kids across this country. His plan cuts Pell grants for 10 million kids. His plan kicks 200,000 young kids off of head start. These are not the kinds of investments going to lead to a prosperous future. I think it's important that Americans of all parties understand in some detail what his specific approaches are. LIZZA: Can I ask a question? There's a lively debate over Medicare and a lot of Republicans are saying, this president is not -- can't attack Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, he took $700 million they will say out of the program. And others will say Boehner and Obama were this close to a deal that would have raised the eligibility age for Medicare. So the president is pretty much on record for raising the age to 67. How do Democrats have an advantage on the issue given those facts?

MARKELL: Two reasons. Number one, the Congressional Budget Office has the affordable care act extends of life of Medicare, number one.

LIZZA: That's -- what about the $70 billion?

MARKELL: First of all, and I think one of your previous speakers talked about it. The difference is the Ryan plan cuts the benefits for beneficiaries. And essentially it's going to transfer more of a burden onto the beneficiaries. And in contrast, the Obama plan does not do that.

But here's the bigger point. The bigger point is the president's plan recognizes what we have is a sick care system than a health care system where providers and hospitals and the like get paid based on how many procedures they do. The affordable care act really shows how we get to rewarding people, rewarding providers for quality.

All that the Ryan plan does is cut, cut. These are two fundamentally different things. No question we have to address the solvency of the entire health care system. But so much of that is moving away from the fee-for-service, paying providers for how many procedures they do and actually we warding people for quality.

O'BRIEN: Jack Markell, always nice to have you with us.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, Gucci for your kids. Top designers are going after our kids for back to school shopping. It is our get real and our STARTING POINT team to head in to talk about that. Richard Socarides and Will Cain, I missed you.



O'BRIEN: That goes without saying. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning Will Cain is a a columnist for, Richard Socarides is a writer for, and Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." An all boy panel this morning. Wow.

Our get real, how much money have you spent on your kid's stuff? I literally try to go as cheap as possible because they grow like weeds, $10 on a t-shirt, $20 on shoes. I'm cheap. I like that. But new designers or old designers in some cases charging crazy prices for kids for growing children. Paris fashion house has kids' clothes that run into the thousands of dollars. A sequined dress cost $1,200 for your kid. A wool hat and ballerina style slippers, $380 apiece. And it comes with cardigans that are fur lined, $1,200, I assume real fur. Gucci too, dresses for under $500 and $800 for a kid's Gucci backpack.

SOCARIDES: You got to have the latest thing when you go to school. You know the target audience for this, rich gullible grandparents.

CAIN: I have a four-year-old and Ryan, you have a five-year-old. With these apparently desiring consumers, the difference between a napkin and his shirt, if you're wiping your chocolate covered hands on a $400 shirt?

O'BRIEN: There was a $5,200 silk party dress and same thing, they go like this and it's like -- smear.

SOCARIDES: Get real.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Richard, exactly my point. I think I'm right about this one.

We want to know about your think about it. You can send us a video, 20 seconds total max, about a point you want to make on the show. We're calling it my end point. We'll pick one and include it in the end of our show. Go to our blog at to submit your video.

Two wildfires are raging in California, mandatory evacuations in one city 100 miles north of San Francisco.

And we're talking about Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, the new number two hitting the campaign trail. Democrat Chris Van Hollen serves on the House Budget Committee that's chaired by Ryan. We will tell us why he says he has mixed feelings. He's going to be with us live in just about 10 minutes. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Coming up, Paul Ryan's friends and Democratic counterpart on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen is going to join us live straight ahead.

He is saying this morning that he has got some mixed feelings about the Wisconsin lawmaker being named as Mitt Romney's running mate. We'll ask him about that.

First though, we want to get an update on the day's top stories and John Berman has got that. Good morning.

BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad. Two wildfires in Northern California were now covering more than 5,000 acres, one of them forcing dozens to evacuate their home in Clear Lake that's about 100 miles north of San Francisco. More than 200 firefighters are on the scene. Officials say it could be at least another week before everything is under control.

People evacuated from the area near this huge sinkhole in Louisiana won't be allowed back in their homes for another month at least. These pictures are amazing. The investigators say they are looking into the possibility that a nearby salt cavern is to blame. They say they've asked the company behind the cavern to drill a relief well.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darryl Issa isn't dropping his complaints for Attorney General Eric Holder over the "Fast and Furious" failed gun running operation. Today, the committee is planning to enter a civil suit against Holder.

Last night, Issa tweeted that he plans to file charges. Earlier in the summer, the House voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over all of the "Fast and Furious" documents that they wanted. The Obama administration cited executive privilege and refusing to comply with Issa's committee subpoena.

Roy McIlroy not only one golf final major of 2012, he did it in record breaking fashion. The 23-year-old Northern Ireland native blew away the field on the ocean golf course winning the PGA Championship by eight strokes.

No one has ever won the PGA by a wider margin in the 94-year history of the event. McIlroy is the number one player in the world after capturing his second career major, which by the way he has done at the younger age than Tiger Woods won his second career major. So he's on an interesting track right now, worth watching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was great. Even I watched that.

O'BRIEN: You know, it will be so interesting to see if this is a moment in history, right? I remember watching Tiger Woods in the beginning, thinking, this guy is going to be something some day. And then it comes to fruition. I wonder if it will be the same way.

LIZZA: It's always the young guys to come up behind you.

O'BRIEN: That's what I thought about Paul Ryan, like I'm older than the VP pick. Paul Ryan, my God, I'm older than Paul Ryan. We're going to talk more about that this morning.

The ticket all set, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan joining Mitt Romney on Republican ballot for the presidency. Today, Ryan is going to be campaigning alone in the state of Iowa while Romney visits Florida.

Then already Democrats are starting their attacks, no surprise there. They are focusing largely on Ryan's budget. They say the VP want to be, would end Medicare as we know it, that's a quote.

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, which is chaired by Congressman Ryan. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. Adversaries, but friend is how folks describe you. I know you congratulated him, but what do you think of him on the ticket.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right, Soledad. We get along very well personally. We always have spirited debates in the Budget Committee and floor of the House.

But the debates on the budget are always civil and I've told Paul Ryan that I believe that the more the American people get to know his plan, the less they will like it.

And that's why I welcome this debate. It's about policy issues and we're going to have a vigorous debate on the campaign trail.

O'BRIEN: Democrats have said Paul Ryan will end Medicare as we know it. Medicare is insolvent apparently if you run out the numbers by 2024 anyway. Here is what Paul Ryan said on "60 Minutes." Let's listen.



REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our point is we need to preserve their benefits because government made promised that they organize their retirements around in order to make sure we can do that you must reform it for those of us who are younger. We think these reforms are good reforms.


O'BRIEN: Clearly, the Romney campaign thinks that's a great message and it's being cheered by Republicans across the country frankly. Isn't that a solid message that could appeal to independents?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think it's a solid message at all especially for independents and obviously seniors in Florida. Look, there's no question that we have to modernize the Medicare program. In fact, the Affordable Care Act began to take steps to do that.

The difference is how you do it. Under the president's approach, what you do is try and control the costs in Medicare, which are symptoms of the growing cost in the health care system overall.

Whereas the Ryan plan, the Romney plan, simply transfers the growing risks and costs on to seniors that in the process, it gives seniors a much worse deal on health care than members of Congress have.

So you're going to be saying to folks on Medicare, members of Congress get a lot more health care security in the plan they have than we're going to give to seniors on Medicare. At the same time that they are proposing huge additional tax breaks for the very wealthy.

In fact as you probably saw "Role Call" did an independent analysis and said the Ryan road map plan would provide Mitt Romney with a tax rate of 1 percent, a huge tax break for Mitt Romney while you're imposing additional costs on seniors on Medicare. That's not right. It's not balanced.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the budget for a moment. He would slash entitlements. He would cut spending in federal programs and slide some of those expenses to states.

And people who support Paul Ryan say, you know, that's gutsy at a time when he's a truth teller when it comes to we are facing this massive deficit, that everybody has to understand the times are dire and he's going to say it out loud.

Doesn't that ring comfortably for people who feel like there's been no real maybe work by congress in trying to confront some of these problems?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Soledad, I think if you're serious about the long-term deficit, you take the kind of balanced approach that the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles recommended, that kind of framework that calls for cuts, but also for additional revenue.

I don't think it's brave or courageous at all to say we're going to give folks at the very top like Mitt Romney another wind fall tax break at the expense of everybody else because if you're serious about deficits over the long term, these are important tradeoffs.

Those tax breaks for people like Mitt Romney come at a severe cost to everybody else. They mean we can invest less in our kid's education, less in our infrastructure, our road and bridges even at a time when we have 14 percent unemployment in the construction industry.

And it means seniors on Medicare are going to have to pay more in order to provide these tax breaks for folks at the very top. I just -- that's not a balanced approach. It's frankly for true fiscal conservatives that's not a serious approach to the long-term deficit.

O'BRIEN: Quick final question for you. I thought it was interesting, one question that Bob Schieffer asked on "60 Minutes" was sort of like why is Congress so screwed up and Paul Ryan's answer was it's President Obama's fault. Here's what he said.


RYAN: I've seen this since I've been in Congress in 14 years. It starts in my opinion with a fundamental lack of leadership. President Obama has not provided the kind of leadership we need to bring people together.


O'BRIEN: I believe Congress's approval rating is something around 17 percent. So Congressman, why do you think Congress is so screwed up?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Soledad, it was interesting to hear Paul Ryan blame the president for why Congress is so screwed up. Look, we had a very ideologically group of Tea Party folks take over the House of Representatives during the last election.

It is now become the most obstructionist type of House and the Republicans in the Senate that we've ever seen. Mitch McConnell, of course, the Republican leader in the Senate said that his number one priority was not jobs or the economy. It was to defeat President Obama.

We saw just last summer, that the House Republicans and you know, Paul Ryan is part of this team, they threatened for the first time in our history, seriously, to default on the U.S. full faith and credit on our obligations in order to try and pass their very extreme and radical budget.

Look, this is an uncompromising budget document. Every amendment that was offered by the Democrats in the Budget Committee was rejected. Just on a straight vote. So look, if you really want to come together, you need to look at the framework presented by Simpson-Bowles and other bipartisan groups.

The Romney/Ryan plan doesn't move one inch in that direction because they are wedded to this Grover Norquist pledge that says, we are not ask the folks at the top like Mitt Romney to contribute one penny more to reduce our deficits over a period of time and that means you whack everybody else.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Chris Van Hollen with us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time.

HOLLEN: It's nice to see you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, no man's land, imagine a city district designed exclusively for women. It sounds pretty nice to me. It could be.

We laugh but really we're talking about -- kind of like that to happen right here on my own set. But in reality they are talking about this in Saudi Arabia. We have a live report on that straight ahead.

And we are going to give you a glimpse of Whitney Houston's final performance in her new film "Sparkle." The producer is Bishop TD Jakes, he is going to join us to talk a little bit about that. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Sounds like something out of a myth, a city district for women only. Officials though in Saudi Arabia are planning to make it a reality.

They are creating a business zone exclusively for women. They say so that women can work and run their own businesses and not risk breaking Islamic law.

Nic Robertson is live for us in Abu Dhabi. Nic, good morning to you. Islamic law does not prohibit women from working. So why do they have to create a special zone, anyway?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it does do is prohibit women working alongside men. So the concept here is if you want to get more women in the workplace, which they do because, you know, relative say to other countries in the gulf here, United Arab Emirates, 60 percent of the women's population, more than half in the workforce in Saudi Arabia only 15 percent.

So this is a way to get more women in the workplace and sort of deal with the social issues that arise, dissatisfaction among population, educated women leaving the country because they don't have anywhere to work. So this is what the government appears to be trying to address here -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So it is kind of a work around Sharia Law, right, because it's a Sharia Law that doesn't allow the women and men to work next to each other?

ROBERTSON: Yes, it's a total work around. It's quite sort of a Saudi solution to a Saudi problem, if you will. You know, the Saudis have a track record of kind of, if you will, throwing money at problems.

Rather than trying to integrate and find a way to get women into the workplace alongside men, sort of dual factories or that kind of thing. They will create these cities, spend the money, projecting perhaps another 40 other business sort of cities like this for women, employing up to maybe 5,000 women.

They will spend the money, $130 million on this one project alone to create this separate environment. It does create this sort of parallel structure if you will, but it's a way that the leadership in Saudi Arabia avoids the criticism of the ultraconservatives who right now women can't drive in the country.

Even the female Saudi athlete who competed in judo was accused by the conservatives in Saudi Arabia of being a whore. So you have this really conservative country. It's that kind of workaround the government is putting into place here.

SOCARIDES: I guess the interesting thing is how do women -- Nic, it's Richard, how do women in Saudi Arabia feel about it? I mean, this kind of thing would never work here, right.

I mean, where people supposed to be judged on their merit. Everybody is supposed to able to work together. But if it works there, it could be a good idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I think --

ROBERTSON: Sure, I mean, you can look at it as being a good idea as well. Because, look, I mean, in any country where you have change where women have sort of got a place in the workplace and right to vote.

You know, Britain, for example, has their own history. Saudi Arabia, the leadership has to do this slowly. They say they are committed to this that they need to do it slowly.

So if you get women in the workplace as crazy as it sounds in sort of a completely separate environment, it does empower them. It does give them a stronger voice.

And this is the way you actually will affect change over time because right now women in Saudi Arabia just don't really have a strong voice.

O'BRIEN: I think I agree with that. Nic Robertson, thanks for being with us. Yes, the slippery sloop argument, right? You start to create these women who are now in a position if they are to -- you know, get to be part of a bigger sort of --

CAIN: You can mark this as progress in Saudi Arabia. What is interesting as Nic pointed out, the Saudis are used to throwing money at their problems, cutting checks for social unrest. Does this suggest that Saudi Arabia is worried about the future and role of women and creating some kind of a revolution?

O'BRIEN: That's a yes, I think it is.

BERMAN: When they do respond, sending the women to the Olympics and even this is Saudi Arabia responding on their own terms, very limited terms and only under pressure. So you wonder how far they are willing to go.

O'BRIEN: You have 5,000 empowered women. It can be a tough thing down the road.

LIZZA: I want to hear from Saudi women what they think about this.

O'BRIEN: All right, still ahead this morning, the musical drama "Sparkle" opens this week, featuring the final big screen appearance from the late Whitney Houston.

We'll tell you why spiritual leader turned film producer TD Jakes says her final performance is magical. He's going to join us up next to talk about it. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Six months ago this week the world lost one of the greatest voices of our time with the tragic death of Whitney Houston. She dies just months after she finished shooting a decade-long passion project.

The project was new movie "Sparkle." It was her last onscreen performance. In the film, she plays Emma, who is a hard working single mom who dreamed of a singing career that never really took off. Here is a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know the lord loves me and he wouldn't torture me with something I want to do, can't help to do, so I figured it shall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You figured I was wrong?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sparkle, you can have a gift. It's how you use it.


O'BRIEN: Whitney Houston was 13 years old when "Sparkle" was first released back in 1976 at a time she was chasing her own musical dream. She would eventually star and executive produce the remake, but she would not live long enough to see it come out on Friday.

Bishop TD Jakes is the producer of the film. He is also the founder and senior pastor of the Potters House Church in Dallas. It's nice to see you, Sir. Thanks for talking with us.

I have to imagine it's got to be a special burden to make sure that the last thing she ever did and that would be seen by so many people is amazing, is great. Did that feel like a ton of pressure for you?

BISHOP TD JAKES, PRODUCER, "SPARKLE": We took it very, very seriously and really wanted it to be just an amazing representation of her legacy and the wide span of her gift both musically and also as it relates to her acting career.

O'BRIEN: What are the changes to the film because in the original it's a little bit of a different storyline? It's been changed, tweaked a little bit to make it for more modern audiences. What have you changed?

JAKES: Yes, we've changed quite a bit. Mara Akil wrote the script and she did an amazing job with it. It took out the gratuitous violence that was in the first film.

It added a little bit more faith to it as relating to the mother working to get her daughters to go in a faith way as opposed to seeking a secular career. We added some comedy so there are some comedic moment and some great music in it, incredible music.

We have people like Celo Green in it. Great music of course by Jordan Sparks and that together with Whitney just creates a symphony as it relates to music as well as cinematography.

CAIN: Bishop, this is Will Cain. Did you happen to make any or need to make any changes to the film after Whitney died?

JAKES: Well, we had shot all of the scenes and we were in post editing so we didn't have to do anything other than develop post editing and the things we would normally do.

And, quite frankly, Whitney did such an amazing job and was so professional on the set. There wasn't a whole lot of enhancement we had to do, just the normal things you would do at the end of the shooting of a movie.

O'BRIEN: I have to imagine as you guys walk down the red carpet, you know, it's going to be tough because it's both, you know -- the red carpet is a big event, people going crazy on the red carpet. But you're missing the -- a big part of the film. That would have to be challenging for you, I would think.

JAKES: It is challenging. Even looking at the film it's heart touching when you realize Whitney is no longer with us. There's synergy between things that happen in the movie and things that happen in her life.

And there's a kiss goodbye that's seen in the movie that is almost eerie because it is so reminiscent of the fact that she is such a tremendous talent that has been taken away from us.

And we get to see her say good-bye in the film in a way that I think helps to give us some degree of closure to a long legacy of great music that she provided to us.

O'BRIEN: The film opens on Friday. I can't wait to see it. I'm dying to go. Can I take my kids to that? Can I take my daughters to that? They're 11 and 10?

JAKES: It has a PG-13 rating. It's a good movie.

CAIN: The producer says it's OK.

O'BRIEN: He's a bishop. I'm thinking he knows what I'm asking. Thank you, Bishop. It's nice to see you as always.

JAKES: I don't think they'll run out the theatre. It's very entertaining.

O'BRIEN: Good, good. All right, well, good luck with it. We're looking forward to see how that does, looking forward to seeing it. Thank you.

Still ahead this morning, the new VP pick, Paul Ryan, ready to hit the road. How does he change the race for the White House? We're going to explore that question straight ahead.

Meantime, no surprise to see Democrats sharpening their knives, getting ready to go on the attack. We're going to talk to DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to be our guest. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.