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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Interview with David Axelrod; Five Minutes at Hypersonic Speed; Penn State Put On Notice; CNN's Candy Crowley to Moderate Presidential Debate; Interview with Carole Simpson; The Best Sandwich in America; Nothing Holds Her Back

Aired August 14, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome, welcome, welcome.

Our team this morning: Will Durst, he's a comedian and political satirist. He did not bring a sandwich for me.

WILL DURST, POLITICAL SATIRIST: No.

O'BRIEN: Bridget Siegel is an author of "Domestic Affairs", her new book. Former Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign finance director. She did not bring a sandwich either.

And Will Cain -- Will Cain, of all people, columnist of TheBlaze.com.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Of all people what? I didn't bring a sandwich? Count on that same thing happening tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: At least you're consistent.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is efforts to define Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's new running mate, makes stops in the battleground state of Colorado today. He's trying to win over voters. Romney is going to be swinging through Ohio.

President Obama waking up in Iowa for a second time today. He's got three events scheduled in that state.

During an appearance in Council Bluffs, the president wasted no time at all, taking a dig at the new V.P. pick. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Congressman Ryan, he's a good man. He's a good family man. He's an -- he is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney's vision. But the problem is that vision is one that I fundamentally disagree with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: David Axelrod is a senior adviser to the Obama campaign.

I'm always worried when someone says I know Paul Ryan, he is a great guy, you know what's next. But, but, but.

Nice to see you, sir. We're going to be chatting with you --

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: -- in just a few moments.

First, we want to get an update on our --

AXELROD: OK.

O'BRIEN: Oh, well, hang on. We'll get to you first and then we'll get to John Berman.

So, thanks for being with us. I want to start by talking about Chris Christie, who is going to be we know now the keynote speaker at the RNC. People -- even people who don't like him say he's funny, he's irreverent, he's charming. What do you think about his pick?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that he'll do a great job for Governor Romney. The problem for Governor Romney isn't his keynote speaker. It's his point of view.

And, you know, that's what I think Americans are going to evaluate -- his history, his vision for the country. And so, you know, he'll have an entertaining keynote speaker, and no doubt that Governor Christie will do a good job and bring that lacerating humor of his to the task.

But it's not going -- it's not going to make the vision any more appealing.

O'BRIEN: There are many Republicans who are cheering that vision, especially in his pick of Paul Ryan. Before he was named as a V.P. pick, he had a 23 percent -- this is of Paul Ryan -- favorability rating. Afterwards, it leaped 15 points. And anybody assessing that would say that's got to be a pretty good news for the Romney now Ryan campaign.

Are you worried about that?

AXELROD: No. I think anybody who is thrust into prominence overnight like that is going to raise his approval rating. And, you know, Sarah Palin did it. I think it's a natural thing.

He is a genial -- I think the president is right. He is a genial person. The problem with Paul Ryan isn't him as a person. It's the point of view he represents. He is a right wing ideologue.

He believes, he voted for all the Bush economic policies in the last decade for the two unpaid wars, two unpaid tax cuts skewed to the wealthy, Medicare prescription drug.

O'BRIEN: He supported TARP.

AXELROD: He did indeed.

O'BRIEN: He supported the bailout of the auto industry.

AXELROD: And that -- well, he did in the first instance. When the president followed through on it and made some demands of the auto industry to rationalize itself and make itself competitive in exchange for the help, he then opposed that part of the program. He supported President Bush's first tranche of money to the auto industry.

But in the main, Soledad, what he is advocating now is what Governor Romney is advocating now, which is to double down on the policies of the last decade -- huge massive trillions of dollars in tax cuts skewed to the wealthy, $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, while the burdens are raised on the middle class. The Romney plan, for example, would raise taxes on the middle class as it nets out by about $2,000.

And then, of course, cuts, cuts in aid for college, cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, for nursing home care and caring for people with disabilities. And the investment -- just one more second -- and the investments we need to grow the economy, research and development, energy.

So, you know, it is a profound change of direction. And one that takes us back to where we were before the disaster.

O'BRIEN: So, let's talk about Medicare, and we know where the Democrats are going to go in their attack on Medicare. I'll play you a little chunk on what we've been hearing over the last couple of days which I think very clearly spells out the strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIR: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both want to end Medicare as we know it.

REP. LEONARD BOSWELL (D), IOWA: Those of you out there that think that Medicare is a good thing, it will change and go to a voucher system if they have their way.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: I wouldn't trust the Republicans on Medicare as far as I could throw them.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's kind of a sense of the tenor, ending Medicare as we know it. I've heard that a bunch of times. And Republicans I think would argue, well, what it is actually about is changing Medicare to make it more solvent over the long-term. And, frankly, if you're 55 and under, you don't have to worry about it. And targeting older people, you know, is a scare tactic -- sorry, 55 and older, you don't have to worry about it.

So targeting older people in states where there are a lot of old people like Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, et cetera, is really a scare tactic for the election.

AXELROD: Well, let's start from the fact that they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The changes that the president made in the Affordable Care Act, taking subsidies away from insurance companies within the Medicare system, helped us lengthen the life, the viability, financial viability, of Medicare by almost a decade. They would repeal that, and Medicare would be bankrupt by 2016.

So right away, there are concerns for seniors about what they would do. But in the long-term, what they would do is turn Medicare into a voucher program. They would cap that voucher so that over time, more and more of the burden would be shifted to seniors who would be left to contend on the private insurance market, or choose a very weakened Medicare alternative.

It is not a plan to strengthen Medicare. It's a death spiral for Medicare.

And let's be honest -- the Republican Party has never been supportive of Medicare. And Congressman Ryan philosophically doesn't really believe in Medicare. And Romney has a version of the same plan.

So, you know, if Medicare is a concern, certainly you wouldn't choose them as the ticket that will stand up for Medicare.

O'BRIEN: An article in the "New York Times" said this, said, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Ryan had, quote, "an entirely legitimate proposal in his idea to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system."

He is quoted in Ryan Lizza's article from "The New Yorker" the other day. He has looked at the budget, this is President Obama, looked at the budget and made a serious proposal.

These are words from the president. He says this. I think Paul, for example, head of the budget committee, has looked at the budget and made a serious proposal.

That's President Obama talking about Paul Ryan.

It sounds like he is now flipping completely what he thinks.

AXELROD: Soledad, look, I couldn't agree more with the president. I think Congressman Ryan has made serious proposals. But they are seriously wrong.

As well, no one doubts that he's given this a lot of thought. But the fact of the matter is that his proposals would as I say lavish trillions of dollars of tax cuts mostly on the wealthy, would raise burdens on the middle class, would leave gaping holes in the budget, and would lead to cuts in the very things we need to grow our economy, education, research and development, energy.

We're in Iowa today, Congressman Ryan was here yesterday, and he said we support alternative renewable energy and we support bio energy and so on. But he opposes the very tax credits and so does Mitt Romney that has given rise to a whole wind energy industry here in Iowa that supports 7,000 jobs. They support subsidies for oil companies but they want to kill tax credits that will help grow industries like wind and solar and bio fuels.

O'BRIEN: John --

AXELROD: So this is not a vision for the future. This is very much taking us back.

O'BRIEN: John Sununu, who I was talking to earlier this morning, says, listen, you know, don't focus on the Ryan plan. Focus on the Romney plan. The Romney plan is different than the Ryan plan.

If Ryan is going to be the V.P., that puts him as the number two slot and he's not going to be calling the shots. He'll be like every other V.P. He'll be working for the number one guy, the president.

Here's what he told me earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN SUNUNU (R), FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: When Obama gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it, the Romney plan does not do that. The Ryan plan mimicked part of the Obama package there. The Romney plan does not. That's a big difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That big difference, one has to imagine, is what they are going to be trying to sell in the state of Florida and all those other states where they are trying to get the message to older voters.

AXELROD: Well, let's first deal with the absolute falsehood in Governor Sununu's presentation. The president as I said took away subsidies, unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies, and he used that money to help lengthen the life of Medicare by nearly a decade. So when Governor Romney says he doesn't support that, obviously, you know, that's problematical.

And as I said, he supports the repeal of entire health care act and wants to have that debate all over again. If he did that, we would be facing a Medicare bankruptcy by 2016.

So in terms of whether Ryan -- what role he will play, I can only tell you that Governor Romney said that he is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. That suggests a much larger role.

When you look at their proposals side-by-side, they are really quite similar. Not just on economic issues, but social issues. Congressman Ryan supports making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape and incest, and this is a position that Governor Romney has supported over time.

So there are a lot of similarities between the positions. And yesterday, Governor Romney was asked to lay out some of the differences and he couldn't do it. So I think Governor Sununu is not giving you straight talk on that point.

O'BRIEN: David Axelrod joining us this morning. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time.

AXELROD: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

John Berman now -- now with a look at the top stories, we're getting to you a little bit early a moment ago.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad.

We are learning a bit more about the suspect in a deadly standoff with police near the campus of Texas A&M University. Thirty- five-year-old Thomas Cafall was killed in a gun battle with officers who gone to his home to serve an eviction notice. The mother says he was ill, and the family is devastated.

Two people, including a county constable, were killed in the exchange of gunfire just blocks from the Texas A&M campus.

A fast-moving wildfire has burned at least one home and two dozen other buildings in central Washington state, about 82 miles southeast of Seattle. It's not clear what caused the blaze.

Excessive heat warnings in effect in southern California all the way to Arizona.

Let's get a quick check on the weather now from our meteorologist Rob Marciano, joining us in Atlanta.

Rob, what do we got?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, as you can imagine, John, what you just mentioned about the fires, the heat only adding to that problem. There are 59 large uncontained fires across the west, and some of those are in California. Thermal, California, record high yesterday, 117, Yuma, 117, Palm Springs, 116, Phoenix, 115.

And this time of year, there's actually a little bit of humidity in there so it makes it feel even worse. And we expect to see similar numbers today, maybe more records falling for the next two days.

Excessive heat warnings up for Palm Springs back through Phoenix. Again, temperatures 115 or in some cases hotter than that.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: Rob Marciano, not a dry heat in Arizona for once.

All right. Imagine traveling the five times the speed of sound for five minutes. That's what aerospace engineers is hoing to achieve today with the flight of a hypersonic unmanned aircraft called the Waverider. It's fast enough to fly from New York to London in less than an hour. If it's successful, it will usher in the next generation of missiles, military aircraft, and even passenger planes.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following developments.

And, Barbara, I hear the word "hypersonic", five times the speed of sound. How fast are we talking here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: How fast is fast, John? Well, the military says they are going to try and get this thing to go about 4,500 miles an hour. Something like mach six.

If you're a Star Wars junkie, fastest hunk of junk of the galaxy -- this may actually be it. This is the X-51A Waverider. You know, the military loves to name things.

But it's serious business. What they are talking about later today over California, off the coast, they'll put up a B-52 bomber, hang this thing off the wing and fire it off and indeed try and fly it for 300 seconds at that remarkable speed. This is a test to see if the technology is feasible to see if they can make it work.

And as you say, John, the implications are fascinating. Missiles, you could put a weapon on target around the world in minutes. You could transport troops to far-off locations within an hour. We could travel perhaps at remarkable speeds.

But, of course, it doesn't really talk about how much time you'd spend on the airfield before your plane takes off. That the military can't say.

BERMAN: And the military said they wish they have this in the past. This is something that would have been useful to them over the last decades.

STARR: Yes, absolutely, just think about if you remember, back in 1998, before 9/11, they were trying to go after Osama bin Laden. They used Tomahawk missiles to fire on a target that they thought he might be hiding at in Afghanistan. But by the time those missiles got there, he was long gone.

If you can compress the time and do something within minutes, you can act faster than the enemy can react to you. That's a huge advantage for the future, John.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, John.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, our tough call this morning -- teenaged driving laws that are so strict they could end the double date.

I know. Shocking news there.

Sixty million dollars, a four-year bowl ban. All that could be nothing compared to what could happen next to Penn State. We'll tell you what they are looking at.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Penn State University is on notice. Its accreditation is in jeopardy in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse cover-up. The Middle State's commission on Higher Education is what accredits schools in the mid-Atlantic region. They've asked Penn State to submit a report by the end of this month.

They want the school to detail all the steps they're taking to comply with standards of leadership and governance, and integrity. Penn State officials say they're confident they can address all of the commission's concerns. To break it all down for us is CNN senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

The first thing they have in this letter that they posted on the PSU website basically says we want to be clear this has nothing to do with the quality of education our students receive, because usually, when you're talking accreditation, you're talking about somehow academically the school is not up to snuff. This is totally different.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Correct. And this is really all just more fallout from the Sandusky scandal. Frankly, this whole effort by the accreditation department seems to me a little excessive. I mean, there is no evidence that the education the students are getting there is defective in any way. Penn State is a great university.

Jerry Sandusky hasn't worked at Penn State University since 1998. Now, as we all know, he had access to some of the university well after that. But, the idea that somehow this would require the pulling the accreditation of Penn State seems excessive, but it sounds like Penn State will address these concerns, and manage -- and avoid this problem.

O'BRIEN: It seems like they're focused on a couple of things that they call affiliations and standards, which are part of this regulation. So, affiliation five is compliance with government -- applicable government policies. For example, we know now that certain people who are suspected of child abuse were never reported, right?

That was a government policy that was not complied with. Number nine is the governing body responsible for the quality and integrity of the institution making freely available accurate, fair, and complete information. It sounds like they feel the board was not doing its job.

We now know from the free (ph) report that there were many instances where the board did not really follow up and aggressively do oversight, which is the role of the board. And then, they overall say leadership, governance, and integrity is a big problem.

TOOBIN: Right. And the real question -- and what happened here was Sandusky, who was no longer a Penn State employee, had access to Penn State facilities largely unsupervised. That's when a lot of the abuse took place.

The question of, does Penn State have policies in place now to prevent other people from -- you know, non-employees to getting access to university, that's certainly a legitimate question for them to be asking.

CAIN: Just a quick question so I fully understand the risks. What are the practical implications of a university losing its accreditation? What happens?

TOOBIN: You have a college degree from an accredited university. If you don't have a college degree from an accredited university, you don't have a college degree. You can't put it on the resume.

CAIN: And that with (INAUDIBLE) Jeff. I mean, anybody that went to Penn State, went to unaccredited university --

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: I mean, you know, I think you're projecting out. I don't think any of that is certainly going to have -- and the issue would be going forward.

CAIN: Right.

TOOBIN: But, you know, Penn State is a great university, as we all know. And that's the -- and the degree has no less value now than it would with this action. But again, it is --

O'BRIEN: That threat seems to be a very interesting element, right? That hammer holding over not just people who were involved in the sports program, but all of a sudden --

CAIN: Current students, future students.

TOOBIN: And it all creates pressure on Penn State to make sure it has policies in place so that something like this can never happen again. And to that extent, who could argue with that?

DURST: It sounds like a fix it ticket. You know, like when you have a broken taillight and the cop asks you and said it's a ticket unless you get it fixed within 90 days. And they're saying to Penn State, make sure all your ducks are in a row and you come back.

TOOBIN: Penn State got several of those. A $60 million fine. That's a pretty good fix it ticket right there. You know, no bowl appearances for four years, losing scholarships. I think Penn State has gotten the message that they need to fix this.

DURST: So, this is piling on?

TOOBIN: You know what, frankly, that was my reaction. I thought it was a bit of piling on. But, again, it doesn't sound like it's going to lead to a lack of accreditation. So, if everybody is taking extra steps to be careful, so much of that (ph).

O'BRIEN: All right. Jeff Toobin, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

TOOBIN: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Likewise.

Still ahead this morning, should police replace parents when it comes to driving? A law in one state has critics saying nanny state. Others people saying, no, it's for the best. It's our "tough Call" this morning. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back with that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Time for the day's "Tough Call." A court in the state of New Jersey is upholding a law that would require drivers under the age of 21 that would have a permit or a probationary license to buy and then display this red decal on their license plate. It costs $4. If you don't comply, you risk a $100 fine.

Critics say it could make a teenager the target of a criminal, especially a sexual predator by slugging there's a teenage relatively new driver or young driver in the car. They also think it is putting parenting in the hands of police.

Supporters say, no, the decals make it easier for the police to identify young drivers and force conditions because, of course, if they have a permit or relatively new probationary license, there are certain rules that they have to comply with. State law says you have to be 17 to get a graduated license, and you have to have an adult supervisor.

You can't have other teens as passengers, a few exceptions to all of that. So, that is our "Tough Call" of the day. And I have to say, you know, once you have kids, right, often like, all those strict rules, I support those fully.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: But it changed my opinion in all these things. But it does have a little ringing of --

DURST: Big brother.

SIEGEL: But you know, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. So, with all of these things we've been talking about lately, big sodas and things, I mean, here's something that really, you know, studies show that having more than two, four teenagers in a car --

O'BRIEN: Correlated to a higher death rate.

SIEGEL: Right.

BERMAN: It's the scarlet letter. I mean, it's sort of reeks of that kind of thing.

O'BRIEN: Oh, they're teenagers.

BERMAN: But couldn't you make the test harder? I mean, if you're so worried about teenagers driving, make the test harder.

CAIN: It's not so much about their skill and ability, though. You make the exact point. Look, I think I'm a pretty laidback parent, but I'm absolutely terrified of the day when my children turn 16. And it's for stats like this, John, it's that when you have another teenager in the car, the risk of crash increases 44 percent, two, and it triples. I mean, that is -- teenagers can't multitask.

O'BRIEN: Plus, wouldn't you drive differently if you knew that the person in front of you who's being ridiculous is a 16-year-old or a 17-year-old? That would really -- honestly, I would slow down and let them get out of my way.

DURST: How do you take the decal on and off when the parents drive the car? Kids don't always have their own car.

SIEGEL: Parents of teenagers can sometimes be frantic too, so it works.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Excellent suggestion, Will.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the host of the travel channel's "Man Versus Food" goes across the country in search of the best sandwich in America. He brings some in for us to try out.

Plus, a proud debut (ph) for us here at CNN. Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has been picked to moderate the second presidential debate this year. The last woman to do that was Carole Simpson 20 years ago. Both will join us live straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. In just a few moments, CNN's Candy Crowley will be talking to us live. She's been named a presidential debate moderator, which makes her the first woman in 20 years to be chosen for this prestigious role. So who was the very first woman? It was journalist Carole Simpson in 1992. Carole will join us as well with that in just a little bit.

And we think he is the best thing since sliced bread. "Man Versus Food" host Adam Richman is look for the best sandwich in America, eating his way across the nation. But first he stops by our studio bringing some treats.

But first, let's get right to John Berman with a look at the day's top stories. Good morning. BERMAN: Let's do the sandwiches.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: But first, the news. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake off the eastern coast of Russia. There are no injuries or damage but no threat of a tsunami or a significant aftershock. The earthquake was centered about 100 miles out to sea and could be felt as far away as northern Japan.

More bloodshed across Syria. At least 41 people killed today according to opposition activists. Meantime, a group of Islamic foreign ministers has voted to suspend Syria from a regional organization ahead of an emergency summit in Saudi Arabia. And a top U.N. official in Damascus today trying to draw attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation there.

The Egyptian government plans to put two journalists on trial for defaming and insulting president Mohammed Morsi. One is excused of inciting to kill the president. Prosecutors say the other is charged with spreading false information and rumors that threaten the security and stability of the country. Both are prohibited from leaving Egypt while under investigation

Attorneys for accused killer George Zimmerman are trying to get the judge in the Trayvon Martin case removed. They have already asked the circuit judge Kenneth Lester to step down, but he has refused, so they have filed an appealed to have him booted off the case. Zimmerman's lawyers claim Judge Lester cannot be impartial after angrily issuing his client's new bail back in June.

We know now that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is being treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic. Doctors say he is responding well to treatment and regaining his strength. He has been on medical leave for two months, and his staffers and doctors have not given a timetable for his possible return to office.

BERMAN: So where does your state stack up in the battle of the bulge? And 26 of the 30 states with the highest obesity levels are in the Midwest and south. That's according to the trust for America's health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The worst offenders, Mississippi, followed by Louisiana, then West Virginia. The study found that the leanest state is Colorado, with Hawaii second, and Massachusetts, the bay state, third.

O'BRIEN: How about New York? We need to look that up. The theory in New York is that you walk all the time so people are in better shape in the suburbs where everybody is driving.

BERMAN: Unless they are surfing in Hawaii.

O'BRIEN: Well, if you have to be in a bathing suit, that's a lot of pressure. Come on.

BERMAN: Hey, vanity is a powerful motivator.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Yes, it is. Thanks, John.

It's been 20 years since a woman moderated a presidential debate. Back in 1992, Carole Simpson made history as the first African- American to moderate a presidential debate. And now our very own Candy Crowley will be moderating the second debate. She is the host of "state of the union" and our chief political correspondent. I can't even list all of the awards she has won. She is going to be moderating the town hall style debate which will be held at Hofstra University on October 16. We're going to be talking with her in just a minute.

First, though, we want to chat with Carole Simpson who is joining us as well. Nice to see you. Have you been advocating long and hard for a woman to take on one of the presidential debates. Why does it matter?

CAROLE SIMPSON, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Because we're different. Men and women are different. We see things differently. We have different concerns. And particularly in this 2012 election, where there is talk among the candidates about Roe v. Wade and contraception and reproductive rights and personhood amendment, there are a lot of issues that concern women in a way that don't concern men. And so I thought it was particularly important that this year there be a woman that would be able to ask some of those questions that men might not find as important as we do.

O'BRIEN: You were pushing for it. There are a bunch of young women from New Jersey who were pushing for it as well. I know at CNN we were also pushing for that as a company. What do you think was the thing that made the difference? And do you think we'll have to wait another 20 years after this one before -- or does it now change the game?

SIMPSON: No. No, no, no. I was shocked when I found out these three young women in New Jersey were upset that it had been 20 years since there had been a female moderator of a presidential debate. And I think America forgot that because we saw Gwen Ifill do two vice presidential debates. But that's not the really big show. The big show is the presidential debate.

And so I think we just got diversity wasn't that important. There was the war, 9/11, and things like that. And so it took these three teenagers to make the world cognizant of the fact that it had been 20 years since a woman had done a presidential debate. But I had no doubt once the publicity got out there. And I started trumpeting it too. That they were going to name a woman. And I can't -- I'm hard-pressed to think of a better woman to fulfill that role than candy.

O'BRIEN: We completely agree with you on that. She's amazing. She was on vacation when she got the call.

SIMPSON: She really is.

O'BRIEN: And she joins us by phone from vacation. Candy, thank you very being with us on your vacation. We appreciate it. So tell me about the phone call. Obviously, first woman in 20 years. Is that the first thing that goes through your head, or did you just think like, who is on the phone bothering me on vacation?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION" (via telephone): Well, all three. And I just want this to go out as some reassurance to my sources. I can keep a secret. Actually, the executive director called me last week and told me. Or asked me actually, if you can imagine. And it was so low key when Janet Brown called that I had a little trouble processing it. She said, you know, the debate, and we were wondering if you would be interested. And we'd like to offer it.

And I'm thinking, wow, because I was at work. It was a Thursday maybe of last week. And so I was excited, but I was -- she was so matter of fact and kind of casual. And the first thing that went through my mind actually wasn't oh, wow, you know, I'm a female. The first thing that went through my mind was, I'm a journalist, and this is so great. This is just such an opportunity and so few people get it. And I didn't honestly click in until people started saying, what does it feel like to be the first woman since Carole Simpson, who as she says is a dear friend. I've known Carole forever. So that's very fun. But I didn't actually think of the female part until later.

So how do you prepare for that? Gwen Ifill I remember being parodied on "SNL." I think Queen Latifah played her. And it was hilarious. So you know, now, Candy, like that is kind of what you're facing. You know, in addition to the actual moderating for an audience, there's also that. Are you ready for that?

CROWLEY: Are you ever ready for that? No. But I -- listen, you know the name of journalism always with twitter and the internet and all of that, people make fun of you. People, you know, say wonderful things about you. It's part of the job.

But you know and I know that can't be what defines what you do, and what you do has to be defined by what you've learned along the way and what the core of journalism is. And I've been prepared for the last however many years. With any presidential campaign, it changes day-to-day. You watch it. You cover it. And I think by the time you get to October 16, in my case, you, you know, in your head you finally decide on what you want to ask and where you want to go about the time you say good evening.

It's the same as any show. You know, news is news because it's just happened. So you want to be careful about asking -- I think the hugest burden is what do people want to know, to stay out of the kind of insider process stuff and say what's important to people's vote. And I think that's -- as long as you keep that in mind, I think you're going to be OK. I hope so anyway.

O'BRIEN: Well, we are so excited for you. Congratulations. It's a tremendous honor, and it's awesome for us at CNN as well. So thanks for joining us on vacation early in the morning. We appreciate that too. Carole Simpson also, a huge role model I think for any woman who is a journalist.

SIMPSON: Can I give Candy any advice? O'BRIEN: You know what, I'm out of time so you guys -- you're friends. I'm sure you can just call her later.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON: I'll call her then.

O'BRIEN: You know, she doesn't need any advice. She said last minute, the light goes on, she'll say good evening and it will all come to her.

BERMAN: Yes. Call her on your dime.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on "starting point," you know him and love him from his show, "Man Versus Food." Adam Richman stops by, and he's been taste testing some of the best sandwiches in America. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The man behind the Travel Channel's successful series "Man Versus Food" is at it again. This time he has a new quest, which is to find the best sandwich in all of America. In his new series, Adam Richman travels to 10 different regions tasting 30 sandwiches and has one goal in mind, to find the number one sandwich worthy of the ultimate title. "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America". Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM RICHMAN, HOST, "BEST SANDWICH IN AMERICA": For months, I've been on a road trip, traveling countless miles from coast to coast. All in search of my best sandwich in the nation. I sampled 30 amazing creations from 10 different U.S. regions. And in every region, I subjected each sandwich to my trademark BITE scale, declaring one the champ.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Oh, that looks so good. The season finale of "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America" airs August 15th. How did you just focus on sandwiches?

RICHMAN: You know what; every culture has a sandwich. Every income bracket has a sandwich. And you know I've been saying it a lot, but I do mean it in earnest. I really think the sandwich at its best is really just your imagination bound by two pieces of bread.

O'BRIEN: What's the BITE scale?

RICHMAN: The BITE scale. Well, we figured there should be one kind of judging tool. So it's an acronym for Bread, Interior, Taste and Eating experience.

O'BRIEN: Ok so you're going to on Wednesday pick the best sandwich in America -- a little pressure.

RICHMAN: My -- right, and it's completely biased. Yes, exactly.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

RICHMAN: No but truly it's -- it's my best sandwich. Because I think that you know every human being has their own. This is my pick. But I just solely wanted to at least showcase 30 of the great ones out there and hope that people go on their own journeys.

O'BRIEN: You've got 10, and then you added two wild cards.

RICHMAN: Correct.

O'BRIEN: So if this is your own list, do you sort of self-select just all the interior, for example, that you like?

RICHMAN: You know, what I did was I select two of the sandwiches per region. One came from a celebrity pick. So that way in each region, with the exception of one, because I didn't in fact try it, the celebrity pick is brand-new to me. And it was a chance for the audience to discover something as I did too.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Stretching -- stretching your bounds.

RICHMAN: You've got to grow a little bit every day. My shirt is stretching as well.

O'BRIEN: I'm happy to help you here. So tell me what you brought today.

RICHMAN: I brought two of my favorite sandwiches in the New York area. The New York classic. So we have Katz's Pastrami, Katz' Deli obviously classic, classic New York Deli on rye bread in their house cake Pastrami.

O'BRIEN: Hey I'm going to start with this one.

RICHMAN: It's pretty magnificent.

O'BRIEN: There really isn't enough mustard on this for my taste.

RICHMAN: Mustard, go for it.

O'BRIEN: Oh my God yes, ok.

RICHMAN: Good stuff, though, right?

I usually do the Russian and slaw on the pastrami.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's amazing. RICHMAN: And this one here is a -- a sandwich that unfortunately I wasn't able to include in the show. This is a Vietnamese sandwich called a "Banh Mi" from Hanko's.

O'BRIEN: What's a "Banh Mi"? Where's Hankos?

RICHMAN: Hankos is on Smith and Bourbon Street in Brooklyn. I think they maybe opening another one. But it's only rice flour baguette and it's roasted pork, pickled (inaudible), pickled carrot.

O'BRIEN: Oh that is so good.

RICHMAN: Isn't yummy?

O'BRIEN: What else is it?

RICHMAN: Cilantro, a little bit of sriracha, some pate. And they grind their pork there. And I find it surprisingly light, even though it looks like it could be a really substantial sandwich.

O'BRIEN: I love shows where I just eat through the entire thing while you do all the talking. So is it going to be really, really hard at the end to pick do you think?

RICHMAN: I think so.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

RICHMAN: I think so, I think again, you know people have such fierce hometown associations with sandwiches. And I think that's also why I loved it. It's that you can't talk to someone from Pittsburgh and not mention Pronanti Brothers. You can't talk to someone from Los Angeles and not mention Bay City's or Phillips', of Son of a Gun, or any of these great sandwiches.

So it was difficult. But again, I picked the one that is my best sandwich. But you know, it's a delicious world out there waiting for people like you to eat it.

O'BRIEN: It is delicious world right in here. You know if you need an assistant for the last couple of days of the show, let me know.

RICHMAN: You got it anytime.

O'BRIEN: I'm happy to help you out.

RICHMAN: You bring style and class to it.

O'BRIEN: I just want to eat. That's all. Adam Richman nice to have you. Thank you.

RICHMAN: You bring style. Thank you. Enjoy the sandwiches.

O'BRIEN: Mind if I finish these? Is it ok.

RICHMAN: Please, go ahead. Eat don't be afraid. It's a sandwich.

O'BRIEN: We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT.

In this week's "Human Factor" Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to a little girl named Samantha Brownlee, who is already a published author. She's eight years old. Nothing holds this little girl back. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMANTHA BROWNLEE, AUTHOR: The book is mostly about my hearing aid, what I do in life.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Samantha Brownlee is eight years old and she's already a published author.

S. BROWNLEE: I have a hearing aid, I wear it in my left ear.

GUPTA: Her book, which she wrote at the ripe age of six, is about how she copes with hearing loss.

S. BROWNLEE: Some people have it problems, secret with problems that they have in life but they don't really want to share it. So I like to share it.

GUPTA: Samantha and her 11-year-old brother, Sean, both were born with damage to nerves in the inner ear, permanent damage in both ears. But at an age when taunting from their peers could shatter their self-image, Samantha and Sean are undaunted.

LISA BROWNLEE, SAMANTHA AND SEAN'S MOTHER: We never saw it as a disability. It's just a factor. I mean, I wear glasses. And I don't have a sight disability. I just need help with my vision.

GUPTA: Without the word "disability" weighing her down, Samantha found it in her to write and illustrate this book.

S. BROWNLEE: It helps me to hear better because it makes the sounds louder.

GUPTA: It's "Samantha's Fun FM Book". Her name is on the cover.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just thought it was a wonderful project at first and then it sort of took on a life of its own.

GUPTA: A life of its own including sales of Samantha's book on Amazon.com.

S. BROWNLEE: Fifty million people in the country have hearing loss. GUPTA: And this PSA for the Hearing Health Foundation. And though she has many years ahead of her, Samantha has advice for children and adults about how to overcome.

S. BROWNLEE: No matter what happens, I just try, try, try. You can help someone out with it.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh. She is like the cutest kid. I just try, try, try. And you go, Samantha.

I love that, my son wears a hearing aid too. And you know I think that age is a good age for the kids to get their hearing aids. Because I think as they get older, it becomes a little more embarrassing. He's dealt with it really well. I love - I've got to get that book at Amazon, published author.

All right, "End Point" is up next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We have just enough time for "End Point." Will Cain, I'm going to make you start today.

CAIN: You're going to make me start today.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAIN: And I was completely unprepared for that. I've been wearing a gold medal all morning roasting in this.

O'BRIEN: Really, I'm sorry about the gold medal.

CAIN: Yes, well, I've been dreaming about that since I was 13 years old when I was a swimmer. Yes.

BERMAN: Quit while you're ahead. You wore one today. That's your "End Point".

CAIN: Every swimmer aspires to the Olympics. We have no professional circuit that requires you to become millionaires so you aspire to that thing around your neck.

O'BRIEN: And you stole David's.

CAIN: I think I've talked long enough that I just got my "End Point" in.

O'BRIEN: I like that "End Point". I figured that's what you were going to talk about. What have you got for me Bridget?

BRIDGET SIEGEL: My "End Point" is the new words. I like the new words like a-ha moment being a word. Not so much the f bomb. But the a-ha moment.

O'BRIEN: Ok. And you get our final word this morning.

WILL DURST: The "End Point" for me is got to be the Republican response to having their base energized. And I wonder how long it will be before Romney releases his tax records to change the conversation.

O'BRIEN: You know what would be interesting, when you talk to folks, Republicans rank and file, they are very excited about Paul Ryan -- very, very excited.

DURST: So are Democrats.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And so we'll see what that means for the future and keep talking about it I'm sure.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Deb Feyerick begins right now. Good morning to you, Deb.