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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Fallout from Akin Rape Comments; Women in Green Jackets; Obama To Syria: Don't Cross "Red Line"

Aired August 21, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOT: The Republican congressman who created a firestorm with his legitimate rape comments has until tonight to drop out of his race. With his own party deserting him, what will Representative Akin do?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A severe warning. President Obama letting Syria's leader know that the U.S. is ready to strike if they use or even move chemical or biological weapons.

SAMBOLIN: And breaking the glass ceiling with a green jacket. Augusta National finally admitting women into the club for the first time in its 80-year history.

We have a live report from the home of the Masters for you.

BERMAN: That is a long time coming.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is.

BERMAN: Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us this morning. It is 5:00 a.m. here in the East.

Up first, that pressure is mounting for Republican candidate Todd Akin to drop out of the Missouri Senate race, following his comment about abortion and, quote, "legitimate rape."

But Akin is refusing to go. Before yesterday, much of the country didn't know who Todd Akin was. But Republicans were counting on him to defeat incumbent Claire McCaskill and help them regain control of the Senate.

But this morning, his remarks have both parties united in their condemnation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His comments about rape were deeply offensive. And I can't defend what he said. I can't defend him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser live in our Washington bureau.

This is a long list of people, Paul. Top GOP leaders, GOP House Speaker John Boehner, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell have urged him to withdraw. The editorial committee will not support his campaign. He's losing money here.

What is the likelihood that Akin will stay in this race? What are insiders saying?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: As you mentioned, there is a 5:00 local time deadline today. If he gets out, by then, there are no penalties against him. So, everybody is going to be looking today to see if he changes his mind.

Twice yesterday in radio interviews, Congressman Akin was very firm in saying he was not a quitter and that he was staying in the race. But behind the scenes, insiders are telling us it's a different story and that there is mounting pressure all the way to the top of the ticket. You heard Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive nominee basically saying that he was shocked by that language. And that the language was very clear. It's time for Akin to get out.

Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, also a very high up in the party. Take listen to what he told our Erin Burnett last night on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIENCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: If it was me and I wouldn't say anything that dumb as he has, but if it was me and I had an opportunity to let someone else run to actually give ourselves a better chance of winning, I would step aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: It's pretty clear language here, don't you think, Zoraida? Look at the numbers, especially in the battle for the Senate. The Democrats control the Senate, 53-47. Missouri is a state Republicans really think they can win, but not anymore. Not with this candidate.

That's why behind the scenes, people are telling me there's a lot of pressure here in Washington and elsewhere for him to drop out.

SAMBOLIN: You know, with all this controversy, is he saying why he plans on staying in the race?

STEINHAUSER: His comments on two radio interviews yesterday, he said he's not a quitter.

SAMBOLIN: Not a quitter.

STEINHAUSER: He still feels he can win this day. Some Republicans agree with him. In fact, there has been some support but mostly no.

Remember, this has repercussions not only in the Senate but also for the battle for the White House. This is something that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the GOP ticket, did not want to deal with yesterday. But ultimately they were.

And remember, the platform committee in Tampa coming out with their platform, our Peter Hamby with some exclusive reporting that they're going to continue again as they have in the past to take a hard line on abortion -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to talk about that in the next hour. I really appreciate it. Paul Steinhauser live in Washington, D.C. -- thank you.

BERMAN: I have never seen a political party race to cut someone off at the knees as quickly as the Republicans did yesterday. They went from 0 to 60 in an hour.

SAMBOLIN: He was talking about that platform and the message that the GOP is going to put out. But it's different than the message we talked about yesterday, that Ryan and Romney are putting out on abortion. It's a little confusing to me how it could be o two opposite messages.

BERMAN: Platforms go back more than a hundred years. The conventions come up with a party platform. It's not always what the presidential nominee ends up supporting. Four years ago, the Republican Party platform supported this human life amendment with no exemptions for rape or incest, and John McCain made clear he wanted exceptions for rape or incest.

This time around, Mitt Romney made clear that he wants an exemption for rape and incest. And as of now, it doesn't appear that in the draft language in their platform, that there is that exception. So, there can be a difference sometimes.

SAMBOLIN: It's odd to me. As you go to the polls, you want clarity on these issues. It gets a little bit more confuse being. Thank you for the perspective on that. I appreciate it.

BERMAN: I want to get you up to date on other stories we're looking at right now.

Developing overnight, insurgents fire rockets at the main NATO air base in Afghanistan damaging the aircraft used by Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey. "Reuters" reporting that he was not on board at the time. A NATO senior spokesman says they think it was a lucky shot. Those are their words.

Dempsey left on another aircraft. He was in Afghanistan for talks with NATO and Afghan commanders.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama issues a stern warning to Syria. Don't even consider a chemical or biological attack or you may provoke a military response from the United States. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch much of chemical weapons being moved around or utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: A military and security studies expert says the Syrian regime probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world.

BERMAN: A federal appeals court blocking key provisions in immigration laws in Alabama and Georgia while letting some others stand. The court rejected as unconstitutional a portion of the Alabama law requiring public schools to check the immigration status of new students. But police in both states can check the citizenship of criminal suspects.

SAMBOLIN: Suicide, not homicide. An autopsy report finding 21-year- old Chavis Carter killed himself in the back of an Arkansas police car. The state medical examiner ruled that Carter shot himself in the head while handcuffed after his arrest last month. The autopsy also showed that carter had marijuana and meth in his system.

Carter's family believes he was shot by police. Their attorney spoke to CNN's Erin Burnett.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN IRWIN, ATTY. FOR CHAVIS CARTER'S MOTHER & GRANDMOTHER: Ever since this has begun, Jonesboro Police Department has said, listen, this is a suicide. This is a suicide.

What happened to an investigation? Since when did we start with a conclusion and then find facts to support that conclusion?

In the video, it's very important because there's 3, 3 1/2 minutes of video missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The autopsy also found Carter -- as I said, had marijuana, meth and depressants in his system. The report comes days after police release two dash cam videos taken before and after Carter's body was found slumped over in that patrol car.

BERMAN: Drought conditions are causing low water levels along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. These are some amazing pictures. An 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi river near Greenville, Mississippi, is now closed to most boats and barges. It's an area considered vital to the economy. The closure left 97 vessels stranded yesterday.

And low water levels are exposing a part of the Missouri river's past. At least five steamships, back to the 1880s can now be seen at the bottom of the river. SAMBOLIN: Seven minutes past the hour. The tropics are heating up for.

For a check of the forecast, let's go to Rob Marciano.

Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Zoraida.

Three areas of concern. We'll start with the one in the Gulf of Mexico because it is the closest. It might not be the deepest area of concern. It's down in the southwestern gulf, 30 percent of this developing into a tropical system the next couple of days. But it's pretty close to Mexcio.

So, we're not terribly concerned about it in the U.S. but it could bring heavy rain into Mexico.

Out there, we've got something very close to Africa obviously, it's very far out there. Not concerned too much about it. It looks strong, so it's kind of lining up. This is the time of year what we call the Cape Verde season where the storms line off these islands and just make their way across the Atlantic.

Tropical depression number 9, that's probably our greatest area of concern at this point, moving at 20 miles an hour, 35 mile an hour winds. A minimal tropical depression ,was just given that status.

Here's the forecast from the National Hurricane Center bringing it towards the Caribbean here over the next couple of days. Developing it into a hurricane, potentially a one or two category hurricane towards Jamaica, Cuba, potentially Dominican Republic and potentially towards the Gulf of Mexico and/or the United States. We'll watch this carefully.

Heavy rains, by the way, this morning in Florida if you're traveling that way.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Rob Marciano.

Everyone, of course, is looking at that storm because the Republican convention in Tampa next week could, could be in its path.

Other news now: Curiosity is getting ready to roll on the red planet. NASA mission members say the rover will take a test drive on Mars today or tomorrow. It hasn't made any tracks yet. The plan is to drive it four meters forward, 90-degree turn in place and a few meters backward. Small steps but important ones.

The test drive comes in the heels of Curiosity's first laser beam test fire on Sunday.

And another storm is slowing down 62-year-old endurance swimmer Diana Nyad this morning, as she continues her quest to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. We received an update on her journey just minutes ago. Her team says Nyad is riding out the storm and everyone is safe. Nyad had completed about 48 miles of her 103-mile journey.

And according to her team's blog, all hell broke loose. That's what they're saying when a storm close in on Nyad Sunday night, forcing her to change course to escape 14 knot winds.

BERMAN: This woman gets stung by jellyfish in the face all the time. So, a storm, no big whoop.

SAMBOLIN: No big deal. Just ride it out.

All right. So, kids play hooky from school. Should they have to pay a fine? One superintendent wants truant students, even six-year-olds to shell out the cash. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCILA BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 14 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

Well, finally, for the first time in its 80-year history, Augusta National Golf Club is allowing women to become members. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore will soon be playing on the historic course.

The move is being cheered by women's rights activists, including tennis legend Billie Jean King. President Obama was quoted by White House spokesman Jay Carney as saying the decision was too long in coming and the right thing to do.

CNN's Mark McKay has more from Augusta National, home of the Master tournament.

And, Mark, there's been a big push for a long time, starting about 10 years ago when Martha Burk famously led a protest to get women to play. So, the question is, ten years after that protest, 80 years after the course was built, why now?

MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question that's still unanswered this morning John and one that will likely not be answered any time soon. And, you know, Augusta National always operated under a cloak of secrecy. We probably will never have an answer to the question as to why it was the right time now to invite two female members into its club.

And, Billy Payne, the chairman of the club said so as much when he put his statement out on Monday saying, quote, "Membership consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate and held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time." Of course, the club has come under fire in recent years. Remember a decade ago those protests led by Martha Burk and her organization. She at that time had even announced that sponsors should pull out of their coverage.

Well, Augusta turned around and went commercial-free with that Masters coverage back in 2003.

Martha Burk telling CNN on Monday, after the announcement was made, this isn't mainly about getting into this club specifically, but in women's equality in general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA BURK, CHAIR, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS: I always said it's not about golf and it's not about playing golf. It is about making deals in corporate America. It is about those halls of power that you're talking about. The more women we have even if it's a couple to begin with, that cracks open the glass ceiling just a little bit further.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKAY: As you might imagine, John, reaction among golf fans has been mainly positive and mixed as well saying they welcome this move. But why has it taken so much time?

BERMAN: What about the reaction among the golfers?

MCKAY: That's also been very positive. Monday, the PGA tournament because of weather issues had to finish Monday in North Carolina and we were able to catch up with South Africa's Tim Clark. Here's what he had to say about this move.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM CLARK, PGA TOUR GOLFER: I think it's great. It's a sign of the times. You know, Augusta is a club that seems to want to progress. I think it's obviously about time. And, you know, it's a place I love and love going to. It's nice to see them make that move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKAY: Four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods also weighed in Monday, saying it was an important decision for golf and he would like to congratulate both female members especially his friend Condi Rice -- John.

BERMAN: Tim Clark says it was a sign of the times. It might have been a sign of the times in the 1960s. I mean, this is 2012. I don't know what time he's talking about.

But, Mark McKay, thank you very much at Augusta, nice to see you.

SAMBOLIN: Good point.

All right. Seventeen minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to both of you. Still following the story.

Republican leaders say Todd Akin must go. But so far, he's refusing to drop out of the Missouri Senate race. Akin ignited a political firestorm with his controversial remarks about rape. He has since apologized said he was wrong.

But the chairman of the RNC says he doesn't want Akin at the party's national convention next week.

Lawyers for the teen charged in a school shooting in Ohio may go for an insanity plea. Seventeen year old T.J. Lane pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges in a February shooting at Chardon High School. A shooting that left three students did. Defense attorneys are waiting for the neurological evaluations.

No serious injuries to report this morning after a falling crane knocked over three electrical poles in Toronto, trapping passengers inside that transit bus. A live wire fell on top of that bus.

SAMBOLIN: Scary.

ROMANS: Leaving 23 passengers and the bus driver stranded inside for 40 minutes.

While it may not be the era of Bird, Magic and Jordan, the NBA is far from dead, or is it? This is a tweet from the "New York Times" obituaries. A tweet from the obit section accidentally declared the NBA dead., causing lots of Twitter chatter, rather, among sports fans. It is not. They will play. I promise.

BERMAN: Thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 18 minutes past the hour.

We're getting n early read on your local news making national headlines.

First up, a New York Times poll finds that most New Yorkers think the NYPD favors whites over blacks. It's an overwhelming 80 percent of blacks that felt the police favor whites, especially when it comes to the controversial stop and frisk policy. Forty-eight percent of whites said they believe that cops favor them over blacks.

As for stop and frisk itself, 48 percent say it's acceptable tactic to keep the city safer and nearly as many, 45 percent say that officers stopping people questioning and sometimes searching them for weapons and drugs was an excessive crime fighting technique.

BERMAN: When it comes to stop and frisk, I think and I may have this wrong, 85 percent of the people who are being stopped and frisked are either blacks or Latino. The numbers are very, very high. That's why some people are upset about that. Play hooky and the kids could pay. This is from the "New Britain Herald" in Connecticut. The school's superintendent there is proposing a fine of as much as $75 for students caught cutting class. This could apply to kids as young as 6-year-olds if they're caught during school hours without apparent legal guardian.

This blew my mind this stat. A recent study found that 48 percent of New Britain High School students are chronically absent. Forty-eight percent, can you believe that?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, this is causing a lot of conversation which I think is good about what to do with truancy, especially when the levels are that high. What I personally don't understand is how a 6-year-old would be wandering around with parental supervision.

BERMAN: You think a 6-year-old is understandable, but 16-year-old it's hard to find the family.

SAMBOLIN: It is. I mean, you know, these kids sometimes, you know, there's some real serious problems there and fining $75 to the family, how is it going to help the problem is what a lot are saying. So, I'm glad they're talking approximate it and can find some sort of solution.

BERMAN: Forty-eight percent say real problem.

SAMBOLIN: That is incredible.

BERMAN: For an expanded look at all of our top stories, you can head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart.

SAMBOLIN: Great schools, quick drive to the big city and low unemployment rate. What else could you ask for in a hometown? CNN Money has picked the top places to live in the United States. We are going to share that list with you coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. We're minding your business this morning.

And Apple is now the world's most valuable company in history ever. This in terms of market cap.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans has some details for us and Facebook stock as well. Still talking approximate that.

ROMANS: A lot of big tech news to talk about today. I want to talk about Apple shares, a lot of people looking at it yesterday and saying it is now the most valuable company out there. When you look at the shares, they reached yesterday a high of -- wow, more than 600 -- look at that. This is since Tim Cook became CEO. Above $600 a share, 86 percent increase in just one year. Isn't that amazing?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

ROMANS: So, what does at that mean for the value of the company. If you look at the market cap of the company because all the shares value the company at $623 billion. Now, now, now, let me give you an asterisk.

BERMAN: That's a lot of money.

ROMANS: The asterisk is that Microsoft actually holds the title if you adjust for inflation. Don't let the details get you in the way.

So, looking forward to that iPhone, sale of the new iPhone. Maybe 250 million of these they'll sell. Imagine 308 million people in the America. They're expected to sell 250 million iPhones, unbelievable.

Also, Facebook, this is the opposite story. Facebook going down. It's been cut in half. Remember the lockout period for the insiders, the people who got in early. The lockout period has expired. So, they can sell millions of shares, millions of them actually.

Since the IPO, the stock has been basically cut in half.

A guy named Peter Thiel, one of the early, early big investors cashed out a ton. We knew he would -- ton of his stuff. This is a guy that we interviewed him last year, really interesting guy. He gives them seed money in the beginning and this is what -- this is a home run, right? This is a grand slam. He's taken out a bunch of money there. He's much richer than he already was and he was already very rich.

Let's talk about the best places to live if you're just a little people like the rest of us. "Money" magazine has really good stuff. I'm going to tweet this out for you. Carmel, Indiana, number one on the list. Number two is McKinney, Texas -- one of the oldest cities in Texas. There's a lot of growing places in Texas. Eden Prairie, Minnesota is number 3. The winter is cold but the economy is hot. There you go.

SAMBOLIN: Is that what makes it one of the best places to live?

ROMANS: That it's cold? It's availability of job, housing stock. There's a lot of different metrics they put together for the best places to live, including education, community, how happy the people are. So, I will tweet a link and you can look at those.

Later this place, best places to find a job.

SAMBOLIN: Ooh, that's going to be a popular one.

Thank you so much, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour. She was class valedictorian. But her school would not give her a diploma. Why is she being denied over a twilight-inspired speech?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Under pressure. The clock is ticking for GOP Congressman Akin to drop out of his Senate race after his "legitimate rape" comment. He's vowing to stay, but his own party wants him to go.

BERMAN (voice-over): Rocky landing. Several passengers hurt when a plane flies through major turbulence knocking flight attendants on top of each other.

SAMBOLIN: Wow!

And diploma denied. A class valedictorian denied in trouble for one word she used in her commencement speech. We're going to let you decide if that is fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (on-camera): I don't know. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty-one minutes past the hour. We're happy you're with us this morning. Our top story, Republican congressman, Todd Akin, has until six o'clock eastern tonight to withdraw his bid for the Senate. The Missouri lawmaker is under intense pressure to quit his race this morning after making controversial remarks about abortion in the instance of rape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TODD AKIN, (R) MISSOURI: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that doesn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be in the rapist and not attacking the child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, Akin insists that he is still running. The Democrats and Republicans are calling on him to step aside, including Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, who spoke to CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It's a bizarre statement and it's something that I think he needs to seriously think about. And like I said, if it was me, I would step aside and let someone else run for that office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Priebus also suggested Akin should not attend the upcoming Republican National Convention. So, with us now is Republican strategist and CNN contributor, Ana Navarro. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. So, I think the list is longer of people who would like him to step down as opposed to people who would want him to stay. Do you think that he will step down?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know what he's going to do. And I agree with you. I think that people who want him to stay at this point is his opponent, Claire McCaskill, who would love to run against him because he's going to be very easy to beat and his wife and his son who allegedly both work on his campaign as well as Congressman Akin, himself.

But you know, I think it's punishment enough to have to see that video you just showed over and over and over again. I've now seen it a number of times. There's not one time I see it that it doesn't make me cringe.

SAMBOLIN: And what happens if he does step down? Walk me through that scenario.

NAVARRO: Well, there's you know -- I'm sure it's going to end up in legal challenges. The deadline is today 6:00 p.m. eastern time. Close of business in Missouri. There's going to be a -- there's a number of people that could step in. One of them might be Allen Keys (ph) who's an African-American that ran as a presidential candidate in 2008.

He's a terrific guy. This was also a very close three-way primary. Ironically, Senator McCaskill, who was his Democrat opponent, put money into a race to try to boost up Akin, and now, we see why. He's a troglodyte. He needs to go.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I want to talk a little bit about this whole legitimate rape thing to see if maybe you can shed some light here. Akin told Mike Huckabee that when he used the term legitimate rape, he really meant forcible rape. Let's listen to that, and then, I want to get your perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF MIKE HUCKABEE, FOX NEWS: Legitimate rape, were you attempting to say forcible rape or was that just -- where did that come from?

AKIN: Well, yes, I was talking about forcible rape. And it was an absolutely a wrong word. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, that language, forcible rape, was used in a bill Akin co-sponsored with current vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan. The no taxpayer funded abortion act which is what it's called would have only allowed federal dollars to be used for abortion in case where the woman was in danger of dying, in some case of incest or, quote, "if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape."

What is forcible rape and why that distinction?

NAVARRO: I have no idea. I am not the one to shed light on this. I think that when legislators start parsing and dissecting the word rape, they are getting into a very slippery slope as we've seen. Calling it legitimate rape to me is legitimately stupid. Rape is rape. I don't understand what the word forcible has to be in there for. I really think it's a mistake. Rape is rape. And, I think the rape is rape for Democrats, for Republicans, for all Americans. We all understand it as an act of violence. So, Zoraida, I am just as much in the dark as you are. I will tell you that that bill does not coincide with Mitt Romney.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

NAVARRO: Mitt Romney has said and announced that his campaign, that his platform, his agenda does include an exception for rape and it's just that. It is rape. Folks, it's a four-letter word. R-A-P-E. It needs no preceding adjective.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ana Navarro, CNN contributor and Republican strategist, thank you so much. We appreciate your time this morning.

BERMAN: That bill that was proposed last year never actually defined what forcible rape was. But people who've looked at it, what they say seems that some people who proposed that were trying to do was differentiate between one kind of rape and statutory rape, because it dealt with Medicaid funding, limiting or cutting off Medicaid funding for abortions.

And they didn't want any Medicaid funding going to victims of statutory rape. That's what critics say they were trying to do with that language. It's heavily nuance, and you're looking at some loaded terminology there. It's a tough debate.

SAMBOLIN: And actually, when you look at the statistics of people who think that there should be an exception for instance -- for incest and rape, it's 75 percent. So, when they do make those distinctions, it's kind of mind-boggling, right? I don't know.

BERMAN: It is 36 minutes after the hour right now. We want to get you update on the other top stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): A state representative from Minnesota is facing calls to give up his re-election bid after he was allegedly caught in a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy at a rest stop. Authorities say Cary Gautier (ph) admitted to the encounter according to the "Duluth News Tribune."

Gautier (ph), a Democrat, won't face any charges in the July incident. Police say that's because the boy was older than the legal age of consent and no money was exchanged.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): On the campaign trail today. President Obama hitting two battleground states with events in Ohio and Nevada. Vice President Biden campaigns in Minnesota. Meantime, Mitt Romney spends the day fundraising in Texas. And Paul Ryan will be stumping in Pennsylvania.

BERMAN: Several passengers suffered minor injuries aboard a Delta Airlines jet at the turbulence (ph) while landing a Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport on Monday. Passengers on flight 5762 say they saw several people hit their heads on the ceiling, and two flight attendants fall on top of each other.

Fasten your seatbelts on the plane everybody. The flight attendants and one passenger were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.

SAMBOLIN: Rosie O'Donnell says she is happy to be alive after suffering a heart attack. On her blog, O'Donnell says she felt symptoms on Tuesday but just took an aspirin. The next day, her doctor informed her one of her arteries was 99 percent blocked. She even wrote a poem to warn other women.

I read it. It's really fantastic. "Know the symptoms ladies," she says. "Listen to the voice inside. The one we all so easily ignore."

BERMAN: Now pitching for the sugar land Skeeters, Roger Clemens. Look at that again for a second, Roger Clemens. He's 50. He signed with the Texas minor league team leading to speculation, perhaps, about a major league comeback. The Sugarland team plays the independent Atlantic league.

Clemens is expected to join the team on Friday and make his first start Saturday. He last pitched in the big leagues with the Yankees in 2007. He is coming off a major legal victory. He was acquitted of lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs.

SAMBOLIN: All eyes will be on him.

And for car thieves across America, there's nothing like an old Honda Accord. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says for the fourth year in a row now, the 1994 Honda Accord is the most stolen car in America. Thieves like the older models. The second most stolen car was the 1998 Honda Civic. The newest car in the list was a 2006 Ford pickup.

BERMAN: Nostalgia among car thieves.

All right. A teen is settling into her freshman year at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, but her high school still hasn't handed over her diploma. This is because she used the word "hell." I just said it. She used it in her valedictorian speech. It was a line inspired by one of the twilight movies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAITLIN NOOTBAR, DENIED DIPLOMA OVER VALEDICTORIAN SPEECH: I did not think that it would get that big at all. You know, they're going to ask us what we want to be. And we're going to say, who the hell knows. That's it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The high school insists Kaitlin Nootbar has to write an apology letter, but she says she isn't sorry. She doesn't feel she did anything wrong. Nootbar says she's getting messages of support from all over the world. The school isn't commenting, calling the matter confidential. Not that confidential anymore. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): No, definitely not.

5:39 here in the east. He's been warned. President Obama putting Syria's leader on notice and saying the U.S. is ready to strike if he crosses a line. A live report headed your way next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-three minute past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. Glad you are with us. President Obama is delivering a strong message to Syria. There will be repercussions should it even consider a chemical or biological attack.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

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BERMAN: Even being move, he said (ph). A security expert says he believes the Syrian regime, quote, "probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world." Our Jim Clancy is following the developments from Beirut. And Jim, what do we know about Syria's chemical and biological weapon arsenal at this point?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the official front, we don't know very much at all, but clearly, Obama's red line comments there provoked a response both from the Russian side and also from Damascus, first to Damascus. We heard from the foreign ministry where they said that their statement of two days ago talking about the use of chemical weapons only against a foreign aggressor was being misinterpreted.

It wasn't an admission that they had weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons. They said that in no way, shape, or form would those ever be used against the civilian population. That's the reaction from Damascus. Does it allay any fears? No. The U.S. is just as concerned that those chemical weapons might fall into the wrong hands.

Meantime, also reacting to President Obama and what we just heard there was Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. He was in China for talks with officials there.

And he said both Beijing and Moscow are sending out the warning that no violation of U.N. charter, no violation of international law directly meaning that they wanted the U.S. to rule out any unilateral intervention here in Syria, which the president was obliquely referring to there in his comments from the White House on Monday. BERMAN: Jim, I thought it was interesting the president even said if he saw them moving weapons. That seems to be a fairly low bar there. But, at this point, what is the American involvement in Syria in terms of aid?

CLANCY: Well, there is really two levels of involvement. One of them is a very clandestine involvement. The other one is very public. This is what the president had to say about sending humanitarian aid in yesterday.

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OBAMA: Number one, we want to make sure we're providing humanitarian assistance. And we've done that to the tune of $82 million, I believe, so far. And, we'll probably end up doing a little bit more.

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CLANCY: All right. Now, that is the -- what he's talking about is humanitarian assistance that is arriving in far too little quantities and far too late for many. A 170,000 official refugees, John, but the unofficial number is probably three times that. It doesn't include the internally displaced people. A lot of Syrians leaving the country do not want to register.

They do not want to give their names to the U.N. HCR. So, it's a very dire situation there. And at the same time, you've obviously got accusations coming from Russia and others saying, the U.S. and its Arab allies are funneling in advanced western weaponry to those rebels. That's why they're being successful. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Thank You, Jim Clancy in the Middle East this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-seven minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And good morning, you two.

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ROMANS (voice-over): Will he stay or will he go? Congressman Todd Akin is, so far, defied calls from the Republican leadership to quit the Missouri Senate race following those comments about abortion and legitimate rape. Akin faces a deadline today at 6:00 p.m. eastern time to leave the race.

A medical examiner in Arkansas ruling the mysterious death of 21-year- old Chavis Carter (ph), a suicide. The autopsy report found that Carter shot himself in the head while he was handcuffed in the back of a police car in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Carter's family says he wasn't suicidal, and they believe police fired the fatal shot.

Curiosity getting ready to roll on the Red Planet. NASA saying the rover is going to test a -- take a test drive on Mars today, maybe tomorrow. It hasn't made any tracks yet. The plan is to drive it four meters forward, make a 90-degree turn in place, then drive it a few meters backwards. The most expensive test drive in history.

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ROMANS (on-camera): Want to follow the movement of a great white sharks across the Pacific Ocean. You can. There's an app for that. A new app produced by researchers at Stanford University tracked the movement of great whites along the Northern California Coast. This shark net app for iPhone and iPad follows sharks that carry electronic tags giving users the chance to study their migration patterns on your own or you can use it to avoid sharks, I guess, if you go for a swim.

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SAMBOLIN: Really cool.

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BERMAN: You know, I'll feel better about swimming.

ROMANS: You can watch the (INAUDIBLE). You can also watch the eaglets. Whatever you want to do. You can have a whole nature show -

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BERMAN: All right. It is 49 minutes after the hour right now, and life imitating art. A woman selling candy inspired by the TV show, "Breaking Bad." Now, some parents are outraged. If you watch the show, you probably know why.

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

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BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 52 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman along with Zoraida Sambolin. And we are taking a look at what is trending on the web this morning.

SAMBOLIN: The defending Super Bowl champs in trouble for a hazing video that one of the players actually posted on the web. It shows Giants all pro lineman, Jason Pierre-Paul, caring cornerback, Prince Amukamara (INAUDIBLE) in the locker room and then dumping him. Look, look, look. They dump him into an ice bath.

Oh, my gosh! And the players yelling, stand up for yourself. It sent Coach Tom Coughlin through the roof and the player who posted it deleted the video and apologized to fans. Apparently, he got really mad.

BERMAN: So, here's the thing. There's this thing called the internet where it's a bad idea to post videos. All right? That's my lesson for the morning.

SAMBOLIN: You know what he said? He said what happens in the locker stays in the locker room. And they should know that rule.

BERMAN: I agree.

Candy store in Albuquerque, New Mexico is breaking bad. Fans of the show will know about this. The owner is now selling bags of blue rock candy. What does it resemble? The infamous blue sky crystal meth that Brian Kansas (ph) character cooks up in the hit show, "Breaking Bad."

Now, the candy store owner said she did it to honor the show, which is filmed in Albuquerque -- many local actress. The shop owner says she has moved hundreds of bags of the rock candy so far. As you can imagine, a lot of parents aren't so happy about this. It glorifies the drug trafficking business. They may be on to something there. It may be kind of sketchy.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe. I'm sure she's going to continue selling it as long as she's making some cash there.

All right. Fifty-four minutes past the hour. Paul Ryan said to be a P90X devotee, and it's clear from a shirtless photo of Ryan who work out as working. Here's what Jimmy Kimmel and Jay Leno had to say about it.

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JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Paul Ryan has been called the fittest politician in Washington. Here's a picture of him and his wife. He's really in good shape. But, the fittest politician in Washington? I mean, how hard is that? Let's look at the competition. Here's Barney Frank.

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LENO: OK. There's Rick Santorum.

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LENO: There's Newt Gingrich. There's Charlie Rangel. Yes, I don't know.

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JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": TMZ is calling this the first shirtless photo of Paul Ryan as if there -- as if it's like the Harry Potter movies. There are many more to come.

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KIMMEL: But I guess it's, well, you know, the time we're living in. Can you imagine if TMZ had been around when Clinton was the president? We'd probably have bottomless pictures of him.

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KIMMEL: It's actually pretty common to see shirtless photos of our political candidates. Now, I'm sure you remember this photo of President Obama not wearing a shirt in Hawaii. Of course, there's the Republican candidate, Magic Mike Huckabee.

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KIMMEL: Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is refusing to release more than the first four inches of his torso. Though, he insists he has nothing to hide.

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BERMAN: It's just wrong on so many levels.

SAMBOLIN: All right.

BERMAN: All right. It is --

SAMBOLIN: Speechless.

BERMAN: -- 55 minutes after the hour right now, and there is big political news. He is under immense pressure from his own party to quit the race. Congressman Todd Akin has until 6:00 p.m. eastern to make a decision. The countdown is on. Will he stay or will he go? A live report coming up at the top of the hour.

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