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Suicide Bomber Targets U.S. Consulate Vehicle; Better Off Than Four Years Ago?; Interview With Rep. Elijah Cummings; Isaac's Leftovers Soak Parts of Midwest

Aired September 3, 2012 - 08:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. We're coming to you live from the CNN grill in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Lots of breaking news to get to this morning.

A brazen attack against Americans. A suicide bomber rams in a U.S. government vehicle in northwestern Pakistan. It happened overnight. We're live with the very latest on that.

Plus, the big question today is: are you better off now than you were four years ago? Some Democrats over the weekend weren't so sure. Republicans are pouncing on that had this morning. We'll talk about that.

Plus, flooding and blackouts linger. It's been a week almost since hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf Coast. We've got a packed show ahead for you this morning.

We're going to talk to Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Jim Rogers is the CEO of Duke Energy. He's also co-chairman of the host committee for the Democratic National Convention. We'll chat with him.

And design guru Ty Pennington, he's building the other half of the house that they started last week at the RNC. We're going to talk to him about the logistics of putting two halves together to make one home that they're going to give to a veteran.

It is Monday, September 3rd, and STARTING POINT begins right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: STARTING POINT this morning, breaking news. New details about a suicide car bombing taking place in Peshawar, Pakistan. It happened overnight. A car that exploded -- rather loaded with explosives targeted a convoy from the U.S. consulate. We're told now that two Pakistanis have been killed, two Americans injured.

Foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has the very latest for is this morning.

What are you hearing from your sources, Jill?


You know, it's been back and forth really all morning about whether there were any Americans killed in that attack and the latest news, Secretary Clinton -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling internationally. She just touched down not long ago, a couple of hours ago in Indonesia. And on the plane her spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, came back and reiterated what they have been saying all morning, which is that there were two Americans who were injured and there were two Pakistanis who worked for the consulate who also were injured but that no Americans were killed.

Now there also are, however, local police reports that two Pakistanis perhaps on the ground not connected with the consulate were killed. That may still be the case. The news from the State Department was that they were continuing to look into anyone else who might have been affected. But this is what we know at this point, no Americans killed.

And you mentioned the attack. It was pretty major. It was a car, a suicide car, filled with explosives -- 242 pounds of explosives that cut off into this convoy coming through. We understand, there were three cars in it, including a Pakistani police vehicle.

A pretty major attack in the sense of destroying, really ruining that first vehicle and now the question is, who did it?

O'BRIEN: Jill Dougherty for us this morning -- Jill, thank you very much.

Joining us this morning, here at the table with me a long -- poor Ryan doesn't even get a table at the end where he is.

Dana Bash is with us. She's a CNN senior congressional correspondent.

Ron Brownstein is with us, editorial director at the "National Journal." I missed you at the RNC when I had to leave.

Also with us is Congressman Jason Chaffetz. He's a Republican from Utah. He's a Romney supporter.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell is with us as well.

And down at the end, Ryan Lizza, who's got a new article out in "The New Yorker," where he is the Washington correspondent. It's called "Let's be Friends." Everybody should take a look at that.

We -- the Democratic National Convention gavels to order tomorrow, so we really have a day where there's not a lot going on. There was a protest from Occupy Wall Street yesterday. Democrats have been struggling a little bit to answer a critical question, the kind of Reagan question about President Obama's first term, are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?

So, Dana, first of all, do you think this is a question that will stick, or is this the talking point of the day that will change?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's definitely talking point of the day and it could stick. I think in large part that depends on how the Democrats handle this convention.

First of all, I think we should probably play a sound bite that is getting the most attention that is from Governor Martin O'Malley. He's a popular --

O'BRIEN: And Bob Schieffer was doing his interview. And here's what he said.

BASH: Yes.


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question without a doubt we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars charged for the first time to credit card, the national credit card.



BASH: Now he just showed up here sitting in the seat, he brought his broom with him to clean up the mess. And, look, other Democrats were out fanning the shows this morning. Brad Woodhouse, the DNC chair, Stephanie Cutter with the Obama campaign. The answer is we're absolutely we're better off than we were four years ago.

Obviously, it's a difficult question because they don't want to sound they're too optimistic when there are people who are still struggling out there. But to say "no" just feeds right into the Republicans.

RON BROWNSTEIN, NATIONAL JOURNAL: You know, I spent July 4th interviewing voters in the suburbs of Denver, as I do pretty much every July 4th in the last few years. It's part of my own little national holiday.

And my overwhelming conclusion from those conversations was that the Reagan question, are you better off than you were four years ago is less relevant today --

O'BRIEN: Why? BROWNSTEIN: -- precisely because fewer people expect to be. I heard so many variations of if I haven't fallen through the floor, basically, I have nothing to complain about.

What I think is important about this is that people don't see the past four years, going as what you're saying, Dana, as some break, as some sharp break and deterioration. They really feel like they have been running in place for at least a decade really since the late 1990s.

And, you know, in our polling, clearly the majority of Americans do not feel they are better off four years ago. But if you ask, would you have been better off if McCain had won? You don't clear a verdict with the Republicans. If you ask would you be better off four years from now with Romney rather than Obama? There's no clear verdict for the Republicans.

What you have I think is a big part of the public, especially those without college degrees, a sense they have been running in place for a very long time, an enormous skepticism that either party has an answer that would significantly improve their lives. So, I think this question is not nearly as powerful as it was a generation ago when it came after an unbroken string of gains of incomes from the 1940s into the 1970s.

O'BRIEN: The data has been mixed. Let's throw up some numbers. If you look at job growth shedding 818,000 jobs in January 2009. That's gone up to 163,000 gained in June. So that's good news there.

Unemployment rate down, starts 7.8 percent January 2009. Now it's 8.3 percent. That's worse.

The GDP in the negatives, 5.3 percent. Now, up but a tiny bit, 1.5 percent in June.

And home prices $175,000 was your average home price in Q1 of 2009. Well, it's gained less than $10,000 in Q2 of 2012. So it's up, but anemically up. And that is the big problem.

BROWNSTEIN: The big thing, I think the biggest thing, the median income is lower today than it was in 2000.

O'BRIEN: By $4,000.

BROWNSTEIN: The median income was lower at the end of the Bush years than it was in 2000. It's continued to decline and that is what people feel, especially those without advanced education.

O'BRIEN: Jason, if Ron is saying, listen, that's a less relevant question today, that people aren't going to be moved like they were, that question seemed just so -- years ago that question under Reagan. Right. Is that a problem for not just from the kind of spinning that's going on today but the bigger strategy of leveraging this moment?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Look, when you're the president of the United States, you've been there for four years, they can't get through one sentence without mentioning George W. Bush, that's not what President Obama got elected to do.

I think most people are just disenfranchised. They look at the hope, the change, the bringing the country together. We're not the red states, we're not the blue states, we're the United States. Where did that go? All of that has gone out the door.

So --

O'BRIEN: So people say it went out the door with some Republicans in Congress.

CHAFFETZ: No, but that's not the way that it operated and I think the country recognizes that it's off track. I think they do want to turn around. That's the whole premise of the Romney/Ryan presidency, the candidacy.

And that's where I think Mitt Romney will be the next president of the United States. We do need a turnaround. We do need somebody who knows about jobs and the economy, somebody who does understand business. That's why Mitt Romney I think is going to be the next president.

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: The Democrats are happy to have this comparison between do you want to go back to the Clinton years or the Bush years? If you're face with that question, you personally, what do Republicans point to? What decade of governance can you point to?

CHAFFETZ: We need a total new direction. We need to approve the Keystone Pipeline and try to achieve energy independence. We need to get our fiscal house in order, not take the deficits as, you know --

LIZZA: Would you use the Bush years as a model going forward?

CHAFFETZ: No, no. You have to create a new pathway to move forward.

GOV. JACK MARKELL (D), DELAWARE: But Governor Romney doesn't and that's the point.

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely he does.

MARKELL: The most important question is who has the best plan going forward and Governor Romney's plan is essentially very much taking us back to what Bush did.

O'BRIEN: The 59-point plan.

BASH: On one page?

O'BRIEN: It's tiny print. It is incredibly, incredibly vague. Amend the Clean Air Act.

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely, I totally disagree. First of all, President Obama -- O'BRIEN: They're so tiny.

BROWNSTEIN: He's gone further than that. A core idea now is 20 percent reduction in marginal tax rates, limits on federal spending, and a significant roll back of federal regulations. Those are -- and some trade. Those are the core elements of the agenda.

And the big question, I think, that is out there is whether marginal tax rates are the best lever to accelerate job growth. We cut marginal tax rates in the '80s under Reagan. We have big job growth.

We raised marginal tax rates in the '90s under Clinton, we had bigger job growth and under Bush cut marginal tax rates again and there were only million more people working at the end of his presidency than when he's started, the worst two-term performance certainly since World War II.

So why is there -- why should the public have can confidence that marginal tax rates by themselves are really the lever that's going to get the economy moving again?

CHAFFETZ: It is one of the core things. Tax reform is something that Governor Romney wants to do on day one, but he also wants to repeal Obamacare, allow the states to have their individual waivers, approve the Keystone pipeline, start to achieve energy independence, focus on the middle class.

If you have an adjusted gross income of $200,000 or less, he wants to take capital gains, dividends income and interest income down to zero.

These are all things that we'll have a very immediate effect for Middle America.

O'BRIEN: So -- we have to stop right there so I can get to some of the other stories making news. I realize that here in Charlotte, we believe this is the only story happening but there's other stuff as well. At this hour in Charlotte, all that's happening is politics.

But Christine has an update on some of the other stories that are making news.

Christine, good morning.


A lot going on.

Right now, authorities in Washington state are searching for a shooter who fired at cars and fired at police officers in a town about 90 miles north of Seattle. They are also warning Arlington residents to stay inside. One man was shot in the leg yesterday afternoon. Officers say they heard shots coming from the woods and they called in the SWAT team. When the SWAT team arrived, it also came under fire. The U.S. Open line judge accused of murdering her husband by hitting him with a coffee mug and stabbing him with broken shards. She's out on bail.

Seventy-year-old Lois Goodman allegedly killed her husband in their California back in April. She was arrested last month in New York as she prepared to work at the grand slam tennis tournament. She has pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

Former News International chief Rebekah Brooks in a London courtroom this morning to answer to phone hacking charges. She's accused of being part of a conspiracy to illegally access voice mails, along with six other members of the now defunct "World of the News" tabloid. Later this month, Brooks has another court appearance to face three charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

And the book on the Osama bin Laden raid hitting stores tomorrow. "No Easy Day" is a firsthand account of the raid written by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette. He wrote under the pen name Mark Owen. "The New York Times" reports an e-book written by other Special Ops members claims Bissonnette was willing to break the code of silence because of bad blood with his former unit -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, we're going to learn so much more about him and the relationship because clearly there's a reason why he would write a book. I mean, it can't be a surprise that's going to have some kind of backlash.

All right. Christine, thank you.

Coming up next on STARTING POINT, we're " live from the CNN grill here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Could the Democrats' biggest strength become one of their biggest problems? We're going to talk with Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings straight ahead.

Stay with us. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're live at the CNN Grill in Charlotte, North Carolina this morning at the Democratic National Convention this week. Democrats have a big challenge convincing voters that they're better off now than they were four years ago when it turns out one of the biggest strains (ph) could end up becoming a problem for the party.

Joining us morning is Congressman Elijah Cummings. He's a Democrat from Maryland. Nice to see you, sir.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: It's good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: So, I'll ask you the question, but I feel now 24 hours later, you're going to be able to answer this in a way that the Democratic establishment overall would be happy with, are we better off now than we were four years ago? CUMMINGS: That's not the question. The question is whether the country is better off now and will the country be better off? And I think the answer to both of those questions is yes. We're looking towards the future. I just watched the Republican convention where they talked about the good old days, so to speak. This is a future situation.

The country knows that we -- this president has accomplished a lot. He's come in. He talked about healthcare. He accomplished healthcare. He talked about eliminating Bin Laden. He did that. He talked about reform to our economic system. He did that. And I can go over all the things he's done, but the thing is -- and he's done it, Soledad, with maximum opposition. A lot of people sit here and they talk all this stuff, this wonderful stuff, but --

O'BRIEN: You mean, Congressman Chaffetz in the middle of our panel.

CUMMINGS: Yes. I sit in Congress every day. I sit in the Congress everyday. And I am pained to see what they send this president through. And I can tell you that when I see what he's accomplished with the opposition (ph) that he's gotten, it is astounding. And when I go out there and, by the way, I go home every evening. I live in Baltimore.

And I talk to my constituents, and they are appalled at what they are seeing. So, again, the country is better off and the country will be better off. And I think, basically, what the president has got to do and I know he will do is he needs to make sure he tells the journey. Not blame it. We don't have to get into the blame game.

That's not necessary. Tell us what the journey has been, what we've been through. Tell what he has done and accomplished, then he must make it clear that we must protect our progress. You see, that's what I'm concerned about. My constituents are about protecting the progress. They like the Affordable Care Act.

They like the fact that kids can be on an insurance policy just -- they like the fact that they're not going to be discriminated against because it's a woman and her policies are going to be much higher than a man. They like the fact that the pre-existing --


CUMMINGS: They need that.

RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL JOURNAL: But let me ask this, congressman. I mean, obviously the president needs as much turnout in minority communities as he can get given the enormous gap, we (INAUDIBLE) in minorities and whites are voting, but the paradox is that those are the communities that have suffered the most in the downturn.

Unemployment in double digits throughout his presidency for African-Americans and Hispanics, the tremendous vaporization of wealth and the housing collapse for those communities, can you go back into your -- can you go to your constituents and say that they have seen the gains. They have seen the improvement in their lives that the president was hoping for.

CUMMINGS: Well, you know, I'm so glad you asked that question. I've talked to my constituents, and I'm very much in touch. And, what I think is going to be probably a greater turnout of minorities than even in 2008. Let me tell you why.

O'BRIEN: Really?

CUMMINGS: Yes. I really believe that. And the reason why, and this is what they tell me, my constituents, they said they have seen the way he has been treated, and they have been proud of him. They were proud to vote for him, and they're still proud of him. And they know that he goes and gets up every day.

He's thinking about them. He's working for them, and they see the Republicans as being major opposition to everything he's done. And I guarantee -- and here's another thing that's happening and this is criminal. The fact that the Republicans in the various states are trying to stop people from voting, and that's how I see it. It does not take a rocket scientist.


CUMMINGS: My great, great grandfather -- excuse me. My great, great grandfather came out of slavery. He registered to vote in 1868. And here I am -- let me finish. And here I am in 2012, fighting to make sure that people can vote. That's ridiculous.

O'BRIEN: Joe Klein, earlier, we had him on the panel. He has a new article in "Time" magazine, and he talked about how all these different, sort of affinity groups or caucuses that you have in the Democratic Party are actually working against the bigger message, that it's alienating and correct me guys if I'm sort of assessing his article wrong, but it's alienating to your average White male voter.

Seventy percent of people who are going to vote in this election are White to know that you have the women's caucus and the African- American caucus and the Asian and pacific islander caucus, that this is his argument in his article.

CUMMINGS: I think that this is one of the good things about the convention. This is a good thing about the debate. I think the president will bring all of that together and show what he's done and what he is planning to do.

He has nothing to be defensive about, and he needs to talk about that future and talk about the fact that we are on the path to progress and then define for them what Republicans plan to do, because I still don't know. I'm still confused.

BROWNSTEIN: What about the other side? What are the two or three things you tell your constituents that President Obama will do in a second it term that will give them a better economic performance -- (CROSSTALK)

CUMMINGS: I tell them that this got to -- hopefully, we'll send a Congress back who'll work with him to get a jobs bill through and get some of these things done. We'll send a Congress back that will not be about the business of trying to destroy every single thing that he's accomplished. By the way, most presidents accomplish in eight years he's done it in three and a half.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a short break, but I want to ask Congressman Chaffetz when we come back. Why haven't you voted for the jobs bill, right? I mean, right? You haven't voted for that? Is that correct?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: Well, I voted for what I think are dozens of jobs bills that the Senate has not dealt with and that the Democrats have been opposed. So, it's not fair to say that I voted against the president's jobs bill and that I'm not -- of course, I'm in favor of jobs.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A vote in the House, right?

CHAFFETZ: That's right. Democrats have the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Don't say, hey, they have all the levers of control.

LIZZA: But 2011 and 2012, you have the House. The president put out a jobs bill. Why hasn't it been voted on in the House of Representatives?

CHAFFETZ: Well, because we have put forward a series of different bills, taken over -- there's 30 of them that are sitting over there --

LIZZA: Why not 31? Why not --

CHAFFETZ: It starts with the budget. We did for two years in a row passed out a budget of the House. The Senate has been more than 1,200 days. You got to look to Harry Reid and the Democrats --

LIZZA: I think the average American has a lot of trouble understanding if the president proposes a piece of legislation and it can't even come up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

CUMMINGS: Politics. They do not want this president to accomplish anything that makes him look good, period.

CHAFFETZ: That is not true.

O'BRIEN: And we go to commercial break.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about the secret -- hello. Stop. Hello. I've lost control of my panel. We're going to break for the moment. We're going to tell you the story of thieves who've stolen a U-haul truck that was filled with equipment from the secret service to be used during the vice president's trip to Detroit. Secret service robbed? That sounds very odd.

Also, go ahead, make my Labor Day. Clint Eastwood's convention skit inspires a new right wing movement. We're going to see a lot of empty chairs sitting on lawns today. We'll explain that straight ahead as you watch STARTING POINT. Live from Charlotte, North Carolina, we're back in just a moment.



A quick look at your top stories this morning. Someone stole vice President Joe Biden's U-haul. Overnight, someone made off with the truck outside a Weston Hotel ahead of his plans to speak at a Labor Day rally in Detroit. The U-haul was filled with equipment for today's events, but the VP spokesman won't specify exactly what was taken.

Last October, someone stole President Obama's truck carrying a podium and other equipment in Virginia.

Mitt Romney now has more than one million twitter followers. Romney tweeted his response to one million active followers. "Thanks, everyone, for your support to help us keep the momentum going." And he added a link to a website for donations. President Obama, by comparison, has more than 19 million followers now on Twitter.

A new political trend born from Clint Eastwood's improv skills. Conservative bloggers declaring today Empty Chair Day. There's even an official logo for it. They're asking people to leave an empty chair on their front lawn with an Obama sign taped to it to send a message and their opinion that the president isn't getting the job done.

STARTING POINT back live in Charlotte right after this break.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live this morning from Charlotte, North Carolina where we are covering the Democratic National Convention which will get under way in a day.

First, though, remnants from Hurricane Isaac -- we were there all last week -- still a threat this morning. Storms are expected to soak up parts of the Midwest. Later today President Obama is going to tour flood damaged parts of Louisiana where flooding and power outages are still causing some massive problems.

That brings us to George Howell; he's live for us in New Orleans with the latest on what's happening there. George, what are some of the biggest trouble spots?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, good morning. You'll remember when you were here. Canal Street had power but everywhere east and west of it really didn't have power so what we're seeing today, you know, that process is slow but it is continuing.

We know that at least 129,000 people are still without power according to the utility Intergy (ph) and you see these utility trucks all around the city going neighborhood to neighborhood trying to get that job done. Also on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish there is still concern about flooding. There's a threat for flooding today as the swollen rivers continue to move to the south. The floodwaters continue moving south.

We also know that the river, the west Pearl River, will crest later today. Officials are keeping a very close eye on it. It could affect several neighborhoods, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my goodness, what a mess. As we look at some of these pictures, we can see the water definitely is going down. Keep it down, guys, on the set.

All right. Thanks George, appreciate the update. Thank you.

Here in Charlotte delegates are rolling in, ready to begin the Democratic National Convention. The Democrats trying to convince voters they are better off now than they were four years ago.

Familiar criticism is popping up. The President's resume. Critics pointing out that he had no experience running a company and saying Mitt Romney has lots of experience running a company.

Jim Rogers has a little experience running companies, co-chairman of the DNC host committee; also, the CEO of Duke Energy. It's nice to have you with us this morning.


O'BRIEN: I'm sorry, go ahead.

JIM ROGERS, CEO, DUKE ENERGY: I was going to say welcome to Charlotte.

O'BRIEN: Well, thank you very much.

ROGERS: We're delighted you're here.

O'BRIEN: We're happy to be here. We've heard a lot from Mitt Romney through the primary and now obviously as he goes head-to-head with President Obama that the experience of a CEO is critical in it being able to be the CEO, if you will, of a nation. You're a CEO. Is that true or not true?

ROGERS: Well, I think there's two ways to think about it. I mean first of all as a CEO you have to balance interest of your shareholders as well as your customers. But being a President of the United States you have to balance many stakeholders' interest and come up with the right solution and get the balance right between the role of business and the role of government. And that's really the key to leading our country.

O'BRIEN: So when people ask the question, are we better off now than we were four years ago. And some have said that the question isn't even as relevant as it was when Reagan asked the question years ago. What's the answer to that? It cannot be an unqualified yes, can it? People don't feel better.

ROGERS: Well, from an energy sector, we're better off today than we were four years ago. Think about it. President Obama pursued all of the above strategy. Are we better off in terms of efficiency?

We see per home usage of electricity declining. That's a good thing. The second thing is we built two license for nuclear plants issued. We have abundant supply of natural gas at low prices. And so as you look at the various ways to generate electricity in this country, we're better off today than we were four years ago.

O'BRIEN: People at home may not say, well, let me think how I feel about electricity and energy. They're probably saying how do I feel about my job? How do I feel about my kids chance of having a better job than I had? How do I feel about the value in my home?

ROGERS: I think the way -- and I've watched this morning, Christine's charts -- and I think one of the things I would simply say is the President started in a deep hole. And he's worked his way out.

The more relevant question is, are we on the right trend? Are we moving in the right direction? And maybe more importantly is where will we be in 2016? That, to me, are the relevant questions Americans should be asking.

O'BRIEN: Charlotte is a small city. I think it's one of the smallest ever to host a convention, maybe New Orleans was the last one. That was a pretty small city as well. Had a chance to run into some Occupy Wall Street folks or Occupy Charlotte I guess now folks blocking the entrance into hotels and things like that. Can the city handle that?

ROGERS: Absolutely. I mean Charlotte has a history of punching above its weight. Charlotte has a history of re-inventing itself. Charlotte is a can-do city. And we're the second largest banking center in the United States which would probably amaze most people.

But the second thing is we're creating this energy hub here with over 200 companies; 25,000 employees really focused on generating electricity and other sources of energy.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I pose you another energy question? You were part of a fairly significant contingent of utility executives who surprisingly supported action on climate change, supported the cap and trade bill that passed out of the House to limit carbon emissions, not really much discussion of that anymore from the President.

If he is re-elected what, if anything, would you expect from him in a second term dealing with the issue of climate change beyond what we've seen so far in things like fuel economy standards for cars?

ROGERS: My view is that we built power plants for 40 years and we need clarity in terms of the road forward. I believe eventually there will be regulation of carbon in this country. I think it's critical in the long term to have the smallest emissions footprint possible when you generate electricity. And so, to me, addressing the issue sooner so we can phase our way into it is going to minimize the cost impact on consumers and that's really the most important thing to do.

BROWNSTEIN: And do you see coal as being endangered if Obama is re-elected which is certainly the argument Republicans have felt in the House. Do you think in a second term they would go further on carbon emissions in a way that would make it very difficult to generate electricity from coal?

ROGERS: What's endangered coal in this country is the availability of the price of natural gas. Gas on coal competition, coal has been shoved out. But the coal companies have started exporting more and more coal to India and to China so as an industry they're still very vibrant although they're not selling it in the United States.

RYAN LIZZA, "NEW YORKER": Question on the 2009-2010 Obama's effort to pass that bill. You were in the middle of that. Did you -- a lot of people who supported that bill and I think you supported a version of it, criticized the President for not showing leadership to get it past the finish line in the senate. What was your up close take on the Pesident's role in that important piece of legislation?

ROGERS: One of the key responsibilities of the President is to have priorities in Congress. This was not his top priority during the period where Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Health care of his priority at the time.

We got it as far as we could in the House but, quite frankly it bogged down in the Senate. The important point here is all major legislation -- look at the Clean Air Act amendments in 1990 under President Bush. It took several sessions of Congress before they were actually passed. And so I believe it will take more time, more effort to get to the right place so we can balance both our energy needs in this country as well as our environmental concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, this decline in price of natural gas that Jim is talking about is just a huge benefit to the country that I think people are waking up to, both in terms of rebirth of manufacturing as well as the President's plans --

O'BRIEN: And it's cyclical. Right? I mean everyone expects that it's going to probably come back up again in the future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit. But I mean there's so much more supply because some of the finds that we've had out there. But also I mean the President has got some terrific plans in terms of making more of the fleets of trucks and buses and the like he'd been able to convert. He's also got a plan for competitive grant process for local communities who may have barriers to deploy infrastructure.

BROWNSTEIN: The Republicans (inaudible) do much more than he's doing -- that's pretty much the argument we've heard --


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Energy as a whole, as a sector, has been terrible under this President. When President Obama took office, the price of gas at least out west was about $1.84. Now it's in the range of $3.60. When you have the doubling of a price of gasoline, it affects every single American. When you have these boondoggles like Solyndra and others where the government is trying to pick winners and losers spending tens of billions of dollars trying to --

O'BRIEN: The government historically has always picked winners and losers - right -- and also state governments do the same thing. You make an investment and you pick winners and you pick losers.


LIZZA: -- utility executives sitting here and offering a fairly nuanced view of the President's energy agenda that doesn't track with what you are saying here.

CHAFFETZ: No, it absolutely tracks here. I think the President -- but the president has been aggressive in being anti-coal. If you are in the coal industry and we're a coal producing state, West Virginia, Ohio, lots of others, it has not been a coal-friendly administration.

O'BRIEN: I have got to take a break. Thank you for talking with us this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Significant investments being made in this industry right now.

O'BRIEN: Look, you may be the governor of your state, but I am the governor of my table, sir -- sir. We're going to take a break. He's just like, "I'm going to talk anyway." Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Democrats have been struggling to answer a critical question about President Obama's first term. One of them was Maryland Martin O'Malley. Over the weekend he said that Americans are not -- he answered no when he was asked are Americans better off than they were four years ago. He addressed that comment earlier this morning on STARTING POINT. Listen.

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: Here is the reality of our situation as a country. We are clearly better off as a country because we're now creating jobs rather than losing them.


O'BRIEN: But you said --

O'MALLEY: But Soledad, we have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That's why we need to continue to move forward. Is there anybody on this panel that thinks we recovered all we lost in the Bush recession? I don't think anybody can say that.

But clearly we're moving forward. We're creating jobs. Unemployment is down. Job creation is up. And -- and those positive movements would not have happened without the President's leadership.


O'BRIEN: So he was walking back, as they like to say, walking back the comments that he made and he wasn't the only one. Over the weekend there was a struggle to answer that question.

BASH: He was the only one to say no which was the big boo-boo but he wasn't the only one struggling. You're right and it is still to me shocking that the people who run the President's campaign really didn't know how to answer that. That was different this morning. Here as you just played Governor O'Malley had an answer.

Earlier Brad Woodhouse, the DNC spokes -- spokesman had an answer. On other program Stephanie Cutter was out. She had an answer. And their answer was absolutely. Now they were careful afterwards to try to couch it understanding that the data are one thing and that the feelings of the voters are another.

O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein seems to say it's irrelevant. It doesn't have the same impact. The question is --


BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it's irrelevant but I think it's less relevant than it was. And even the public's view is actually pretty nuanced. I think he -- Governor O'Malley got pretty close to it which is that we are recovering from a deep hole but I think many people feel that we're not recovering as fast as we should be.

Now when you look forward, though, it's a different question I mean and I think this election thing is fought between the tension between two poll numbers Romney usually leads when you ask who is best for the economy overall. Obama leads by more when you ask who is good for people like me?


O'BRIEN: So why is he not killing it on the economy polling? It's very close and usually a point or two so Jason Chaffetz, why does the governor who is known for and they've been touting his business experience, when they ask him about the economy that he lead is not a ten-point lead or a 15-point lead.

CHAFFETZ: The President's problem is that he taps out about 46 percent, 47 percent. Those truly undecided, the ones that will really decide this election I think will clearly break in Governor Romney's plan -- favor because once they become comfortable with him, they understand his business experience. He does have a plan, he is -- he does focus on jobs and the economy. Clearly that's their direction.

O'BRIEN: Well you're certainly hoping for that.

CHAFFETZ: I'm totally unbiased for you absolutely.

O'BRIEN: All right. A totally unbiased GOP perspective on that.


O'BRIEN: Do you want to know what it's really like to experience the Democratic National Convention from the inside if you're not on the inside you can join the CNN election roundtable with Wolf Blitzer and CNN's political team. Submit your questions get answers in real time in this live virtual chat. Go to tomorrow at noon Eastern. Login

He's getting Republicans and Democrats to put politics aside. Who could this man be? Is he a politician? No, it's Ty Pennington because at the RNC he built half a house. At the DNC they're building the second half of the house. They'll bring it in.

Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, welcome. We're going to talk about that strategy straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ty Pennington is bringing both political parties together. Together, see.

PENNINGTON: I'm a uniter. I'm a uniter.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you're a uniter. Are you running for president? He's got a goal to build a house for a deserving member of the military, a veteran. The plan calls for one half of the house to be built at each convention.


O'BRIEN: You did half in Tampa and you did -- you're going to do half here at the DNC as well.


O'BRIEN: So tell me about the first half. How did it go? How long did it take? PENNINGTON: Well first of all this is like -- in the last 10 years we've done some amazing things; traveled across the country moving that bus but we've never done anything quite like this where we built half a house in one -- one town --


O'BRIEN: Yes we'll talk about the logistics of that in a moment.

PENNINGTON: Yes and the half but yes, you know last week we're down in Tampa at the -- the Republican National Convention. We had delegates come out. We successfully built half of that house. And now we're here in Charlotte and I can't wait to see the -- the Democratic National Convention and see the delegates come out and pick up a hammer and saws and so we're going to build this -- this house.


O'BRIEN: How will this come together? I've been involved in a little house building.

PENNINGTON: I think -- I think it's a genius idea. Yes so the Craftsman Brand works with viewers at home and also we're building together and they've teamed up with Nexgen Home by Champion as well (inaudible) of America and these guys had a great idea about doing something positive, where no matter what side sort of the fence you're on, I think the belief is that when you come together you really can do something positive. And like in the spirit of my show I've really seen that, communities come together. Everybody --

O'BRIEN: But how do you stick a house together in half?

BROWNSTEIN: Which half?

CHAFFETZ: All right, vertical, horizontal?

PENNINGTON: Well -- well, there are ways to build a home that you know it's sort of built in sections and then you -- you piece it together. We've done it several times like that and especially in the time when you build a house in seven days, well, sometimes even four, you know once you can build it in pieces and sort of bring it together it becomes a little easier.

O'BRIEN: So where will the house ultimately go? If this house is built --


PENNINGTON: Well what's exciting is we'll be -- we'll be finishing up the -- the second half of the house today here down in Carolina fest and then tomorrow actually we're going to be uniting it and bringing it together in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte.

O'BRIEN: A metaphor, uniting the house.

PENNINGTON: Yes, exactly. Uniting. RYAN LIZZA, "NEW YORKER": You should go to Washington.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. And put it on the mall right there as a metaphor.

PENNINGTON: Next year. That's our --


O'BRIEN: Who gets the house?

LIZZA: What have you learned about Democrats and Republicans in terms of their tastes of building a house and how they work?

O'BRIEN: Who is better?

PENNINGTON: What have I learned? You know, what I've learned is that you really can --

O'BRIEN: Walk very carefully through this question.

PENNINGTON: It's amazing what can happen when you work together. That's what I've learned.

O'BRIEN: So who's going to get the house? It's a veteran.

PENNINGTON: We're going to leave that surprise -- we're actually going to deliver that to a military veteran who has served this country and I think -- I've been blessed to build homes for several and to be able to give back to somebody who has given so much to this country is a wonderful thing. But also to see a community come together and rally and see how that reaction happens when someone, you know, is honored.

O'BRIEN: What a great surprise.


O'BRIEN: A house. That's amazing.

So what about the weather? It was not great weather in Tampa for the start of --


O'BRIEN: And then here they're predicting rain as well.

PENNINGTON: Well, we love the work, you know.

O'BRIEN: Really? My contractor doesn't really work during the rainy season at all. Really ever. I'm not bitter.

PENNINGTON: We hope to get a roof on today. That's why we really need the delegates to really hammer it home today so we can get a roof on.

O'BRIEN: Do you train them?

PENNINGTON: We do. Actually, I have a delegate training camp that I run. A lot of gymnastics, a lot of flexibility.

O'BRIEN: And I was so believing you there for a moment. Ty Pennington, good luck with that. We can't wait until you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's team building.

O'BRIEN: That's right. Until you reveal who is getting the house, we're excited for that. We can't wait.

All right. We have to take a short break. "End Point" is up next. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: I love that graphic. Ok. It's time for "End Point". Ryan Lizza, why don't you start us off. You can't just plug your new article in the "New Yorker".

LIZZA: That's right. It's out next week.

All day we'll be talking about this question, are you better off now than you were four years ago? I think the challenge from a messaging point of view for Obama has been the same for the last three years. No one ever got re-elected on a counter factual. Obama's main line has been things would be a lot worse unless I had put in place the stimulus, unless I had done x, y and z. That's a tough message. That's a tough message because you can't necessarily prove it.

BROWNSTEIN: I'm going to raise (ph) you there. Are you better off than you were four years ago may be less relevant than it once was. But will you be better off in four years remains as powerful as ever. And I don't think this week will be a success for the President unless he convinces Americans he has a plan to make the next four years better than the last four years have been.

O'BRIEN: Congressman?

CHAFFETZ: Unfortunately, President Obama is not working. He doesn't have a plan. Plans are exemplified in budgets. The President's budget went to the Senate. It was defeated 99-0; defeated 414 to 0 in the House. How bad is your budget when Nancy Pelosi doesn't even vote for it?

That's the reality. The President doesn't have a plan. If you want jobs and the economy to move forward, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

O'BRIEN: Governor? You get the final word this morning.

MARKELL: Well, I'm glad I have the final word because I disagree. And I think, you know, to the point that Ron was making this is going to be a great convention because the President does have the opportunity to highlight not only the progress we've made but the significant differences between the candidates. He wants to build the economy from the middle class out. That's what he's all about.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you guys for joining us this morning. All men today in their navy suits -- my goodness.

LIZZA: Yes, well, lucky you.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. Lucky, lucky me.

A quick programming note. Tonight you can check out our chief white house correspondent Jessica Yellin's new documentary that she has going on. It's called "OBAMA REVEALED: the man, the president". It airs tonight at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 Eastern time right here on CNN.

Still ahead this morning -- tomorrow, I should say on STARTING POINT, because our show is over, we're talk to North Carolina's governor Bev Perdue, the former Ohio governor, Ted Strickland, who is now a national co-chair of Obama's re-election campaign.

And actor and musician Jeff Bridges will be with us tomorrow morning as well. He's going to be performing on the main stage at Carolina Fest 2012.

Right now we have to get to CNN Newsroom with Zoraida Sambolin. Hey Zee, good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I thought you were going to take over another hour.

O'BRIEN: No, all you.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much, Soledad.