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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Chicago Teachers Strike; Congress Returns to Work Today; President Obama Sees Post-Convention Bump in Polls and Fundraising

Aired September 10, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, Chicago teachers hitting the picket line instead of the classroom, on strike for the first time in 25 years. We are live from the Windy City.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: They're back. Lawmakers are on Capitol Hill today as Congress goes back in session. Are they expected to accomplish anything?

BERMAN: And she's the champ. Serena Williams wins her fourth U.S. Open title, her fourth, beating the number one ranked player. Today, it is the men's turn.

ROMANS: Wow. Look at her.

BERMAN: She's so happy.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for Zoraida this morning.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's great to be back here in New York. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: And we do begin with breaking news this morning. The nation's third largest public school system is about to be shut down by a teacher strike. Late last night, labor talks between the Chicago teachers union and school officials broke off. The walkout this morning hits 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN LEWIS, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION PRESIDENT: We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike.

DAVID VITALE, CHICAGO SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT: You know, this is not a small commitment we're making at a time when our fiscal responsibility, our fiscal situation is really challenged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We have Casey Wian live from outside the Chicago school, the Altgeld Elementary School.

And, Casey, Chicago hasn't been hit by a teacher strike in about 25 years. So what can we expect today?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think, John, initially what we can expect is a lot of confusion. Parents are going to be scrambling to try to figure out what they're going to do with their children, especially working parents.

The school behind me is one of 144 schools throughout the city that will be set up as sort of a temporary center where parents can drop off their children if they don't have alternative child care arrangements, but there will be no teaching going on here. Also, it will only be open for four hours, 12:30 they'll have to make alternative arrangements for their kids.

Also teachers are going to be out on the picket line. That's what they're promising at all their schools. So we'll have to see whether parents are willing to allow their kids to cross those picket lines that are being set up.

We can also I think expect today a fair amount of anger and frustration, and some of that was expressed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: I am disappointed that we have come to this point given that even all the other parties acknowledged how close we are, because this is a strike of choice. And because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary and I believe that the parties at hand should do what they need to do to do right by our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIAN: As for what else we can expect, we don't know if any new negotiations are actually scheduled. They talked about it last night at a news conference announcing the strike, the teachers union did. They said they expected negotiations but nothing is firm.

Clearly, though, the school district saying that they've moved about as far as they can move on salary, offering a raise somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 percent over four years for the average Chicago teacher, John.

BERMAN: This is going to be so tough on parents, Casey. What's the holdup? Is it just about the salary?

WIAN: The teachers' union says it's not about the salary, especially not anymore. They're saying the main issues how are these schools are run and concerned about that and Mayor Emanuel made changes to that. Extending the school day, teachers want more say in that. They also are concerned about how teachers are being evaluated, clearly a job security issue for them. So those are the main issues.

The district is saying we've got to save money during these tough budget times and they've offered about as much as they can offer -- John. BERMAN: Quickly, Casey, how much does a teacher make in Chicago about?

WIAN: About $76,000 a year, the average teacher. What angers them so much, though, is that last year, they were supposed to receive a 4 percent raise and that was canceled.

All right. Casey Wian, following this breaking news in Chicago, a teacher strike starting this morning. Thanks very much, Casey.

ROMANS: After a five-week break, Congress returns to work for an abbreviated pre-election session. Lawmakers are expected to take a pass on the big issue, though, tax cut, defense hikes. They're probably focus on the bare minimum, preventing a full-on government shutdown last month.

More on what's on tap at a live report from Washington in about five minutes.

BERMAN: The White House says President Obama's thoughts and prayers are with the family of a Florida police officer who died in a crash during a presidential motorcade. Jupiter police officer Bruce Saint Laurent was killed when a pickup truck hit his motorcycle on I-95 in West Palm Beach. The accident is being investigated as vehicular homicide.

ROMANS: New campaign fund-raising numbers out for the President. His campaign says it raised more than Mitt Romney in the month of August with a total of $114 million to Romney's $111 million. On the campaign trail in Florida Sunday, President Obama told supporters his opponents are not very good when it comes to crunching numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They couldn't answer questions about how they pay for $5 trillion in new tax cuts and $2 trillion in new defense spending without raising taxes on the middle class. That's not bold leadership. That's bad math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The latest Gallup daily tracking poll shows a post-convention bounce. The President leading Mitt Romney 49 percent to 44 percent. That's up from just 1 percentage point before Democratic National Convention.

BERMAN: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigns in Ohio today. In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said he's not getting rid of all of health care reform. He added there's many things he likes about it. Later, his spokesman did clarify saying Romney intends to repeal so-called Obamacare and do his own version. Romney also talked about defense cuts telling NBC it was a mistake for leaders in his own party to follow the President's lead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BERMAN: Paul Ryan, by the way, Mitt Romney's running mate, was one of the Republican congressmen who voted with it. Romney does say he maintains defense spending level at the current level of GDP.

ROMANS: All right. The East Coast is cleaning up this morning, after storms, even tornadoes blew through over the weekend and Tropical Storm Leslie is still on the move after brushing past Bermuda.

Let's get straight to Rob Marciano to start the week.

Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys.

Yes, the waves are pounding the East Coast and will be for the next couple of days. Not only have Leslie but Hurricane Michael. Michael has been the stronger storm for the most part all along, but much, much smaller now in the middle of the Atlantic, winds of 80 miles an hour. But Leslie now a tropical storm and just kind of hit Bermuda with tropical storm-force winds and rainfall about four to five inches.

So, not a direct hit there. That's the good news. But still a large storm, the swells will continue to roll on the Eastern Seaboard so be careful out there if you have -- lucky enough to have a long weekend this.

This is where it's going, though, and that would include the maritime of Canada, Newfoundland right now. It's about 700 miles or so away from Newfoundland, Canada, and heading that direction. Tuesday in the afternoon looks like it will be there with at least tropical storm- force winds, potentially hurricane-force winds because it's really picking up steam as it gets caught up in the jet stream.

Speaking of jet stream, we're pouring in some -- well, not cooler but certainly drier air. You mentioned the tornadoes and severe weather across the Northeast on Saturday. All that tropical air that was stuck in place from Isaac has finally been moved offshore and where the eastern two-thirds gorgeous stuff, low down across parts of Florida and moisture across parts of the desert and southwest and southern California.

Temperatures will be a little above average in Minneapolis, 84 degrees, not exactly football weather, but 78 in Chicago and 73 degrees in New York City.

Paid the price a little bit on Saturday, guys, but beautiful stuff the last couple of days in the Big Apple. Enjoy.

ROMANS: Really was nice, thanks, Rob. BERMAN: It was gorgeous and it was football weather here.

ROMANS: It was awesome.

BERMAN: It's so nice.

More news now -- the retired Navy SEAL, who wrote the best-selling book about the role he played in killing Osama bin Laden said he is speaking out to set the record straight. Matt Bissonnette, who used the pen name Mark Owen to write "No Easy Day," and tells CBS News' "60 Minutes" there was nothing political about his book, he insists the Pentagon is off base about accusations that he compromised national security by writing it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT BISSONNETTE, FORMER U.S. NAVY SEAL: I've had nothing but an outpouring of support from the guys who know me. To quote one of my friends who said, "Hey, if anybody can tell the story and write it, it's you," and I'm not talking that and trying to toot my own horn.

They know I'm doing it right. I'm not talking secrets. I'm not talking tactics. I don't even get into any of that stuff but I really try to give the reader a sense of what it's like to be -- to be there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Bissonnette also discussed the moment he pulled the trigger and repeatedly shot Osama bin Laden. That part of the interview in the next hour of EARLY START.

ROMANS: Serena Williams pushed to the limit on her way to a fourth U.S. Open title. Serena rallied to force a third set tie breaker and beat top ranked Victoria Azarenka.

BERMAN: Azarenka.

ROMANS: Azarenka -- let me go to a tennis guy.

That was last night in New York.

She became the first 30-something woman to win a Grand Slam since 1987 and it's her 15th Grand Slam title overall.

The men play today. Novak Djokovic versus Andy Murray in their final.

BERMAN: Serena so good. She's such a great end of the summer. She wins the Olympic gold medal and now this and she just loves every minute of it. I love watching her play.

Nine minutes past the hour and he is a pint-sized hero. A 12-year-old boy drives his family's car to safety after his father has a seizure. This is an incredible story. We'll have it for you coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. It's about 13 minutes after the hour. I'm Christine Romans, in for Zoraida today.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's so nice to see you again this morning.

Congress is going back to work today for an abbreviated pre-election session. Lawmakers expected to take a pass on the big issues, though -- those include taxes and spending cuts. Their main focus probably on the bare minimum, preventing a full-on government shutdown later this month.

Also, we're expecting Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to return to the Hill for the first time since May, after he checked out of the Mayo Clinic where he was treated for depression.

Athena Jones is following all the developments for us in Washington.

And, Athena, what is on tap for today?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Well, as you mentioned, it's not that surprising to hear that the members of Congress might end up taking a pass on some of the big issues. That's what's been going on for the past several months. But as you mentioned they're likely to -- we're all expecting them to pass a continuing resolution. It's a short-term measure to fund the government. They've got to do that by the end of this month. It's got to get to the President's desk in order to keep everything running and avoid a shutdown.

The House is expected to vote on that bill on Thursday and we're told the Senate should get to it next week.

And really that's about the only must-pass bit of legislation. Everything else is things they may do or could do. Things like reconcile the two bills in the House and Senate to pass a farm bill, reach a deal on that. Maybe some assistance for people affected by the drought or by hurricane Isaac.

But really, it's hard to know what's really going to happen and that may be why we've seen the low approval numbers for Congress. Let's put up those numbers. The latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll puts Congress' approval rating at 12 percent, disapproval at 82 percent, and part of that is probably has to do with a fact that there's been so much haggling and so much division and not a lot of getting things done, John.

BERMAN: I don't know how you call it an approval rating when it's at 12 percent. I mean, it's a misnomer to even call it that.

What are the chances that they will reach a deal on some of these big issues like the debt deal before the end of this year? Is there any chance?

JONES: Well, that's really the big question. I mean, this whole idea of this fiscal cliff, this combination of tax increases or really the end of certain tax cuts and also spending cuts -- we're talking about $55 billion in cuts to defense, just next year alone, defense programs, and $55 billion in cuts to nondefense programs, everything from education to food inspections.

Our own CNN Money's Jeanne Sahadi summed up how businesses are looking at this as they go forward. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE SAHADI, SENIOR WRITER, CNNMONEY: Businesses are slow to hire. Government agencies are slower to give out contracts. So it is creeping into the economy and that will just get worst the longer Congress waits to deal with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And Jeanne was there talking about the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff issue. It's really anybody's guess what's going to happen. There's not a lot of people are willing to go out on a limb and say this is all going to be figured out because the divisions are still strong and still remain, John.

BERMAN: All right. Athena Jones in Washington, working harder than Congress, which is why your approval ratings, Athena, are up and getting higher. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

JONES: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. For the first time in 25 years, Chicago teachers are on strike. Contract talks broke down, broke down late last night, no deal. Thirty thousand teachers and aides in the nation's third largest public school system are set to walk picket lines this morning.

This strike will affect 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools and parents have a lot of figuring out to do this morning in Chicago.

All right. Doubly lucky -- two people survive a small plane crash and get plucked to safety by a Coast Guard safety a mile off the central California coast. The Coast Guard says the plane's GPS was key to getting rescuers to the scene very quickly yesterday.

BERMAN: Millions of people lose power in Cuba, including all of Havana. It's affecting more than 2 million people just in the capital city alone. Cuba does have an aging power grid so brief outages are not that unprecedented. But barring a big storm, a massive outage on this scale is very rare there. So far, no official explanation for this outage.

ROMANS: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will visit the Flight 93 Memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania today. The nation marks 11 years since the attacks of 9/11 tomorrow. So far, there's only Memorial Plaza and Wall of Names. Work on the next two phases begins next years, that includes construction of walkways and a visitor center, along with a 93-foot tower at the entrance with 40 wind chimes. BERMAN: We are all now feeling the effects of Hurricane Isaac and we're feeling it at the pump. Right now, AAA says the national price for a gallon of unleaded is $3.82. Gas prices now have risen close to 8 cents per gallon in the past two weeks since Isaac shut down refineries along the Gulf Coast.

ROMANS: OK, file this under "What was he thinking?" Police in New York City removing a menagerie of exotic pets from a public housing project in Brooklyn. The tenant had been keeping 13 dangerous pets, including two bearded dragon reptiles, a tarantula, two alligators, a boa constrictor and five pythons.

BERMAN: Five.

ROMANS: His neighbors are very, very pleased.

BERMAN: It is 18 minutes after the hour, and we are getting an early read on your local news that's making national headlines and we begin with an article in "The Anchorage Daily News."

ROMANS: That's right. School officials there are threatening to have parents of truant students face criminal charges. The paper says parents of students in first and second grades are being targeted because administers find most high school dropouts develop bad attendance habits early on. Parents whose kids missed more than 40 days last year without legitimate reasons such as an illness could face up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

BERMAN: Forty days seems like an awful lot.

ROMANS: First and second graders. Yes, 40 days is a lot. But I mean there's something else going on there if you're missing that much school.

BERMAN: All right. We get news in "The Boston Herald", about a 12- year-old boy who is being called a hero, appropriately so. He took the wheel after his father apparently had seizure on I-95 in Peabody. It's how you say it, by the way.

ROMANS: Really?

BERMAN: Check out Patrick Canney's play by play of what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK CANNEY, 12-YEAR-OLD: I grabbed the steering the wheel and pulled it to the side. And when we were really slower, I turned the key off and I tried to put it into park. I took his phone out of his pocket and called 911.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Patrick also got his 9-year-old special needs sister out of the car and behind a guardrail for safety. Patrick's mother said he previously seen his father have similar medical issues and talked about what to do if something like this happened on the road. What a kid. Like amazing.

ROMANS: I think it's cool the mother already talked to him about what to do in an emergency, too.

BERMAN: Smart parenting, for sure.

ROMANS: Smart kid.

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

ROMANS: All right. The latest jobs report, pretty dismal for people who need a real break. So, what are the candidates going to do to get people back to work? I'm going to break down for you how each of these men thinks they can create jobs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning, going in-depth this week on the economy and the race for the White House. And after that disappointing jobs report Friday, just 96,000 jobs added, more than triple that dropping out of the workforce.

Christine has been looking deeper at what each candidate says he will do to jump-start hiring.

ROMANS: Right. So, who is going to fix it and what is his philosophy. They have two different philosophies, John, for how to create jobs.

So, here's what Romney and Obama claim they will do to create jobs.

Let's start with Romney. First of all, he wants to overhaul the tax code by cutting marginal tax rates 10 percent across the board. He says people will have more money in their pockets to buy things. In turn, more jobs will be created to meet the demand for goods and services.

Romney also claims regulations cost private businesses about $1.75 trillion a year. So he plans to repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank financial reform on day one, he says. He also plans to reform the regulatory system to make sure, he says, balances the benefit the society with its cost to business.

Finally, by balancing the budget, Romney plans to inject confidence into the long-term business environment. But, you know, capping federal spending means hundreds of thousands of fewer government jobs at the federal state and local levels.

Now, let's look at President Obama's plan. He wants to create jobs in manufacturing and green energy through both tax incentives and investments. He wants more spending on infrastructure. He signed more than $100 billion transportation infrastructure bill in July and mostly extends current programs through 2014. He wants support for local government jobs. And the President also proposed spending $35 billion for school, police, fire department payrolls, another $130 billion to shore up state budgets. That was the failed jobs plan last year. Much of his proposals are already in the works are being pushed by the current administration.

We haven't found new job proposals as part of the Obama re-election campaign. They're mostly just pushing on these things that have been stopped in Congress.

And next hour, we're going to look at Mitt Romney's claim, John, that he can create 12 million jobs in four years if he's elected. Can that be done? Is it realistic? I'm going to do that at 6:20.

BERMAN: It should be said, you know, Romney says he'll balance the budget. He's now saying he will do that by the end of his second term if elected. So if he is able to do it, it's a long ways away.

ROMANS: And balancing the budget also means lots and lots of job cuts because that means less government spending and that means less. How do you create jobs? If you get the government out of the way, it means killing jobs in the near term.

BERMAN: Tough jobs which of course -- it's a tough sell, tough choices which no one likes to talk about.

If you have a personal story you'd like to share, visit CNN iReport Web site. Check our assignment page and let us know are you better off.

ROMANS: All right. A Florida surfer is attacked by the shark and the shark leaves something behind. A surprising discovery, next.

And if you're leaving the house right now watch us any time on your desktop or mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEWIS: We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike.

BERMAN (voice-over): Breaking news. The nation's third largest school system goes on strike. Thirty thousand Chicago teachers and aides hit the picket line today. We're live outside one of the city schools.

ROMANS (voice-over): After an 11-year battle, the government may be ready to recognize that people who sifted through the toxic rubble at Ground Zero got cancer from it.

BERMAN: President Obama gets a lift. The big bear hug while visiting a pizza shop just ahead. That sound you heard Secret Service heartbeats stopping all across America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS (on-camera): I'm Christine Romans in for Zoraida this morning. It's almost 31 minutes past the hour.

Breaking news to start with, though, today. Chicago's public school teachers preparing to hit picket lines this morning. It's the first time in 25 years teachers in the nation's third largest public school system have gone on strike.

Labor talks broke of late last night, and this will affect, folks, 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools, not to mention all of their parents who are scrambling this morning.

Casey Wian live from Chicago. Casey, school officials said they made a very competitive offer, but apparently, this wasn't enough.

WIAN: You know, Christine that's right. Over the weekend, it sure appeared that negotiations were being very productive. Both sides saying they were making progress toward a contract, and it seemed as if they might be able to avert this strike but late last night, the teachers union came out and said the deal was not good enough and that their members would be walking off the job this morning.

Now, here's the offer, the latest offer that the school district has put forth. It's a raise of they say 16 percent for the average teacher over the four-year length of the contract. It would be three percent the first year, two percent each of the next three years. A lot of folks have remarked that in these economic times, that's a pretty good financial deal.

Teachers union, though, saying that's not the main sticking point. A little background on this. A four percent raise. These teachers were supposed to get last year was canceled by city officials. When these negotiations started eight months ago, the teachers were asking for a 30 percent raise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VITALE: I would point out that this financial package over the next four years will cost the system somewhere in the vicinity of $400 million over the four years. I would also point out that the average teacher will get another 16 percent raise over that four-year period.

I mean, this is not a small commitment we're making at a time when our fiscal responsibility, our fiscal situation is really challenged.

LEWIS: Right now, what we have is work that is extremely difficult. And what we see as a lack of support throughout and a demonizing of a population of people that all of a sudden teachers are bad guys everywhere you look.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WIAN: Teachers union trying to persuade people that they are, in fact, not bad guys, that they're look out for the students. They say that the main issues that remain are the issue of how these schools are conducted, the types of classes that are offered to the students, also how teachers are evaluated.

They're very concerned about standardized testing and the pressure of so-called teach to the test and they're concerned as most people are about health benefits. Those remain the sticking points and negotiations were expecting to begin later today -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. And how teachers are evaluated something that the Obama administration has been for that, you know, pay for performance, evaluating teachers, teacher's evaluations. What arrangements are being made for children of working parents this morning?

WIAN: Well, the school right behind me, I don't know if you can see it in the dark, but it's one of 144 schools throughout the city. They're going to be open for four hours as sort of a backup child care. There's not going to be any teaching going on but for working parents who have no other place to send their children, this is one option, but it's a very incomplete one, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, I'll say. All right. Casey Wian. Thanks, Casey.

BERMAN: Political news now. Vice President Joe Biden is challenging Mitt Romney to offer specifics about his plan to lower taxes and balance the budget by closing loopholes for the rich.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): Romney appeared yesterday on NBC's "Meet The Press," and listen to his answer when he was asked for details about his plan. It did not take long for the vice president to pounce afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me an example of a loophole that you will close.

ROMNEY: Well, I can tell you that people at the high end, high income taxpayers are going to have fewer and exemptions.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They don't tell you that their plan would immediately cut benefits for 30 million seniors in wellness visits, in prescription drugs, it would cut benefits immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, Biden claims with Romney in the White House, the typical 65-year-old American would wind up paying $11,000 more in out-of- pocket Medicare costs over the rest of his or her lifetime. Biden's opponent, Paul Ryan, will be raising money out west today in Seattle, Washington and in Portland, Oregon. On the Sunday talk show circuit, the Republican tried to explain how the government could raise more revenue while giving everyone tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to have a debate out in front, work with Congress, work with the public to find out what are the priorities we want to have in the tax system and what the numbers do show and what studies back us up is that we can lower tax rates by plugging loopholes and still maintain special preferences for middle class taxpayers, not for higher income taxpayers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: On the campaign trail Sunday, President Obama later called the Republican's explanation bad math.

ROMANS (voice-over): With the nation set to mark 11 years since the 9/11 attacks, the federal government finally appears ready to recognize rescue workers and residents near ground zero got cancer from the toxic rubble.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is responsible for deciding whether cancer should be one of the illnesses compensated by the James Zadroga 9/11 act. They're expected to announce their findings as early as today.

BERMAN: A Christian pastor once sentenced to death in Iran is now reunited with his wife and two small sons. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani spent almost three years in an Iranian prison for announcing Islam. He was born to Muslim parents and converted to Christianity at age 19. A non-profit group monitoring the case says a trial court convicted him on a lesser charge, evangelizing Muslims, and released him.

A Florida surfer considers himself pretty lucky this morning. Andrew Birchall was attacked by a shark Thursday and lived to tell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW BIRCHALL, SURFER: Surfing 30 years and now you never expect to get bitten by a shark. It was pretty vicious and it was intense and the pressure was extreme. It kind of felt like someone's hitting you with a sledgehammer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow. He says the shark left a memento behind when it bit his foot, a tooth. It was removed and sent away for testing, but Birchall says he wants it back as a keepsake.

BERMAN: Hooh!

(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: All right. Football is back, thank goodness, and so is Peyton Manning. Manning playing his first regular season game for the Denver Broncos and first game in 20 months after four neck surgeries. He looked pretty good. He threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-19 win over the Steelers.

There's one of the grabs right there. The first Sunday of the NFL season also saw the longest field goal in NFL history, a tie at least. There it is, bouncing off the uprights. San Francisco 49ers kicker, David Akers, clunked to the ball off the crossbar through the uprights from 63 yards.

Sixty-three yards! That's really far. It ties an NFL record. This happened at Lambeau Field on the way to a win over the packers. Good for the 49ers there.

And Shannon Eastin has made NFL history. Eastin was the line judge in the Rams-Lions game, making her the first woman to be an official in a regular season game. It's one of the replacement officials hired by the league while regular officials are locked out. You can see her there. She tucked her ponytail under her cap after the national anthem and went to work. I should also say the biggest football news of the day, the Patriots over the Titans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Big news. We are so glad football is back.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Back to politics now. The money race. It's on and President Obama announcing overnight a huge cash grab. Mitt Romney may not like it. A live report coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START this Monday morning. It's 41 past the hour. I'm Christine Romans in for Zoraida today.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. We are so happy you're with us. We have some political news overnight, some breaking news, really.

New numbers out this morning show President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney in both polls and fundraising, at least a little bit of a snapshot with the incumbent taking in $114 million in campaign donations in August. He edged out Mitt Romney for the first time in a few months. The President is also seeing a slight post-convention bump in the polls.

Sunday's Gallup daily tracking poll finds the President with his biggest margin over Romney since July, 49 percent of registered voters support Obama while 44 prefer Romney. Before the convention, Obama held just a one-point lead in that poll.

For all the latest campaign news and inside information, I am joined now by Peter Hamby who is in Richmond, Virginia. And Peter, the Obama campaign put out these fundraising numbers overnight. We are waking up to this, $114 million. This was the first month in several months that they've edged out the Romney team.

PETER HAMBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and notably, they put it out just minutes after the Romney campaign put out their fundraising numbers overnight to kind of tweak the Romney campaign. You're right, John. It's been since the spring since the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee combined have outraised the Romney campaign and the RNC.

These are August numbers that don't include any money raised during the convention last week that had been fully in September. So, a good fundraising total for the Obama campaign but, remember, the Romney campaign has basically been sitting on money for months and months that they couldn't spent until Romney formally accepted the nomination in Tampa.

So, the Romney campaign is unleashing a lot of that money in TV ads and swing states and don't forget that outside groups, we have to remember, are going to outspend the Obama campaign. Here in Richmond, which is one of the top ten battleground TV markets in the country, you know, just watching football here over the weekend, you saw ads for Americans for Prosperity.

You saw ads for American Crossroads in addition to ads from the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign. So, good fundraising numbers for Obama, but remember, the expectation is that they're going to be outspent across the country this fall, John.

BERMAN: Peter, we applaud you for your research watching football over the weekend only so you could see the campaign ads. Excellent work right there.

HAMBY: That's the only reason why.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: The Obama team has a little bit of a post-convention balance here. And they do seem to be picking up on some of the rhetoric we heard on that campaign, specifically, from Bill Clinton talking about the Republican Party's math. President Obama almost seems to be internalizing the Clintonian language, doesn't he?

HAMBY: Yes. The campaign rhetoric has really sharpened just in the last couple of days. We had (ph) any doubt that the fall race really kind of kicked into high gear after the conventions. Take a listen to what President Obama had to say yesterday during a bus tour in Florida about the Republican Party's agenda -- John.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Their plan boils down to tax cuts, tax cuts, gut a few regulations, and then some more tax cuts. Tax cuts when times are good, tax cuts when times are bad, tax cuts when we got a surplus, tax cuts when we have a deficit. Tax cuts to help you lose a few pounds.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Tax cuts to improve your love life. Whatever is wrong with you, they think tax cuts, especially for folks at the top, will cure all ills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMBY: Obama's been saying a lot of that sort of thing the last couple of days, John. He really seems to have a little bit of a bounce in his step after the convention and maybe you're right. Maybe Bill Clinton kind of kicked him in the butt and said, hey, get out there and really connect with people on these issues -- John.

BERMAN: And Bill Clinton will be campaigning in Florida, himself, later this week, which is interesting. A two-day tour there. We did hear some different language from Mitt Romney yesterday. Really interesting language which seemed to show to some people at least some kind of shift in where he's trying to position himself.

HAMBY: That's right. On the issue of healthcare reform which has been sort of meddlesome for him over the years because the similarities between the plan, he passed in Massachusetts and Obamacare. Listen to what he had to say on "Meet The Press" yesterday. His first appearance on "Meet The Press" in three years, in fact, about Obama's healthcare plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm not getting rid of all of healthcare reform, of course, there are a number of things that I like in healthcare reform that I'm going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre- existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.

I also want individuals to be able to buy insurance, health insurance on their own as opposed to only being able to get it on a tax advantage basis through their company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMBY: So, it sounds like Romney is taking a bit of a centrist tone there on healthcare saying he'd keep some of the provisions that Obama had. The Romney campaign later clarified to the "National Review," a conservative website about pre-existing conditions that that would only apply to people who currently have coverage.

He's saying that he wouldn't kick those people off the roll. So, they're sort of trying to massage and walk back a little bit the statements, because you can be sure that conservatives are not probably too thrilled about Romney saying nice things about Obamacare, and he needs base voters to show up for him this fall, John.

BERMAN: All right. Peter Hamby live in Richmond, Virginia, checking out key swing state politics and football at the same time. We'll talk to you a little bit later, Peter. Thanks very much. ROMANS: All right. The crew of a U.S. ship detained in Venezuela could be heading home today. Details about their two weeks saga next.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 50 minutes after the hour right now. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans in for Zoraida this morning.

Chicago teachers preparing to march on picket line this morning. Labor talks broke down last night. Teachers in the nation's third largest public school system rejected a four-year contract offer, and they decided to strike, instead. This walkout affects 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools and their parent, quite frankly. It's the first teacher's strike in Chicago in 25 years.

BERMAN: You know, teachers are one of the topics on the campaign trail for President Obama on Sunday. He was busy in the battleground of Florida giving four speeches at the convention center in West Palm Beach, Florida. He told supporters of the need for more educators for America's children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So, I need you to help me. Recruit 100,000 new math and science teachers, improve early childhood education.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The President has no public schedule set for today.

ROMANS: The east coast cleaning up this morning after storms and tornadoes knocked out power over the weekend and tropical storm Leslie is still on the move after brushing past Bermuda. Let's start our Monday morning with Rob Marciano. Hey, Rob.

MARCIANO: Good morning again, Christine. Yes. It was a rough Saturday for a lot of folks, but the weekend, at least weather wise, ended well. Westerly movement of Hurricane Michael at seven miles an hour. This is a little guy here, but it's been the stronger storm of the two over the weekend.

But Leslie, which impacted Bermuda with some winds and waves and certainly some rain is now pulling off into the Atlantic but will be making a run at Newfoundland. Those waves from this large circulation continue to impact the East Coast. And if you're lucky enough to extend your weekend a day or two, look for rip tides -- or rip currents and also some big waves again, especially across the northeastern coastline, Cape Cod, Maine, those areas.

Newfoundland, though, this storm about 800 miles to the south of you, it's going to be picking up steam here in the next 24 hours and should be making its way and make landfall across Newfoundland tomorrow afternoon. So, with that increase in speed, that means that the winds will also increase on the right side of the system and could see hurricane-force winds impacting parts of Newfoundland.

Meanwhile, the moisture from Isaac that had us in that soupy stuff all week last week finally pushed offshore. Gorgeous fall stuff. Not real cool. As a matter of fact, temperatures are a few degrees above average across much of the central plains, but certainly drier weather and maybe a little too dry across the northern tier.

We have a fire threat with red flag warnings with these gusty winds expected across the northern tier, still, the number of large fires burning there. And meanwhile, some moisture across the desert southwest including Las Vegas. We could see some flashing there with thunderstorms popping.

Eighty degrees expected in Kansas City, 82 degrees in Atlanta. That's nice. Low levels of humidity more importantly and 76 degrees in the Big Apple for (INAUDIBLE). Christine, back up to you.

ROMANS: All right. Rob, we'll take it. Thank you.

BERMAN: A report this morning on the "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking scandal will point a finger at Arizona ATF officials. That's what two senior ATF officials are saying. The report coincides with the inspector general's schedule testimony about the scandal tomorrow before a House committee.

Mexican authorities have arrested a man in connection with the 2010 killing of U.S. border patrol agent, Brian Terry, whose death led U.S. lawmakers to investigate this whole operation.

Venezuela has now dropped arms trafficking charges against the crew of a U.S. flight cargo ship that's been detained for close to two weeks. "The Ocean Atlas" set sail -- could set sail as early today. The state department says rifles that were found on board for cruise protection, that is what caused the incident.

ROMANS: A brutal weekend at the box office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not fear the dead of night. The spirit's taker --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The horror flick, "The Possession," topping the charts with just $9.5 million. In fact, the top 12 films in the country grossed a staggeringly low $51.9 million this weekend, the worst box office performance in four years.

BERMAN: So, forget the movies, turn on the news. Turn on CNN now. Stay with us. Why? Because we have a jam-packed hour ahead on EARLY START. We are staying on top of the breaking news out of Chicago as teachers go on strike this morning. Casey Wian will have a live report outside of an elementary school top of the hour. That is huge news there for kids and parents.

The other top story we're following. Congress goes back to school today. Back in session, fresh off a five-week vacation, man, did they need it. They've been working so hard. Will they accomplish anything this time? Athena Jones is live from Washington.

And remember him? Clint Eastwood, he is proud of his Republican National Convention moment, talking to an invisible chair. Well, one man, Paul Miller from the Carmel Pine Cone talked exclusively to Eastwood about the episode. And this morning, we are talking to him.

All right. Now, get this, he is not just a hero on the screen. Actor Christian Bale comes to the aid of one of his biggest fans. This is a really great story. We will have the picture just ahead. If you do not stay with us, you will regret it forever.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, President Obama gets a boost on the campaign trail and a boost by a big fan. The bear hug that's going viral.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back at 59 minutes after the hour. I'm here With John Berman taking a look at what's trending on the web this morning.

BERMAN: And what is trending is an amazing picture. President Obama is getting a lift on the campaign trail literally from a broad shouldered power lifting voter. The owner of a pizza shop in Fort Pierce, Florida was so excited to meet the President that he gave him a bear hug. It really must have made the Secret Service agents sweat. You have to check this out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I didn't see.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I mean, seriously, the Secret Service watching, what are you thinking? The owner, Scott Van Duzer stands 6'3" tall, weighing 260 pounds, and like the rest of us, he is able to bench press 350 pounds.

ROMANS: Or 1-1/2 presidents. Morgan Freeman's condition has been upgraded to alive. Yes, the actor is the victim again of yet another internet death hoax. There was an R.I.P page set up for Freeman on Facebook. Tens of thousands people flocked to the page sending their condolences. His rep telling E! Online Morgan is alive and well and joins along with some actors who've been victimized by this.

BERMAN: I don't get the joke.

ROMANS: It's not funny.

We're following breaking news out of Chicago this morning as thousands of teachers, thousands of them go on strike today.

BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.