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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Romney Campaign Defends Candidate's Controversial Comments; Interview with Bob McDonnell; French Magazine Publishes Satirical Cartoon of Prophet Muhammad; Endeavour Embarks On Final Flight; "Fast And Furious" Report To Be Released; Suspended For Slur; "It's Not Elegantly Stated"; The Face Of Haiti

Aired September 19, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, the battle of the tapes. Mitt Romney stands by his message after his "those people" controversy and President Obama takes some digs on Letterman. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things I've learned as president is you represent the entire country. My expectation is is that if you want to be president, you've got to work for everybody, not just for some. And --

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And this morning, brand-new fallout from the right. Will Romney's campaign be able to recover? We'll discuss that this morning.

Plus, there's a new cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad released this morning. The world is now bracing for angry protests as a result. Will we see more violence? A live report is coming up.

And today is the day the space shuttle Endeavour begins its final journey to its new home. We'll bring you liftoff live from Kennedy Space Center this morning.

We have a packed show for you. Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, is going to be our guest. The Winklevoss Twins of Facebook fame are going to join me. Indy car champion, Ryan Hunter Ray, will be my guest, and musician Wyclef Jean is going to join us as well.

It's Wednesday, September 19th, also known as my birthday, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

A little music from Wyclef because he'll be talking to us about his new book. But our starting point this morning is Mitt Romney, who's trying to put that latest controversy in the rear view mirror, if you will. He's not making any apologies for what he said at a secretly taped fund-raiser, that nearly half of all Americans are dependent on government assistance and will support President Obama no matter what. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The former governor may not have apologized for what he said but he did apologize for how he said it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I recognize that those people who are not paying income tax are going to say, gosh, this -- this provision that Mitt keeps talking about, lowering income taxes, that's not going to be real attractive to them. And those that are dependent upon government, and those that think government's job is to redistribute, I'm not going to get them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The former governor takes his clarification one step further in an op-ed in "USA Today" this morning. He says this, "The dreamers and the entrepreneurs, not government, built this economy, and they can once again make it strong. My course for the American economy will encourage private investment, and personal freedom. Instead of creating a web of dependency, I will pursue policies that grow our economy, and lift Americans out of poverty."

Meanwhile, President Obama reacting to the former governor's remarks in an appearance with David Letterman last night. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: One of the things I've learned as president is you represent the entire country. And when I meet Republicans as I'm traveling around the country, they are hardworking, family people who care deeply about this country. My expectation is that if you want to be president, you've got to work for everybody, not just for some.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: In just a few minutes we're going to be talking with Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell, a Romney campaign surrogate. First a look at some of the stories making news today. John Berman has that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and happy birthday.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Love my birthday.

BERMAN: We're going to start with some very tense moments this morning overseas for the U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke. Locke's official car surrounded by a group of about 50 protesters outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing, some of them throwing cups at the vehicle and jumping all over it. The car was damaged but the ambassador was not hurt. Chinese security guards were able to step in and protect him.

Chicago public schools will finally be in session this morning for some 350,000 students. The teachers union voted yesterday to end its seven-day walkout. Teachers and support staff still have to ratify the new deal which Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel calls an honest compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN LEWIS, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: The issue is we cannot get a perfect contract. There's no such thing as a contract that would make all of us happy. And we're realistic about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Karen Lewis, the president of the teachers' union, had accused the mayor of trying to bully members back to work.

More Americans say they are optimistic about the economy and the direction of the country, and that's helping spark something of a spike in the polls for President Obama. Take a look at the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, the President opening a five-point lead over Mitt Romney among likely voters. That survey was taken after the two conventions but just before the GOP's challenger's controversial 47 percent comments were released this week.

The President might also be making some gains in key swing states. The latest CBS/"New York Times"/Quinnipiac poll has President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney 51 percent to 45 percent in Wisconsin. That's Paul Ryan's home state. In Virginia the President has a four-point lead over the challengers 50-46 percent. And in Colorado, it's essentially a tie, the President with a one-point edge, 48 percent to 47 percent.

Cleanup underway this morning after a line of powerful storms struck alone the East Coast. High winds and heavy rain left tens of thousands of people without power from Virginia to Washington, D.C. to New York. There were tornado watches across a number of states. As much as nine inches, nine inches of rain fell in some areas.

A federal judge has cleared the way for police in Arizona to enforce the most controversial part of this new immigration law. U.S. district judge Susan Bolton Tuesday upheld the section that allows police to question a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. Back in June the Supreme Court tossed out most other aspects of the law, but let the so-called "show me your" papers provision stand.

And we are just moments away from the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour. you are looking at live pictures at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida, after 25 trips into orbit over two decades, Endeavour is about to lift off for the last time. It will be taking a three-day, cross-country tour on the back of a NASA carrier jet. Endeavor scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Friday where it will be on display at a science museum. NASA officials have been champing at the bit to get Endeavour off the ground. The final flight has been delayed for two days by bad weather.

And did we mention it was your birthday today?

O'BRIEN: Yes, what a nice birthday present if Endeavour does take off as we sit here and monitor Endeavour as it waits -- should be taking off momentarily. You mentioned the weather, that has been a problem over the last couple of days. Obviously the weather forecast looks really good. Not just visually looks like in Florida it's going to be something like 80-something degrees. For Florida, relatively clear, which means that Endeavour should be table to take off, we're going to continue to monitor it and come back to you as soon as it starts. It looks like it's starting to roll down. I can't tell.

BERMAN: Turn off your cell phones. You know, it's rolling down the runway.

O'BRIEN: Is the camera moving or is it a very slow roll to taxi? We're expecting it to take off in about nine minutes or so. We'll get that to you as soon as it actually happens.

BERMAN: It's such a great picture.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk politics, shall we? Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan are both on the road today, both in separate swing states, trying to sell voters on their platform. This was supposed to be the week in which the Romney campaign would reset its strategy, give more details about policy, and plans, instead, though, they've had to spend a lot of the week defending remarks that were heard on a secret recording. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell from Virginia is a Romney supporter. He's also the chairman of the Republican Governors' Association. It's nice to see you again, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL, (R) VIRGINIA: Thanks, Soledad. Thanks for working on your birthday.

O'BRIEN: You know. Hmm, thank you. Appreciate that. One more time so my bosses can hear that, sir. Just teasing you. This is supposed to be the campaign re-launch. I know a lot of what you're here to do is to talk about spending, and to talk about debt, and reframe the Romney/Ryan plan. So let's talk about the plan for reducing spending. What exactly is it? Give me the specifics.

MCDONNELL: I don't think there's any reframing to do. This is what Governor Romney's been talking about for six months in making his case that the Obama record of eight percent unemployment for 43 months and a debt of $16 trillion is just unacceptable, that he can do better. So he's laid out, I think, a very clear five-point plan for the middle class with increased trade, more workforce development, investing in young people, investing in small business to help the entrepreneurs grow. Reducing the national debt, and promoting American energy.

That's something that President Obama continues to, I think, undermine. We just got an announcement yesterday, 1,200 coal jobs in Virginia, West Virginia, surrounding area gone, mainly because of Obama regulations. And so, this is his idea. It's a detailed plan of five items that he thinks he can get done that will get people back to work. And 43 million people unemployed is not acceptable.

O'BRIEN: When you go through the details, though, I think a lot of people who are on both the left and the right, frankly, are critical of a lack of specifics. Let's walk through some of these. He says in this five-point plan it requires spending cuts of approximately $500 billion per year in 2016, assuming robust economic recovery, four percent annual growth, and the reverse -- reversal of the Obama era defense cuts, which he calls irresponsible.

But when you add up what follows on the Romney Web site, it doesn't come anywhere close to $500 billion. And I'm wondering where do you see the specific money coming from? I mean give me the details outside of just supporting students or helping students. What will you cut? Paul Ryan, as you well know, in his budget said he was going to cut income security programs for the poor, like food stamps, by 16 percent. Will you take that idea? Is that part of the plan?

MCDONNELL: I think what you need is courage and honesty with the people and say, listen, everybody that's getting -- every item in the -- in the budget has got to be cut some. Including defense. But don't balance it half on defense. That's not responsible. Look, all I can tell you is what I did in Virginia, we have a $6 billion budget deficit. We cut that by not raising taxes, and now we've got $1 billion plus surplus. And so I know it can be done.

O'BRIEN: But they're looking for $500 million. I hear you but you're talking -- you're looking, again, off of the Romney Web site here's what it says. You say repeal Obama care will save you $95 billion. You say privatize Amtrak will save $1.6 billion. Reduce subsidies for the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities, you know, cut subsidies for PBS, that will save you $600 million. Eliminate title 10 family planning funding, $300 million reduce foreign aid, $100 million. Empower -- reduce waste and fraud, I can go on and on. All of that doesn't add up anywhere near $500 billion. So where are the specifics?

MCDONNELL: Well, it's --

O'BRIEN: Of how you're going to get to that magic $500 billion number in 2016.

MCDONNELL: Soledad it's a whole lot more specific than the Obama plan, which is zero. He had the ability to take the plan that was given by the Bowles-Simpson commission and basically threw it in the trash. There's no plan we've got currently to reduce this crushing deficit. The President's added $6 trillion to the American debt that our kids and our grandkids are paying.

So I think what Governor Romney said is here's a list of things that are the types of things that I will cut. And I will get to that point because you can't add a trillion and a half a year to the national debt and expect America is going to stay strong. It's not happening. And this president's had no guts and no courage to do that, hasn't got a budget done in three-and-a-half years. So governor Romney has outlined a number of specifics and there's more to come.

O'BRIEN: But you understand that voters are frustrated and regardless of what the question is, and this happens on both sides of the aisle, the minute you ask any kind of questions about specifics about someone's plan they immediately say well the other guy. So let's not talk about the other guy for a moment. Let's talk about the specifics, and it sounds to me that there are still light on specifics.

I mean, again, I'm trying to figure out, will you take what Paul Ryan, who actually was known for his very detailed plans, you know, food stamps, programs like that, 16 percent, cut transportation by 25 percent, cut general science space and technology by six percent, cut education, training employment, 33 percent, all that over 10 years, I should mention, will you take that plan? Is that going, those specifics, will that be part of the Romney plan? Yes or no?

MCDONNELL: Well, I said -- well the Ryan plan is a very good start. But it's not enough, because we're broke, Soledad. And that's the truth that the American people have got to look at, $16 trillion in debt.

The Ryan plan -- at least Paul Ryan has the guts to outline a plan that will start to reduce the deficit. It will balance the budget in 28 years. The President has no plan. So look, you can't just isolate that in just about the Romney plan. You've got to look at what the President's saying, which is essentially just raise taxes on people that are successful. That's not a very good plan.

So, yes, I think Paul Ryan's outlined a bold plan. It's going to require sacrifice. He's got the honesty to tell people that we can't afford this same level of spending. And until we start managing the government's money like people manage their own money and businesses manage their money, we're in trouble.

O'BRIEN: OK, let's talk a little bit about this tape that was leaked, and the specifically the 47 percent comment. How, how, let's, let's play that first, what, what Governor Romney is heard saying on this tape, then I'll ask you a question about it on the other side.

MCDONNELL: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what, all right. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that's an entitlement and government should give it to them, and they will vote for this president no matter what. These are people who pay no income taxes. So my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: How do you spin that? How do you -- how do you -- how do you defend that?

MCDONNELL: I think he was saying factually 47 percent of the people don't pay income tax. Now they do pay Social Security and Medicare tax and other types of taxes.

O'BRIEN: I meant the victims part. I meant the victims part.

MCDONNELL: Well, I think the President -- Governor Romney has already said what he's had to say about that. I haven't seen the tape. What I will say is that to the degree that we have people that aren't paying taxes because of a lousy Obama economy, because 23 million Americans can't work, Soledad, I think that's the broader point, and a record number of people on food stamps. You can't spin that as good for the American people.

And so I think a president that's got the ideas about how to get people back to work and put more people back on the tax rolls, that's a good thing. There's no way to spin the fact that 43 months of 8 percent unemployment is a bad thing for America.

O'BRIEN: I will completely agree. But I think the -- I completely agree that that number is hard to spin. But I'm telling you, I think it's hard to also spin that you just called half the country or the governor did in this tape, roughly half the country victims, people who feel entitled to help, to food and to housing, and to health care, which I think people would debate. The entitlement to food? Isn't that a tough message for half the country, that you're hoping some of them will vote for you?

MCDONNELL: Yes, and I think Governor Romney has explained that, and so he's -- he didn't explain that right, didn't say it right at all. He was giving the fact that about 46.4 percent of the people currently don't pay taxes. But listen, we've got a president you know when he was campaigning said, criticizing Americans for clinging to their god and their guns. I mean, there are things that have to be -- have to be clarified when you get into these campaigns. But the broader point is the economy stinks, Soledad. You know it and I know it.

O'BRIEN: I don't think anyone's going to argue with that --

MCDONNELL: The President's failed and we're not on the right track.

O'BRIEN: But some of the --

MCDONNELL: That's the case for Romney.

O'BRIEN: But some of that 47 percent is people who are in their 80s who've retired, right? They paid income tax the whole time. Some of them are students who don't make any money so they're not making income tax.

MCDONNELL: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Again, I think potentially Romney voters who, who now are going to be feel like they're they've been insulted by these comments.

MCDONNELL: Well, I mean agree. That 47 percent you really do have to dig behind the numbers, you're exactly correct. Whether it's Bush tax credits or whether people on Social Security who have already paid their dues and others, there's a lot more behind that.

But to the degree that some of the facts that we have that many taxpayers not paying taxes are due to people that can't work, have no access to the American dream, that's a crisis for America that both parties should be ashamed of, and we have to work harder to get people back to work.

And I think hopefully that's the broader point. It's not a good idea to have the highest level of food stamps and the lowest level of entrepreneurs in 30 years. That's not good for America. And so I think it's an honest debate now about how do we get people back to work? The President said he believes in redistribution of wealth. He's on tape saying that, as well. I don't think that's a good policy for America.

So I think it's all being clarified during the debates. And people make the choice about who's got the better vision for America.

O'BRIEN: Governor Bob McDonnell, I know you have to run, you've got another event, so we're going to let you go. He's a Romney campaign surrogate. We certainly appreciate your time this morning.

MCDONNELL: OK, thanks, Soledad, appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk more later about the redistribution of wealth comments on our program this morning.

Anyway, I want to get back to the space shuttle Endeavour, which is finally lifting off, about to lift off for the final time. We've been watching it now.

BERMAN: John Zarrella told us before you see it sitting on top of that specially designed 747 which has flown for 30 years all over the country. This flight taking Endeavour all the way to Los Angeles will also be the final flight for the specially designed 747. So it's a really special moment for that, too.

O'BRIEN: It's made 25 flights in orbit over 20 years, pretty amazing. And it's -- I think are expected to do flyovers, right? So everyone will have a chance to see it?

BERMAN: It is all the way to Los Angeles a really special route, taking it over Mississippi and Texas, and everywhere around the country that helped put the shuttles together over so many years.

O'BRIEN: I have found it so amazing, and especially if you have a chance to watch it with your kids because there's something about just watching space travel with your kids that's remarkable. But as we sit here we watch them on the tarmac the good news is the weather is good and it looks like it's going to be taking off momentarily as we have been promised. We'll continue to watch it. Let's listen in and dip in to what NASA is saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be a majestic sight to see.

O'BRIEN: This is shots from Cape Canaveral in Florida where we are waiting for Endeavour to make its final flight, three-day cross country tour.

BERMAN: It shows a special place for all of the remaining shuttle to stay for people to see in museums around the country, of course, one of them being the enterprise here at the "USS Intrepid" a museum in Manhattan. There's a shuttle at the Smithsonian air and space museum in Washington and this going to Los Angeles so people can visit the Endeavour for years and years to come.

O'BRIEN: We're going to continue to watch it. Although as you sit and watch it on the tarmac there is nothing happening and we're waiting for them to take off.

BERMAN: The pilot saying we're sixth in line for takeoff right now on the ground at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: They had several days of weather delays for the Endeavour and then eventually gave them the go-ahead today because the weather, of course, is looking pretty good. They're going to do this cross- country flight from the Kennedy Space Center. That's where you're looking at these shots from, then fly to Los Angeles, and, as you mentioned, it's going to be on display in Los Angeles.

They were supposed to take off at 7:15 so now they're running about, almost five minutes late. And part of that reason is because of the weather. Obviously in Florida you're constantly dealing with these intermittent showers, et cetera, and so that's a little bit of a problem. You see that the Endeavour is piggybacked on that modified 747, so they're a little bit concerned about the delays. But it looks like we're expecting this thing to take off any moment.

BERMAN: One interesting thing John Zarrella brought up a little bit earlier, which is amazing, it lands in Los Angeles, it will stay at the airport for a while, then it has to be towed miles, about 13 miles to the museum. This will be towed right through the streets of Los Angeles to get there. This is an amazing sight as it takes off in Florida, but that will be a pretty amazing sight on the streets of Los Angeles.

O'BRIEN: They had said that social media users are encouraged to share their Endeavour sightings and they told people to use the hash tag #spottheshuttle to connect as they spot the shuttle over its three-day journey.

On Wednesday, I guess, they're going to go to Houston. Flyovers, Florida space coast Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and also they'll fly over in New Orleans. So that's going to happen today. Those are some of the locations that they're going to go over today, as soon as it takes off. Of course we continue to monitor Endeavour's final flight. But it continues to sit on the tarmac. A little more than five minutes delayed they were hoping to take off at 7:15 Eastern time.

But it did not take off, so we're going to continue to monitor and obviously we're really excited to watch the Endeavour which is piggybacked there on at 747 takeoff, and as soon as that happens we will bring it to you as it happens. We've got to take a commercial break first. We're back in just a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have first motion the shuttle carrier aircraft and space shuttle Endeavour beginning to thunder down, shutting landing facility runway 1-5, heading to the southeast, taking to the skies for one last time from Kennedy Space Center. And wheels up, and officially at 7:22 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Space shuttle Endeavour soaring atop NASA shuttle carrier aircraft, about to begin a 20-minute flyover of the space coast area.

O'BRIEN: That is so beautiful to watch, isn't it? At 7:22, just seven minutes after they had planned, it's taken off. I'm glad we didn't toss to commercial break right before it started its roll down the tarmac, or the runway.

BERMAN: Amazing.

O'BRIEN: It looks beautiful. We're going to obviously watch this as it takes off, take a short break and we'll be back right on the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn toward the coast, conduct a flyover of Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral air force station, and then head south down the beach, where onlookers are gathered. NASA television will cover this entire flyover as best we can. The shuttle and the shuttle carrier aircraft will head to the south, and out of range of our cameras, but then will come back toward Kennedy space center for one final pass over the shuttle landing facility in about 20 minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures are up after the Bank of Japan announced more stimulus overnight. This follows the Federal Reserve stimulus announcement last week. The S&P 500 index is up more than 14 percent so far this year.

New data released by real estate tracking firm Zillow shows home prices dipped in August from the previous month, but home prices according to Zillow, still up 1.7 percent from a year ago. Foreclosures fell in August, with six out of every 10,000 homes in the country in some stage of foreclosure. That is down from 6.4 homes out of every 10,000 back in July.

American Airlines is cutting one percent to two percent of its flights for the rest of September and into October. And the company announced this week that 11,000 workers could lose their jobs as part of the reorganization plans. American is in bankruptcy. The pilots are staging sickouts to protest impending job cuts. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you. French officials are pleading for restraint and beefing up security at many embassies after "Paris" magazine, which is known for its biting satire published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. All this coming at a time when Muslims around the world are rioting over an anti-Islam movie produced here in the United States.

Let's get live to Jim Bittermann live in Paris for us this morning. The last of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, the last time they did something like this, they were the victims of a fire-bombing. So what's behind it this time?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was back in November of last year, this time around it's about the same sort of thing. This magazine is meant to be provocative and always publishes very nasty, daring cartoons. People who buy it look for that, and that's who their audience is. Basically in this same edition was the cartoons that have all the objections amongst the Muslim community here.

There's also cartoons that make fun of rape victims, that make fun of the catholic church, there's just a panoply of rather daring cartoons and that's what the magazine makes its money from. And one of the cartoonists of the magazine said he was almost surprised at the way there's been such outcry over this morning's edition.

O'BRIEN: So then, Jim, let me ask you a question, because obviously we're not going to air, we're not going to show the cartoons. But you've seen them. What specifically do they show?

BITTERMANN: We're not going to show the cartoonist, either. What specifically? Well they're very provocative. I mean, you know, they're, they're, they're sort of caricatures of Muhammad in various stages of various awkward, obscene poses, that sort of thing, with cartoon lines on them that insult the idea of people's insensitivities. Basically the magazine tries to skewer the headlines, the things we hear about in the news they take on and they try to make fun of in a very sort of daring way. And that's what they've done in this case, with the outcry over the film that the kind of thing that the attack of the embassy in Libya and other places.

That's what they're trying to make fun of. It's always in bad taste. That's what the magazine is known for. And their argument has been that, look, you know, you don't have to buy this magazine. There's nothing on the cover that is insulting. And so it's basically the people that buy it that have the privilege, if that's what you want to call it, of seeing these insulting cartoons. Of course, the Islamic community here is totally upset.

Islam is the second most important religion in France, and there's been quite an outcry, and they have said that they are going to take the magazine to court if there's anything, any law that has been broken -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Jim Bitterman for us this morning. He is in Paris. Thank you, Jim. We appreciate it. Obviously, we're going to continue to watch that along with you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, many critics say that Mitt Romney's statement where he called half of America roughly victims as a major blunder. Our next guest though says no, this could really help his campaign. We're going to talk with redstate.com's Erick Erickson.

Also we told you about this yesterday, that baseball player who put a slur on his eye black during a game. Learning more about what his thoughts were behind that and also the punishment that we were expecting. That's ahead on STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Let's get right to John Berman. He has got a look at the day's top stories. Good morning.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad, so much. You just saw it here live and here's one more look at the space shuttle Endeavour as it takes off on its final mission.

After 25 trips into orbit over the past two decades, the retired shuttle is now on the back of a NASA carrier jet, a 747, making a stop in Houston, with low flyovers at key NASA locations over the next three days. The final destination is Los Angeles. The shuttle's new home is the California Science Center in downtown L.A. It is expected to arrive in Southern California Friday. It's been delayed for two days by bad weather, but now a beautiful picture for a lot of the country to see.

Elsewhere, after an investigation lasting 19 months, the Justice Department inspector general is expected to release a report on a botched "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking operation, possibly as early as today.

The Republican-led House voted in June to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for withholding documents in this case. Family members of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, killed in connection with the gun smuggling operation, they have said they will not find closure until someone is held accountable.

New York City police are asking for the public's help to track down a group of brazen laundromat thieves. They say four suspects, two men and two women, assaulted a man inside this Bronx laundromat before cleaning out the cash register and fleeing the scene. The NYPD says anyone who recognized the assailants on the surveillance tape, please call the crime stoppers hotline.

In Toronto the Blue Jays suspend short stop Yunel Escobar for three games without pay. We talked about it yesterday. He was spotted on Saturday's game wearing eye black with a Spanish homophobic slur written underneath his eyes. Eye black is the stuff baseball players use to reduce the sun glare.

Escobar's salary for the game he is missing will be donated to the groups You Can Play and GLAAD. Major League Baseball also says is investigating the offensive stunt. During the news conference at Yankee Stadium, Escobar said he's sorry for his actions. Didn't have much of an explanation, but he said he's sorry.

O'BRIEN: But why? Like why would you write a slur? You don't think people are going to notice that?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He thought people would notice. It doesn't answer the question why.

O'BRIEN: In that press, there was no backstory.

BERMAN: No explanation. He said it's a word tossed around the clubhouse. He didn't mean any offense by it, but I don't know what he meant then.

O'BRIEN: It makes no sense. I demand that he come to the show and explain it to us.

CAIN: The "Enterprise," the space shuttle here in New York State. I'm disappointed. You can't get in. You don't get into the space shuttle. You get to see the outside of the space shuttle.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: There's a big long line to look at the nose of a space shuttle. I was like -- we're going to get to go in. It's going to be awesome. A little disappointing there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should write "Enterprise."

O'BRIEN: Eye black, inside the shuttle.

CAIN: Open the doors.

O'BRIEN: That's at very subtle messaging on the eye black. All right, let me introduce everybody, since we're all chatting. Ben Smith is with us. He is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed. It's nice to have you.

Bridget Siegel is former finance director for the Kerry presidential campaign. Will Cain is a columnist for the blaze.com. Many Republicans are among those who are speaking out against the leaked recordings that we've been playing it this morning.

The 47 percent of Americans, says Mitt Romney, in these recordings are, dependent on the government, used the word victims as they are entitled to benefits, some conservatives aren't stepping away from him, they're standing by him.

Some of them think he can seal the deal. One of those folks is Erick Erickson. He's a guest on the show a bunch of times. He is the editor-in-chief of redstate.com. He's a CNN contributor.

Explain that to me. How, how do you turn what I think people on the left and the right have said, some using the word like, this ends the campaign, this kills the, the, the race for Mitt Romney, how do you say that this is a positive, this is a good thing?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is so discombobulated for me to be here defending Mitt Romney. It's just not my natural state.

O'BRIEN: Try anyway.

ERICKSON: I will put it to you this way. The problem for Mitt Romney is that he was speaking off the cuff, what he thought was an off- record dinner for donors. And he conflated two different things and everyone's merged them together. In his head, I don't think he was merging them together. He is going to have to explain that admittedly.

If he was talking about, there is a reality that 47 percent of Americans will look for Obama, 47 percent will vote for Mitt Romney. Now he went on then to characterize the people he thought would vote for Barack Obama and saying well, they don't pay income taxes, they're dependent on the government, they're victims.

Well, the 47 percent number also equates to people who don't pay income taxes. Now I don't think he was actually talking about all those people, but I don't think it matters. And I don't think it matters because every Gallup poll that's ever come out on this question, they've asked it for awhile.

Most of those people don't think that Mitt Romney would be talking about them. They don't consider themselves victims. So you're going to have to explain to these people that Mitt Romney really does think you're a victim and I think that's a hard sell.

The problem, though, for Mitt Romney is that his campaign hasn't had a policy on this issue. And now he's going to have to pivot and try to come up with a policy quickly.

CAIN: Hi, Erick. This is Will Cain. I read your post on Red State and I see what you're saying that no one thinks of themselves as a victim, so there's no political damage here, but that's a political analysis.

Here's what bothers me about Mitt Romney's statement is that, who is he talking about, this 47 percent? He seemed to conflate it three groups: those that don't pay taxes, those that are somehow dependent upon the government and those that would vote for Barack Obama. And there is no cohesive group right there that he's talking about that adds up to 47 percent. What really bothers me in the end, then, is he's just flat wrong.

ERICKSON: Well, I think that's the problem. He was off the cuff. He was at a closed-door meeting. He didn't think he was on the record. Even at his press conference later he said he wasn't very articulate.

He's going to have to explain that. Even conservatives like me who don't think this is as damaging as a lot of people say, have to concede the remark was really inarticulate at best and really dumb. So he's going to have to go out -- opportunity though to make the case. O'BRIEN: Here's the thing. I think, one, when you say 47 percent, right, you're talking about half this country. You've just called half the country victims who don't want to better themselves. Like in and of itself I think that's problematic. The other thing he says is people expect these entitlements. And the tone I thought was an interesting tone to listen to in those tapes. And he says entitlements like food, people are entitled to food.

So I think even outside of that sheer number that you're talking about, you just insulted half the country. So even if you don't think of yourself as a victim. You're thinking, wow --

ERICKSON: Soledad, most of these people, there are a lot of people out there that the media and the left are both saying, well he's insulting all these people. There are a lot of people out there who technically are in the demographic of don't pay income taxes and government benefits who actually would agree with Mitt Romney on this issue.

And whether it's the Gallup poll or the Pew poll or what have you on these issues, I think he's got to come out now and own the comment. He can't back it up. And he's going to have to announce what exactly he did mean in an articulate way.

The problem for Mitt Romney, frankly, and I say this I realize as a partisan, but when Barack Obama said you didn't build that he said he was taken out of context and the media fell over backwards to say he was taken out of context.

Here Mitt Romney was off the cuff, off the record and everyone wants to take him literally when they don't hold the President --

O'BRIEN: You know, I think people did hold the President I think there was a lot of debate over that comment and people went back and forth on that. And I think that --

ERICKSON: People -- over that comment when it was pretty clear.

O'BRIEN: There are people who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing. So if you look at, if you break, I think we have a graphic of this.

Ultimately, if you break down that 47 percent, you know, of the people who are not paying income tax, and they're not paying payroll tax, you know, a bunch of them are elderly people.

Is your entire argument is those people will not feel like they've been insulted so it's OK. Is that what you're saying?

ERICKSON: Look, I think if you polled senior citizens most of them would contend to agree with Mitt Romney. It's been a consistent poll number among senior citizens. They feel like they've paid into the system and they're getting back what they paid in. And there are a lot of people who didn't pay in --

O'BRIEN: That's before what he just said -- before those comments. All that polling is before those comments. Now he's just said there's a bunch of people --

BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BUZZFEED: -- going to say Romney supporters.

ERICKSON: Around the kitchen table there are a lot of people that have this conversation.

BRIDGET SIEGEL, FORMER FINANCE DIRECTOR, KERRY CAMPAIGN: Is there -- is there also an opening here? I mean, you said in one of your articles today how many places noted that Republicans will actually like this.

Like this stance, like what he's saying, like Romney saying something they see -- they see as stronger in position wise. Is there something here that he'll win back some of the base that he doesn't?

ERICKSON: Look, you've got me defending Mitt Romney. That's all you need to know. It's a very, very disconcerting thing for me to be doing that.

CAIN: But Erick, Will again, listen, doesn't the fact that you called his comments dumb and I said they're wrong doesn't it ring to you as someone who basically has conservative ideology handed to them in crib sheet form. And Sparks-Cliff Notes form and says here is how it works and he combine a bunch of talking points that don't really go together and said yes, I'll float this 47 percent out there.

ERICKSON: John McCormick in "The Weekly Standard" --

SMITH: John, saying a lot of conservatives don't actually do this as an interested -- and a lot of conservatives think their ideas might be good for a lot more than 53 percent of people.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, we'll see. Maybe you'll be brought in to help the campaign.

ERICKSON: Now I got to go deal with the panther in my backyard.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we saw your tweet about that. He's got a panther.

ERICKSON: An actual panther was in my backyard.

O'BRIEN: That's right. Forget the tapes, the panther. All right, thanks, Erick. Appreciate your time this morning.

Coming up next on STARTING POINT, former member of the Fujees, ran for presidency of Haiti. Now he's got a new memoir. Wyclef Jean joins us live. He is here. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: One of the well-known faces of support for Haiti is the musician Wyclef Jean. He was born in Haiti then moved to the United States as a child where he formed the successful band the Fugees. After the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, he returned to help. He ran for the presidency of Haiti. He's now got a new memoir out that talks about Haiti, talks about his superstar success. It's called "Purpose: An Immigrant Story."

And Wyclef Jean is with us this morning. It's nice to have you.

WYCLEF JEAN, AUTHOR, "PURPOSE: AN IMMIGRANT'S STORY": Thank you, thank you.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk a little bit about why your memoir now? Was there something that triggered it? Because a lot of the stories you tell are from your childhood? Why now?

JEAN: Because I was going to write seven books, and the first one I wanted to start after I was 40, so I've been jotting things around ever since I got on tour. So much said about me in the social media, so many rumors, just wanted to get into who was Wyclef Jean because the name actually was more famous than the guy. So I felt like it was time.

CAIN: This is book number one, but you want to write seven?

JEAN: Yes, I have seven books.

CAIN: How did you pick that?

O'BRIEN: What are the rest of them about?

JEAN: My second book is going to be a political spoof. It's called "Edgar Hoover Me," it's about my presidential run and how they said I didn't have a five-year residency in Haitian law and there is no such law.

SIEGEL: Will you run again?

JEAN: I don't know yet. You know, I'm going to definitely continue to keep helping in this sense, but politics is tough.

O'BRIEN: No joke. We've been talking about that all morning. Your book is very blunt. Were there things that you felt you shouldn't talk about or did people say, don't put me in this book?

JEAN: No, no, because at the end of the day, my music is very pure to what I do. It was very important that the memoir is pure because the stories I go into, there's a lot of people that are going through things that I've been through, have been in groups, relationship, marital affairs, but they're not tough to talk about it.

Anything I talk about in the book, I talk about in my music. I can take you back to songs that are pertaining to that.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the Fugees and let's talk about your affair.

JEAN: Man, I didn't know we were going to talk about my political -- this is a setup.

O'BRIEN: Listen, come back tomorrow. We'll talk politics.

JEAN: Mitt Romney's big mistake and the fact he's going to lose.

O'BRIEN: Well, we could talk about that later. There are some Republicans who agree with you on that one. Let's talk about what you write about, Lauren Hill. Simultaneously dating your now-wife.

JEAN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And you're also having an affair with your muse, your partner in music, Lauren Hill.

JEAN: Yes. Yes. I mean, to take you back into time, I was 20 something, started off when I was 18, 19. Every part of the book that I write, I went back to the setting.

Basically was in the studio every day, recording every day around each other every day. Of course, you read these books about Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell and he would say, no, no, not me. Not me. And you throw in that Lord of the Rings and you fall into that.

At that time period, I mean, everyone is focused on the Lauren Hill part saying, you know, the way that you exposed Lauren Hill and the stories. But you can go back to even the cover of the source magazine. They put me in the middle.

Lauren's on the right and it says baby daddy. What happens is through the course of history someone will document it and say this is what happened. If I don't talk about it, the doctor in the hospital, he saw me in the hospital. Like, the mom and dad know what happened. Someone's going to end up writing it in history. So I have to make sure I write the truth.

O'BRIEN: There are people who blame you for the breakup of the Fugees, that affair. Then you get married. So Lauren Hill, who you're having an affair with, and you continue the affair with --

JEAN: Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: Some people -- she has gone -- had a share of troubles and there are people who said that was the moment where the Fugees fell apart and people blame you for that.

JEAN: Yes, I mean --

O'BRIEN: Is that fair?

JEAN: I mean, once again, I can't take my 20s back. I would never take the 20s back. And the people that are blaming me for the breakup, if you all have this score that you all love so much. This score wouldn't have happened without the love triangle of everything that you you're hearing. So inside of the mystery of the score there's always a passionate undertone in it.

I don't think that the music would have actually came out like that if we wasn't going through what we were going through.

O'BRIEN: This book is so good. What you write about your dad was amazing. That's the toughest part for you to write. Everybody should go get it. I'm going to take this as my birthday present today.

CAIN: What will book number five be about? You have them all mapped out?

JEAN: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I have one book that's about the chronicles. I take genesis to revelation and break it down.

BERMAN: You're setting the bar pretty low.

O'BRIEN: Wyclef Jean. The book is called "Purpose."

JEAN: I have to sing happy birthday for you.

O'BRIEN: Hold on. Get your iPhone out and record this for me.

JEAN: Happy birthday, Soledad. Happy birthday --

O'BRIEN: It's the greatest day of my life.

JEAN: Soledad, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes! That was awesome. Wyclef, always nice to have you. Thank you.

JEAN: Thank you.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Coming up in our next hour on STARTING POINT, Mitt Romney is defending a statement that nearly half of all Americans are victims, who feel entitled to government aid. Can the former governor recover or does he need to get a new team?

And they helped start Facebook. They became famous for suing Mark Zuckerburg. We are going to talk to the Winklevoss twins about their new social network. Short break. We're back right after this.

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