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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

President Obama & Romney Face Off; AZ Town Mourns Nicholas Ivie; Interview with Stephanie Cutter; Interview with Barbara Comstock; From Poverty to Star Performer; Royal Recipes

Aired October 3, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

STARTING POINT this morning: fight night. President Obama and Mitt Romney are gearing up for a fierce debate. Will tonight's face-off change the momentum of the presidential race?

Both sides will join us. Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, is our guest and Mitt Romney's senior adviser, Barbara Comstock, will join us.

Plus, killed in a line of duty. A Border Patrol agent gunned down near a major drug corridor. Now, there's an intense manhunt is underway in very tough terrain.

Plus, fighting back, a TV news anchor blasts a cool viewer who calls her a bad role model because she's fat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER LIVINGSTON, WKBT NEWS ANCHOR: Listen to me right now -- do not let your self worth be developed by bullies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Or an evil viewer who emails you that response, it's a bit frenzy this morning. We're going to talk about that.

It's Wednesday, October 3rd. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Michael Crowley is with us. He's a deputy Washington bureau chief of "TIME" magazine. Roland Martin is with us. He's the host -- will you stop? -- of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin". Will Cain -- what are you, the queen?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME: Waving to all the people watching.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain is the columnist from TheBlaze.com. Our "starting point" this morning --

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You need to wave back.

O'BRIEN: No need to wave. I know he's there. He knows I'm here.

MARTIN: Wave back.

O'BRIEN: We're talking about the countdown to the presidential debate, just 13 hours. President Obama, Governor Mitt Romney will face off at the University of Denver.

Domestic policy and the economy will top the agenda. Republicans are hoping that their candidate can shake things up with a presidential performance because he's trailing by three points in the CNN poll of polls.

CNN's Dan Lothian is live in Denver this morning. So, Dan, what should we be watching for this morning?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you pointed out, domestic policy will be the focus. So, that's the economy, health care reform, the role of government. It's a 90-minute debate. There'll be six segments, 15 minutes each.

They'll be -- you know, the first question, one main question per segment and then two minutes for the first answer. The rest of the time will be for discussion. Two things we'll be watching for, potentially two liabilities for the candidates.

President Obama sometimes content to give very long-winded answers and you've heard the campaign talk about this. So, he's going to try to deliver very concise answers.

And then, for Governor Romney, sometimes if you've watched past debates, he'll get agitated when his back is against the wall. His hands will flail. So, he may want to contain his hands during the debate.

It's important what these candidates say during the debate but it's also important what the camera sees, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We were just talking about that.

So, outside of the debate, the Vice President has been creating a little bit of a distraction. This always reminds me of your piece, John, of what's a distraction, kind of taking the focus off the main conversation by some of his words, happened yesterday. What happened?

LOTHIAN: That's right. He was out there on the campaign trail, and he was talking about the impact on the middle class under a Mitt Romney administration. And he was describing their plight over the last four years this way. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is deadly earnest. How they can justify -- how they can justify raising taxes of the middle class that's been buried the last four years? How, in Lord's name, can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Vice President Joe Biden just today said that the middle class, over the last four years, has been, quote, "buried". We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next President of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

Of course, the middle class has been buried. They're being buried by regulations. They're being buried by taxes. They're being buried by borrowing. They're being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: The Romney campaign put together a conference call to draw more attention to the Vice President's comments. Now, the Obama campaign saying that was another act of desperation. What he was talking about were the economic conditions that were created by the previous administration.

But I can tell you, obviously, this was a mistake because at the next event for the Vice President, he was talking about the same themes, but he left out that word buried, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us this morning -- thank you, Dan.

Let's get right to Stephanie Cutter. She's the deputy manager for the Obama campaign. Nice to see you, Stephanie. Good morning to you. Are you there?

I'm looking for Stephanie Cutter. I think we're having a little of a technical difficulty.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN DEPUTY MANAGER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Oh, there you are. Here I was talking to myself for a minute, Stephanie. Hey, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

CUTTER: I'm here.

O'BRIEN: And I'm here, so we can start.

CUTTER: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Oh, you bet. Of course.

How are you feeling about going into the debate tonight? I know that the President has missed some of the scheduled debate practices because of news events. How do you feel about it? CUTTER: Well, we're excited about it. We're excited about it for a number of different reasons. This is the first time the American people will be seeing these two candidates stand by side by side.

You know, the President has had to cut back some of his prep because of his job as president. That's typical for any incumbent. And we also know just by looking at past debates and past campaigns, the challengers win more often than not that first debate. And, of course, we know that Mitt Romney is a champion debater in his own words. You know, some of his biggest surrogates, Chris Christie this weekend declared victory before the debate even happened.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I love that you compliment the other guy, Stephanie Cutter. We know this is all part of, you know, prop up the other person because we can change the expectations.

CUTTER: I'm using their words.

O'BRIEN: I hear you.

Some people have said that the format will benefit the President actually because he tends to go long. Do you think that's true?

CUTTER: Well, you know, we've been working on shorter answers, but, yes, if there's a critique of the President, it's that this format -- debating format, it's not his strength. But, you know, look, I think that both of these guys are going to come to the debate prepared. I think that expectations are probably working a little bit against us and more for Mitt Romney right now. At the end of the day, I think that the winner is going to be declared by the American people based on what these two candidates say and who lays out a vision for the future -- some specifics and policy details.

You know, the President has been having this conversation with the American people for some time. This is what we spent our convention doing, laying out where we've been as a country, the values that drive the President, where he wants to go in the future. I think what's been missing with Mitt Romney is exactly that, those details, those policies of where he wants to take this country. I think tonight offers an opportunity for him to fill some of that in.

O'BRIEN: And I think if you listen to his surrogates, they'll say and he's going to take that opportunity.

When you look at the polls, for example, CNN's poll of polls, you see the race tightening a bit. Let's throw that up on the screen. You can see it there, with President Obama at 49 percent for likely voters' choice for president and Governor Romney at 46 percent.

The last CNN polling before this poll came out had the President up by six points. Are you concerned about that?

CUTTER: No. I think what we saw was a bump out of our convention. This race is going to be tight right up to the very end. It's the way we've always seen this race going. You know, as long as I've been on this campaign for the past year, I've always thought up until the very end, it's going to be a very, very close race. And I think the debates will have a lot to do with it. You know, Mitt Romney has the opportunity to completely change the dynamic.

And, you know, Mitt Romney surrogates have been saying that he'll put out details, but the question is, what details? You know, on his $5 trillion tax cut, you know, Paul Ryan said just yesterday and got criticized by one of their own supporters, they didn't have time to go through the math to show how they're going to pay for it. Well, he's got 90 minutes tonight, he should go through that math, and show the middle class whether or not he can do it without raising taxes on them.

O'BRIEN: Let's --

CUTTER: Because even his own economic advisers say that it's not possible.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the middle class for a moment. It's been called now a distraction.

CUTTER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: The Vice President who was in Asheville, North Carolina, talked about -- we played it a minute ago when I was interviewing Dan Lothian --

CUTTER: I heard.

O'BRIEN: -- who's reporting for us. And you know what he said. He said the middle class are being buried. And the Republicans, as we played right after that, jumped on that.

Was that a big mistake on the part of the Vice President?

CUTTER: No. But you know what the Republicans are really good at? They're really good at jumping on distractions, jumping on comments taken out of context.

You know, what the Vice President was saying and he has been saying on the trail for sometime, that he middle class, because of the policies of the past, were punished and right now, the last thing we should do is go back to those same policies. Unfortunately, that's what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are promising to do.

You know, the middle class was punished by tax cuts that went to the top paid for by the middle class. That's what they're promising to do now. They were punished by Wall Street, putting taxpayers on the hook for bailing them out. That's what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are promising to do now.

So, what the Vice President was saying we made progress. We're on a path to rebuild an economy meant to last, with a strong middle class at its core. We know how to do it. We've done it before. We can do it again. But the last thing we should do is go back to those very same policies that crashed our economy and punished the middle class in the first place.

O'BRIEN: And this final seconds that I have. FOX News ran a clip of the President's speech from 2007 where the President was talking about racial discontent and hopelessness because of poverty.

Sean Hannity said these are controversial things that the media never reported on. That's a quote. And, of course, we and other media covered that speech and Brit Hume at FOX did, too.

CUTTER: Right.

O'BRIEN: The Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul put out a statement and she said, they, quote, "didn't have any involvement" in disseminating that 2007 video, very old story coming back.

Who do you think is responsible for that?

CUTTER: Well, I think allies to Mitt Romney are responsible and I think the Romney campaign should stand up and do the right thing and say it was irresponsible to do something like that, particularly on the eve of the debate. And it was apparent what they were trying to do. Mitt Romney has been taking heat for weeks now for his secret comments behind closed doors with his wealthy donors that he didn't care about half of this country.

Their answer for that is to put out an already public released speech that the President gave five years ago where he was talking about the reaction to hurricane Katrina and the inadequate reaction to hurricane Katrina. You know, it's an interesting strategy by Mitt Romney and his allies that they want to defend the Bush administration response.

O'BRIEN: So, it sounds like you're saying he's responsible.

CUTTER: It's a weird strategy.

O'BRIEN: So, you sound like you're saying that Mitt Romney --

CUTTER: No.

O'BRIEN: No?

CUTTER: I don't -- I don't -- I'm not saying Mitt Romney is responsible. I'm not saying the Romney campaign is responsible. I do think it's allies to that campaign and I think that Mitt Romney has an opportunity to stand up and say it was wrong.

O'BRIEN: Stephanie Cutter is an Obama campaign deputy manager. I should not that during, while she was talking, she had a Spanish language reporter next to her. Can you hear that noise? There was a plane flying by and a chopper over her head.

So, thank you, Stephanie, for dealing with those distractions as well.

CUTTER: And it's cold out. O'BRIEN: And it's freezing cold. Going to warm up, though, 80 degrees or something today.

CNN, of course, is going to have complete coverage of tonight's debate. It starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and CNN.com.

The stories making news and John Berman has got that for us. Good morning again.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to see you, Soledad.

American Airlines going to inspect 47 of its Boeing 757s after seats came loose in flight on two of its planes within days of each other. They've checked 36 planes so far. Six had seats that were not properly secured. American says not all the seats were loose but could potentially could loosen. They say improperly installed clamps are what caused the problem.

Fears over meningitis outbreak. It has now killed two people in Tennessee. Health officials investigating the cases, they say both of them received steroid injections at Nashville medical facility which has now been closed. There are 14 victims in all, 13 of them in Tennessee and one in an undisclosed state. The disease is not contagious but investigators are trying to figure out exactly what happened.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary has filed a whistleblower suit against the university. McQueary claims he was the only assistant football coach not invited to interview to work under the new Penn State head football coach, Bill O'Brien. This in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

McQueary if you remember was a key prosecution witness in the Sandusky case who testified that he saw Sandusky in a shower with a young boy.

Now, he was beaned in his only Major League plate appearance seven years ago. But last night, Adam Greenberg got a second chance for the at-bat that he always wanted. Greenberg signed a one-day contract with the Marlins before the game. He struck out on three pitches.

But, you know, that didn't matter at all. Greenberg calls it a magical experience since he now has one official at-bat in the big league. He officially gets credit for a game played.

Congratulations to him. Well deserved.

Now, play hard, celebrate harder, right? Take a look at this video, a hockey player in junior league in New Jersey scores a goal and then scores a goal, and look what he does to celebrate. Jumps through the glass! The panel gave way, the player fell clear through into the benches of the posing team.

Luckily, all the padding helped out. No one was hurt, including him. You can see him get up and walk away there. It's amazing.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) last. O'BRIEN: Really, he's not even skating very fast. I mean, often, like, you know, you're going really fast. You smash into the glass.

CROWLEY: Now he scored on national TV.

MARTIN: Adam Greenberg story is great. A lot of players have been beaned. They've never been able to come back. So, to be able to get that shot, it's a great story.

BERMAN: It was like the field of dreams. He was never in the record book. He hasn't an official at-bat. So, now, he has an official at- bat. He has an official game played, and he will always be a Major League player after what happened last night.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, innocent bystander? We'll tell you why an eighth grader who never threw a punch was suspended after a fight on a school bus. It's our tough call this morning.

A search for person who killed a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a well- known drug smuggling area. We're going to talk to the chief deputy about their investigation. That's coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This morning, an investigation is under way to find out who shot and killed U.S. Border Patrol agent, Nicholas Ivie. He was responding to a tripped motion sensor with two other agents when they came under fire yesterday. It was near the border town of Naco, Arizona.

One of the other agents who was also shot is survived and he's now recovering. Ivie was assigned to the Brian Terry Border Patrol station, which of course, was named after the agent whose 2010 death was linked to that botched U.S. Fast and Furious operation at tracked guns that were smuggled to Mexico.

Joining us this morning, chief deputy, Rodney Rothrock. He's the acting sheriff of Cochise County, which is where that shooting took place. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. What details do you know --

CHIEF DEPUTY RODNEY ROTHROCK, COCHISE COUNTY, ARIZONA: It's my pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that. What details do you know about this attack? Three border agents tripped signal. What happened exactly?

ROTHROCK: Well, a lot of the details are still emerging. We don't have a clear picture at this time. The scene of this event was in a really rugged area, very hilly, really rugged terrain. They've had the helicopter and the technicians and the equipment to process the scene.

What we do know is approximately 1:45 in the morning, while responding to the sensor activation in that area, which is a very active smuggling area, the three agents came under gunfire. Of course, Agent Nicholas Ivie lost his life, a second agent was wounded and, fortunately, the third agent escaped unharmed.

O'BRIEN: Have the second agent who was wounded and the third agent who escaped unharmed been able to give you some good details and some context about exactly what happened?

ROTHROCK: Yes. They've been interviewed. And, I don't have the details of those interviews. This is an ongoing investigation. We're conducting a cooperative investigation, a joint investigation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And, as time goes by, more details will emerge, but a lot of it is still pretty fuzzy.

O'BRIEN: The response -- their response was to a triggered sensor that went off near Naco. Are there cameras there? I mean, do you think that there'll be an opportunity down the road to really be able to fully flesh out what exactly happened?

ROTHROCK: Well, the Border Patrol does have cameras down close to the border, but this was approximately five miles north of the border in very rugged terrain and there won't be any camera footage of any of this event, I'm afraid.

O'BRIEN: Senator Chuck Grassley said this: "There is no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we'll wonder for years if the guns used in any killing along the border were part of an ill-advised gun-walking strategy sanctioned by the federal government." He said that on Tuesday.

Do you think that, in fact, there is a good chance that the gun that was used to kill this border agent were walked across the border, in fact, or is he just guessing?

ROTHROCK: Well, I can't eliminate the possibility. But at this point it would simply be speculation.

O'BRIEN: What happens next in your investigation? When will you be able to really give everyone a very detailed and defined description of what happened that night?

ROTHROCK: Well, the crime scene itself is still being processed. They hope to finish that later on today. Once we are able to gather all the information gathered at the crime scene and compare that with the interviews of the agents, we may have a better picture of exactly what occurred.

O'BRIEN: What a terrible tragedy, certainly, for Border Patrol agent Nicholas Ivie's family. Our condolences go out to his family and all his colleagues. Sir, thank you for talking with us. That's Chief Deputy Rodney Rothrock with the Cochise County Sheriff's office. We appreciate your time.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, middle school student is suspended because of a fight on a school bus, a fight he was not involved in, but he recorded it on his phone. Should he have gotten a punishment? It's our "Tough Call." It's up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business."

A breathtaking drop in the value of Iran's currency over the past week. The rial has fallen some 40 percent this week, according to numerous reports. The U.S. State Department says it's because international sanctions are having an effect now on Iran's economy. International news agencies report that Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is urging Iranians not to trade their plummeting rial for dollars or other foreign currencies.

U.S. stock futures trading slightly higher. Stocks are really not far from five-year highest, folks. It was weak economic data this morning from China, but we're waiting on Friday's big jobs report. Congress, surveyed by CNNMoney, expect 110,000 jobs were added in September, but the jobless rate steady at 8.1 percent. And an ADP report of private payrolls just came out, showed 162,000 private payrolls.

And bald is not only beautiful, it's apparently powerful, too. A recent study by Pennsylvania's Warton School found men with shaved heads are perceived to be more masculine and dominant, John Berman, and in some cases, better leaders. In one of the tests, men with shaved heads were even perceived to be an inch taller and about 13 percent stronger than same sized men with hair.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: My husband has a shaved head.

ROMANS: Does he?

BERMAN: Do you find him very strong?

O'BRIEN: My strong, powerful, handsome, manly --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Apparently, 13 percent --

BERMAN: Build him up. Build him up. Build him up.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to our "Tough Call" this morning.

Eighth grade student in Georgia got suspended for five days because of a fight. Let's play some of that. Oh, there we go. There's the graphic. OK. Fight. Roll the fight. I think we have video of this fight. It was a fight between two teenage girls on the school bus. Kid was not involved, but he was rolling on his camera, his cell phone. The faculty then confiscated his phone and he was told that he'd have to sign a discipline report and delete the video if he wanted to get his phone back. So they called his parents and the parents, of course, completely agreed with the school and felt that a harsh punishment was - no, actually --

(LAUGHTER)

No, because that would make -- that would be sane, and what they did was they called the local station in Atlanta and that makes the school then change their strategy. They returned the phone. They removed the incident from his disciplinary record. Let me read to you what this young man said about why he needed this phone.

He said, "Say if I go to a basketball practice tomorrow and I feel dehydrated and I'm about to pass out after practice, I don't have a phone to contact my parents or if I stay after school for tutoring, I can't call them to let them know to come and pick me up."

CROWLEY: You know, it's a miracle that human race survived until cell phones showed up.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Until that, people were passed out on the floor everywhere, locked in rooms, suffocating, dehydrating.

MARTIN: This also points to me the stupidity of school policy when you are suspending students. First of all, there's no good when a student is at home.

O'BRIEN: But in-school suspension. So he was actually --

MARTIN: Now, that's better. So, first, when you say suspension --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Why are they changing their mind? A kid who shoots on his camera phone two girls were fighting on the bus, even though he's not in the fist fight, I think that's bad. I think that's wrong --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I think he should be punished.

MARTIN: So, if he shot the video and one of the girls was injured and we now have the video because of it, so exactly why is shooting the video cause for suspension? Were the girls fighting suspended?

O'BRIEN: I think the policy should be, you should get the bus driver to pull over and break up the fight before someone gets --

CAIN: I'm with Roland Martin on this. I think the video serves as good evidence to be a remedial measure in the future. Who was the instigator? Who got hurt? I mean --

O'BRIEN: -- shooting video instead of sort of egging the thing on. He shouldn't video to be a remedial measure --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Did he upload it to Facebook or YouTube? No.

O'BRIEN: I think he was trying to. Before he was able to, they stopped him. What happened to the day when the parents would say, "That is wrong?" They support the school. I think the school is right.

CAIN: What's strong? Why is it wrong?

MARTIN: Being taping the fight?

O'BRIEN: Because the fight should be -- the goal should be not to videotape a fight.

CAIN: Why?

O'BRIEN: Because I think the efforts should be put into stopping the fight. You've seen this every time we've rolled any video of some people fighting, right? There are people who are videotaping and essentially what they're doing by their presence is they're egging it on. And I know you're saying that he --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- acting as if I'm getting evidence for later.

MARTIN: I know. Suppose they intervene in a fight and they got hurt?

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: We don't need to videotape every instance of bad conduct and put it on YouTube, but I also think it's just kind of fighting the tide. This is just what kids do now. And you know --

O'BRIEN: Yes. And they should be suspended for it.

CROWLEY: And they're going to pass out, be dehydrated, all on the floor, begging for water.

MARTIN: We're not going to have a chance to show videos on TV.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk a short break and be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Tonight President Obama and Mitt Romney will go head to head in what is being called one of the most consequential presidential debates in American history. When they meet in this hall in 13 hours it will be only the fourth time that they've met. They've spent days preparing to challenge each other on domestic policy, including the economy and health care. It's on the heels of a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll that says the president's lead has shrunk to within the margin of error and also matches our CNN poll of polls. Brand new battleground polls released this morning from NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal" as well match those polls.

Let's get right to Barbara Comstock. She's a senior adviser for the Romney campaign. It's nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us. How do you think this is going to go? If you had to give me a sense, tomorrow morning when we're talking about it, give me the breakdown. Do you think Mitt Romney wins this by a landslide?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, SENIOR ADVISER, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, listen, I think the press will probably -- no matter what happens, they can already write their stories, many of the mainstream press. What is going to be great tonight --

O'BRIEN: What do you mean by that? Excuse me, forgive me for interrupting you. You said the mainstream press will be able to write their stories already, what do you mean by that?

COMSTOCK: They've been cheerleading for Barack Obama for weeks now and I think they'll continue, but I'm not concerned about that. This will be the opportunity for Mitt Romney to talk directly to the American people without that filter and tell them about his plan for the next four years, because the American people, the American middle class, know that they've been buried for the past four years, to borrow Joe Biden's phrase. They have been buried by debt, the higher taxes, and know they're going to be buried further. In my state of Virginia, small businesses and families will get hit hard by the Obama tax increases as well as the defense cuts.

So that's why we like the plan of Mitt Romney, which is going to, on day one, allow us to do things like the Keystone Pipeline, open up that. Those are good high-paying jobs, reverse regulations on coal that have cut 1,200 jobs in Virginia. Also, tell the state that --

O'BRIEN: Excuse me. I was going to say, you think he's going to lay all of that out tonight in this 90-minute debate, all of those points?

COMSTOCK: Sure. He's going to be talking about how he's going to turn around the economy and how he's going to have an across the board tax cut for all Americans to get rid of the loopholes and special interest things so that you can have a flatter, fairer tax code for everybody and start economic growth again. This president, Barack Obama, thinks --

O'BRIEN: As you know, people who crunched those numbers say that the math does not work out.

COMSTOCK: No. Soledad, that's incorrect. Not many people -- one left wing group that has Obama people in it has said that. In fact, the American Enterprise Institute released a study that shows it's Barack Obama's plan that will increase taxes an average of, I believe it was $4,000 a family. We know on January 1 we're going to have the biggest tax increase in history that Barack Obama has allowed to go forward.

O'BRIEN: There are numerous groups that say that tax plan is not fundable. In fact, when FOX News did an interview on that very subject, we know that the vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, said, "I don't have time to do the math for you." He did a very tough interview with Chris Wallace, who was trying to figure out the math behind that tax plan. So it's not just one Obama-led organization that says it doesn't work. There are a number.

COMSTOCK: There is a group that -- they have been putting their ads on -- listen, we know when you cut taxes, this is what we've done in Virginia, and we're the number one place for jobs. We know when you cut taxes and get money back into people's pockets, get it back into the small businesses, keep them in the States, keep the money in those businesses instead of sending it to Washington, then you have economic growth. This president's stimulus failed, that trillion dollar spending got us higher unemployment, not lower. His health care bill has already increased premiums by $2,000 to $3,000 a family, not lowered them. Now he's going to increase taxes on us. His tax increases are going to kill 700,000 more jobs.

O'BRIEN: You're certainly throwing out a lot of numbers and lot of statistics. There are many people would completely disagree with you. Unfortunately, we're out of time.

COMSTOCK: Soledad, I know you have your talking points, but the 700,000 comes from an independent study that shows the president's tax increases will kill 700,000 jobs.

O'BRIEN: I don't have talking points; I have questions. And I believe you have talking points and I would actually say people on both sides of the aisle have talking points, and my job is to try to --

COMSTOCK: We have four years of -- you know, we have four years of experience of Barack Obama with doubling gas prices and unemployment at sustained highs. You have the experience of that, and that's what the American people see. Now they're going to get to hear from Mitt Romney talk about his vision for the next four years to get the economy growing. They know that they've been buried. The middle class has been buried for the past four years. They know that experience. So it doesn't matter how you want to spin it. The past four years we're not better off.

O'BRIEN: Only one person who is spinning at this moment, and that would be you. But I appreciate you joining us. Barbara Comstock, always nice to talk with you.

COMSTOCK: OK. Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that. CNN is going to have complete live coverage of the presidential debate. That starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. You can watch it on CNN or go to CNN.com.

Other news, John Berman has that for us. BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. A Pennsylvania judge has temporarily blocked the key component of that identification law. Voters will not have to show a state of proof photo I.D. in order to cast a ballot in next month's presidential election. Supporters of law say it's designed to prevent fraud at the polls, but supporters claim it's an attempt to suppress the traditionally Democratic minority vote.

At $165 million, this may sound like a steal. The Obama administration has decided to buy an empty Illinois state prison once considered for relocating Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The facility will house high security federal inmates and alleviate overcrowding in other prisons. Officials say it will not be used for any Guantanamo detainees, which is prohibited by law.

A rash of burglaries plaguing lawmakers on Capitol Hill. At least five members of Congress have reported break-ins at their offices on Capitol Hill, the latest victim, North Carolina Congressman Mike McIntyre. Police say between August 3rd and September 11th, someone broke into his office and stole two bottles of scotch, three presidential Easter eggs, two bottles of cologne, and $1,000 worth of cuff links. That's a burglar with strange tastes.

O'BRIEN: Presidential Easter egg? What is that?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: There is a news anchor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who took on a viewer who personally attacked her in an e-mail. The viewer accused Jennifer Livingston of being a poor example to girls because of her weight. And so this anchor called the viewer out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIVINGSTON: To the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don't know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don't see? You don't know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family and you have admitted that you don't watch this show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Good for her.

O'BRIEN: Yay!

BERMAN: That was just a sample of her four minutes.

O'BRIEN: I love her.

Still ahead this morning. She did not. They didn't let her. Still ahead, a homeless man changes his life with his voice. He credits the government for helping him succeed. We'll tell you that story, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

From homeless singer to opera star, Soloman Howard says his determination along with some help from the government has changed his life.

Barbara Starr is live for us from Washington, D.C. with more on this remarkable story. Hey Barbara, good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. You know, with the debate tonight and all the talk of about the 47 percent of Americans too dependent on the government, I want you to meet a man who you might think fits that easy label but, really, he's a powerhouse unto himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARR (voice-over): 31-year-old Soloman Howard sings to the rich and powerful.

His basso profundo has brought him here to the Kennedy Center, singing in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" with the Washington National Opera.

It's as far away as you can get from this -- one of Washington, D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods, where Soloman grew up the eldest of seven children.

SOLOMAN HOWARD, BASS, WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA: We lost our home and then stayed with families, different families. We -- we sometimes would walk, you know, until we could find something, somewhere to stay.

STARR: His family, part of the 47 percent referred to by Republican candidate Mitt Romney in that controversial video addressing wealthy Republican donors, but Soloman says his mother and stepfather never thought it was the government's job to take care of them.

HOWARD: They always, you know, instilled great values and morals in us and you know just never to give up and to keep pursuing.

STARR: After a life of food stamps and no health care, finally a teacher heard Soloman sing.

HOWARD: And she said, "No, I want you to try this. You're going to be serious about it and see what you have."

STARR: There was a college scholarship, an audition before opera legend Placido Domingo. The help was needed but Soloman says don't put him and his family in some category of easy labels.

(on camera): As a family that's been through it --

HOWARD: Yes.

STARR: When you see this debate in the country the whole 47 percent question. You know -- HOWARD: Right.

STARR: -- what do you want people to really begin to understand about that?

HOWARD: Assistance is very important. I remember a few times where we ate off of the Salvation Army food truck, you know. So that was something that, you know, had Salvation Army not been there, maybe I would have missed a meal that night or those few nights.

But -- what the government does for us here is very helpful. At the same time, we do have to take responsibility for ourselves.

STARR (voice-over): Oh, by the way, this opera singer would also like to do other things.

HOWARD: I do voiceovers. This is CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So if everybody thinks they know the face of the 47 percent, think again when you meet Soloman Howard. And you know he will tell you that music and opera set him free from the time he first started singing when he was three years old he says and his mother put him on the table at church and told him to sing. And of course he, no surprise, is a huge advocate of government-funded music education for children. He says the kind of help is vital and you never know what gifts a young child has to offer he says.

O'BRIEN: Well, forget the whole opera thing. I like the way he said "This is CNN". They'll hire him on the spot.

MARTIN: James Earl Jones.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Barbara Starr. Thank you Barbara.

STARR: Soloman wants you to know, that's his fantasy voice-over.

O'BRIEN: Oh well, I vote for him. Thanks, Barbara. I appreciate it.

Coming up next, let's eat, shall we? We're checking out the best food in the world, with culinary superstar Tom Parker Bowles. He's the son of Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall. He's going to join us to talk about his new cookbook. We're back in just a moment.

MARTIN: You made a lot of food.

O'BRIEN: Yes, how are you?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Despite his connection to England's royal family, Tom Parker Bowles has more than aristocratic taste. He's just as content to hang out in the kitchen making a simple home cooked meal.

He's the son, of course, of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Prince Charles is his stepfather. He also happens to be an award-winning food writer with a new book out which is called "Let's Eat: Recipes from my Kitchen Notebook." It's nice to have you with us.

TOM PARKER BOWLES, AUTHOR, "LET'S EAT": Nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: Roland is a little annoyed that you didn't bring the whole -- you know the British aren't really known for their food. Is that a misperception?

BOWLES: I think it's a misperception. I mean, the idea of coming and writing an essay is not an English recipe book. But I came to America and said this is about English food, everyone would collapse into laughter, saying English food is boring and over cooked and turgid. But it's not. English food is simple: good ingredients treated well. We had a bad 50 years after the war. But I promise you now, you go to London, there's some of the best food. Even Smoked salmon, potted shrimp, roast beef, you know, blood with Yorkshire puddings -- done well, it's absolutely beautiful.

O'BRIEN: Can your mother, Camilla Parker Bowles, cook?

BOWLES: She can. Yes and you wouldn't have thought of it but she can --

O'BRIEN: You know, I would think of her doing aristocratic stuff.

BOWLES: No, but like roast chicken, she's got really good chicken covered with butter. Put a lemon up its posterior. You can say that on television?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

BOWLES: OK, OK, but - and then cover it and roast it at a high heat so the skin is like golden and crisp.

O'BRIEN: Yummy.

CAIN: I just want to give you a chance to meet a Texan. I know you're a big fan. You say here you love Texas. Here's another one. You love their booze, their food, the people.

BOWLES: I love them.

CAIN: How did you use Texas cuisine in this cookbook? How does it make its way into English food? Chicken fried steak?

BOWLES: There is chicken fried steak. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't tell a Texan how to cook. On the other hand there is pulled pork, I know that's more Carolinas. I would put brisket in but I haven't got the perfect recipe for it, but I am obsessed with barbecue, the American barbecue.

O'BRIEN: You're an aristocrat. I mean, you were raised in the top schools, right?

BOWLES: I suppose. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's true. He's being modest.

Would you say you prefer sort of a high-end food or do you like street food?

BOWLES: Street food, straight out. I mean, wherever you go. I mean in America, been to Philadelphia, so you have your Philly cheesesteak. The week before, Nashville, so hot chicken, Prince's Hot Chicken. That is amazing. Extra hot, yes. Everything. I can eat those towers and smears and all that sort of stuff, that's fine. I want to eat stuff from the street. I want to eat real food because it tastes nice. This is the stuff that makes you happy and it's food for the soul.

MARTIN: Pancake?

BOWLES: Anything. But you think --

O'BRIEN: Is that street food?

MARTIN: There you go.

BOWLES: But Mexico (INAUDIBLE) has the best street food in the world. America has the best down-home cooking in the world, I think. I don't want to go and eat this wonderful stuff. You can eat that anywhere in the world, it's all the same, whether in Hong Kong or whether in the U.K.

O'BRIEN: You say you're not a chef but a greedy cook.

BOWLES: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What does that mean?

BOWLES: Well, chefs -- you know, the chefs work on one section. They work in kitchens -- one person is on meat, one person is on the veg, whatever. I'm a cook so you're cooking for everybody. So there's nothing less than having a glass of wine, Planet Rock playing in the background and cooking all day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you had to find good barbecue in London, could you do it?

BOWLES: There's one place. One place. People in London thought that barbecue was brilliant. But there's one place called "Pig Hugo" (ph), they're American of course, they do good pulled pork and they have a proper smoker. This is like -- you know, I miss barbecue. I live in London --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: There you go.

O'BRIEN: Just e-mail. He can send you some FedEx.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or another group.

BOWLES: No. It's probably sort of cable radio station but it has Zeppelin and Pink Floyd--

O'BRIEN: The book is called "Let's Eat: Recipes From My Kitchen Notebook". It's nice to have you with us. Thanks for being with us.

BOWLES: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point". We only have 45 seconds. Who wants to start?

MARTIN: Michael, what have you got?

CROWLEY: Well, I'm hungry and I want barbecue.

O'BRIEN: Here is a cookbook. Make your own.

CROWLEY: And on a more serious note, the Tax Policy Center -- that's not a left wing group, that Barbara Comstock called it that. It's a good study. They're centrists. The Romney campaign is in high talking point mode themselves.

O'BRIEN: She certainly is. Yes, Will Cain, why are you grinning?

CAIN: On a more serious note, I used the term "way back" when referring to the back of the plane. Apparently Twitter has informed me that that is a term from the '80s to reference the way back seat of a Volvo station wagon.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely right. Or any station wagon.

CAIN: In reference to Suburbans but --

O'BRIEN: I call the way back. What have you got? Ten seconds, Roland.

MARTIN: Yes. I'm going to videotape you and Will Cain fighting and I'm going to upload it. And so I don't want to get suspended.

O'BRIEN: That's it for time.

Of course, we want to remind you the first presidential debate is on tonight on CNN, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Complete analysis obviously tomorrow morning, right here on STARTING POINT starting at 7:00 a.m.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello starts right now. I'll see you tomorrow. Hey, Carol.