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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Game On; Obama & Romney Go Toe-To-Toe; Interview with John McCain; Presidential Debate Assessed; Local News Anchor Fights Back; Big Bird: Debate Newsmaker

Aired October 4, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Our STARTING POINT: Game on.

Obama and Mitt Romney go toe to toe in the first presidential debate. The verdict is in.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, the average person making 3 million bucks is getting a $250,000 tax break.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.

O'BRIEN: Obama stumbles.

OBAMA: Last point I can make before --

JIM LEHRER, DEBATE MODERATOR: Two minutes -- your two minutes is up, sir.

OBAMA: No, I think I had five seconds before you interrupted me.

O'BRIEN: Romney shines.

ROMNEY: Mr. President, you are entitled as the president to your own plane and to your own house, but not to your own facts.

O'BRIEN: Most importantly, did the debate change votes?

OBAMA: I think the American people have to ask themselves is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?

ROMNEY: What we're seeing right now is, in my view, a trickle-down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams and it's not working.

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, October 4th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning to talk about last night's debate: Brett O'Donnell is with us, presidential campaign debate adviser extraordinaire. I'm going to add that on the end there.

Roland Martin is host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin," which airs on TV One, of course.

And Will Cain is a columnist -- you can't help yourself.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Got to have an interesting intro.

O'BRIEN: Oh, God, it's already starting.

TheBlaze.com extraordinaire.

CAIN: Extraordinaire. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Dana Bash, also extraordinaire.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: She's senior congressional correspondent.

John Berman, also extraordinaire, CNN anchor "EARLY START." TV people --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't feel special.

O'BRIEN: You are special -- you're especially extraordinaire.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, of course, is the debate. There were no knockouts. And there were no little zingers. Not even close in the first of three presidential debates, some sharp exchanges on pocket issues between President Obama, though, and Mitt Romney. And by most accounts, it was Mitt Romney who was the clear winner.

Covering this from many angles this morning.

Republican John McCain of Arizona is coming up to talk with us.

Also, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki is going to be with us.

Austan Goolsbee, he's a former economic adviser to President Obama. We'll be talking with him as well.

First, though, we want to start with some of the delights and maybe the low lights of the night. Most of the evening, it was Mitt Romney who was the aggressor. As for offense, the president took a page out of the struggling New York Jets playbook. I'm sorry to say, and struggling, yes.

It was not a strong defense -- hey, that's fair. It was not a strong defense by anybody's calculation.

O'DONNELL: I thought the best defense is a good defense. Not the best offense is the good defense.

O'BRIEN: Oh, CNN/ORC poll, which was taken right after the debate -- I'm taking back your extraordinaire.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, smack!

O'BRIEN: Sixty-seven percent said they thought that Mitt Romney won. It was only 25 percent who said they thought the president won.

Dana, some highlights and low lights for us?

BASH: That's right.

I want to play a couple of sound bite that is really encapsulate what both men actually did right last night.

First of all, on Mitt Romney, he really was aggressive but he went after President Obama on the whole idea of doing health care instead of jobs -- also trying to move his way back to the middle after being so far to the right during the primaries. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table and spent his energy and passion for two years for fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people. It has killed jobs.

And the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state -- craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state and then let's focus on getting the costs down for people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Mitt Romney talking, once again, about his health care plan in Massachusetts, which he shied away from big time for months and months when he was running against fellow Republicans.

Let's look at President Obama. He, for the most part, was not very aggressive, to say the least, when it came to challenging Governor Romney on some of the specifics. But there was a moment where he tried on the issue of health care and on the issue of his economic plan. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He says that he's going to close deductions and loopholes for his tax plan. That's how it's going to be paid for. But we don't know the details.

He says that he's going to replace Dodd-Frank, Wall Street reform. We don't know exactly which ones. He won't tell us.

He now he says he's going to replace Obamacare and assure that all the good things that are in it are going to be in there and you don't have to worry.

And at some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping al these plans to replace secret because they're too good?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, a big part of debate prep and of getting ready for this -- in fact, Brett, I talked to you about this before the debate itself, because you helped Governor Romney during the primaries. It's not only what you say, it's also what you don't say and maybe even most importantly, as you said, is the body language you have.

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE ADVISER: How you say it.

BASH: How you say it or don't say it. And the fact that President Obama looked like he would rather be fishing or doing something else, that was the overwhelming impression that everybody got, especially to contrast that with Mitt Romney, who came to play.

O'BRIEN: There's performance that I think people are measuring and that's why Mitt Romney certainly gets high points for performance. But there's also a measure of substantive, bringing your game to actually have a debate and I think Mitt Romney clearly also, on that measure, was way ahead.

CAIN: Brett is the debate coach but Mike Deaver, Ronald Reagan's famous media adviser, said when you're dealing with television -- make no mistake, debates are television -- it's 85-10-5, 85 percent is how you look, 10 percent how you say it, and 5 percent what you say.

Do you agree with that, Brett?

O'DONNELL: I agree with that largely. And if you watch the body language last night, Governor Romney was constantly directing his comments right at President Obama, making eye contact -- and the president kept looking down. The more the debate went on, the more he looked down.

O'BRIEN: Let's bring in Jen Psaki, because, of course, the spin started immediately, right, in the spin room I guess right after the debate.

CAIN: During the debate.

O'BRIEN: During the debate, tweeting during the debate.

Jen Psaki, of course, is the traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign. JEN PSAKI, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Nice to see you. Good morning to you.

You know, we heard Stephanie Cutter, who was spinning. She was talking with Jessica Yellin last night. She said this. I want to play a little chunk of that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ROMNEY: My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit. That's point one. Simpson-Bowles, the president --

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I'm just going to read it to you. Sorry, Jen. Let me read it to you.

Stephanie said this when she came out to the spin room. She said, "Yes, Mitt Romney, he absolutely wins the preparation. He wins the style points. That's what's not dogging his campaign."

If you actually look at the polls you can see the polls when you ask people who won, 67 percent think it was Mitt Romney who won. You can't tell me that that was just a judgment on preparation and on style. Some of that has to be winning on substance, right?

PSAKI: Well, look, I don't think the American people make a judgment on who they're going to vote for by an instant poll coming out of a debate. They're not looking for an attacker in chief, which is what Mitt Romney was last night. They're looking for a commander in chief.

And the president's calm, you know, delivered performance and him laying out his policies and where he wanted to move the country forward, I think when people are talking about it in Florida and Ohio and Iowa this morning, that's what they'll be focused on.

O'BRIEN: People may not say attacker in chief but may say somebody who did not grab opportunities that were presented and given to him.

First, there was no mention of the 47 percent. That had been a conversation. All these things that were actually in your own campaign's ads, frankly, I was surprised they weren't brought up at any point.

Bain Capital, that could have been an area for conversation, wasn't brought up. Didn't respond to that $716 billion gutting of Medicare, which is a number that has been debunked. Governor Romney brought that up

Didn't talk about taxes. Didn't talk about immigration. I was surprised about all of that.

Why was that missing? Why not?

PSAKI: Well, look, the president didn't go into the debate last night with a checklist of attack lines that he wanted to deliver on.

And coming out of the debate, I think what people will remember as we talk about this over the next couple of days is that Mitt Romney doubled down on a number of policies that have bedeviled his campaign. Vouchering Medicare, you know, a tax cut plan that helps millionaires and billionaires and doesn't help the middle class. And coming out of it, we still didn't hear details.

And that's what I think the American people were looking for from Mitt Romney, as they were looking ahead to the debate last night.

O'BRIEN: Jen, I'm going to disagree with you. I don't think what people will remember coming out of this debate is what you just laid out.

I think people will remember is that Mitt Romney seemed aggressive. He seemed in control. He seemed comfortable. He seemed energetic. And the president seemed the opposite of all of those things.

What went wrong?

PSAKI: Well, agree to disagree. I think Mitt Romney also -- you know, he had an opportunity to lay out details on his $5 trillion tax plan and instead he relied on, you know, a magic calculator with magic math. He came in, needing a game changing performance.

O'BRIEN: Some people would say that was it. Honestly, Jen, we were just having that conversation.

Let me ask Brett actually because --

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: I think we judge that, Soledad, by -- will he be up by 10 points in Ohio? Is he going to be leading in Iowa?

O'BRIEN: OK.

PSAKI: That's where the game changing performance means.

O'BRIEN: I buy that's a long-term question.

Let me ask Brett a question.

So, what Jen says, and I think very rightly, is sort of being able to have good numbers among people who were polled immediately after, who watched the debate, does it actually have an impact -- does it translate to actual viewers in actual swing states?

O'DONNELL: It absolutely does, because what this does is it changes the narrative. It puts -- it sets a narrative in place over the next several weeks that Governor Romney is more adept at handling facts, that he's actually doing better on the likability scale than President Obama is, that he is forward thinking about the debate. So, I absolutely do think it makes a big difference. ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I will say -- I don't think folks are going to say he's more adept at handling facts because he was fact-challenged on several things last night.

But, Jen, the president -- you talk about a commander in chief. They also want someone to fight. And so, when Mitt Romney is making his points and the president doesn't come back and say, Mitt, do you support reinstating Glass-Steagall, you're talking about corporate welfare. He muddied some of his arguments.

And so, at the end of the day, when you're in a fight, you actually have to fight.

PSAKI: Well, Roland, you know the president pretty well and have covered him a long time. He did hold Mitt Romney accountable and really went after him on issues that people care about. That's lack of details on his tax cut plan, voucherizing Medicare. I think if you're a senior in Florida, that's what you're thinking about this morning. I agree with you and have to go back at Brett here on the facts question.

I think Mitt Romney failed. He got an F for delivery of facts. I mean, think, you know, he was time and time again misleading the American people. I think when we go back through the transcript of last night, that's going to be a take away as well.

O'BRIEN: Which we've done. Of course, some of those facts that we fact checked was true, Mitt Romney was making up or was actually untrue on some of his facts, if you will. But, again, you didn't hear the president jump in and say that is incorrect, that is wrong. That has been debunked. There was no sort of energy on that.

But, Jen before I let you go, I have to ask you a question about the moderator. What did you think of Jim Lehrer as a moderator?

PSAKI: Yes.

Look, I think -- I'm not going to get in here into evaluating the moderator. I think the president did what he needed to do, which was to speak directly to the American people. We're going to evaluate this by what people at home were thinking and what people on their couch came away with.

And we think that, you know, Mitt Romney doubling down on his failed policies, voucherizing Medicare, giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires and leaving the burned burden on the middle class is going to be a big problem for him in the days ahead.

O'BRIEN: We'll certainly be watching the poll numbers to see if that is the case, or the opposite is the case.

Jen Psaki, always nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us.

PSAKI: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Several more debates, of course, are still ahead. Next up is the battle of the number twos, Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan will be facing off on October 11th. That's going to take place in Danville, Kentucky, their only debate.

October 16th is the second presidential debate. That's going to be moderated by our very own Candy Crowley in Hempstead, Long Island.

And third and final encounter which will be, again, between President Obama and Governor Romney will take place on October 22nd and that is in Boca Raton in Florida.

There are other stories that are making news today. John Berman has that for us. Good morning again.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad.

Violence is escalating this morning along the Syrian/Turkish border. There are reports Turkish parliament has authorized military operations against foreign countries if necessary, including Syria. Turkish forces shelled Syrian targets overnight after Syrian artillery fire killed five civilians in a Turkish border town. Three children were among those killed.

Syria has offered its condolences but Turkey says it has not received an explanation, even though its government says they do not want to engage in a war.

A Philadelphia cop seen punching a woman in a YouTube video will be fired. The city's police commissioner says Lieutenant Jonathan Josey will be suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss after he serves that suspension. He punched this woman last weekend during Philadelphia's Puerto Rican Day parade. This video has been viewed more than 1 million times.

O'BRIEN: I guess someone spilled water, right? And he turned around and thought it was the woman, she was holding a bottle. And he assumed it came from her and reached up and clocked her when really it was someone on the other side of her who did it. But he assumed that.

BERMAN: That video now seen 1 million times.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: What we tell our children. Think before you clock.

MARTIN: Think before you clock.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, John. Sorry.

BERMAN: We've got a couple of sports items now.

Miggy is the man. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera becoming the first player in baseball to win the Triple Crown in 45 years. This is one of baseball's rarest accomplishments, one player leading in batting average, home runs, runs batted in. Cabrera finished the season with a .330 average, along with 44 home runs, 139 RBIs.

Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski was the last player to win a Triple Crown. That was back in 1967. It did take all 162 games to decide the final playoff picture in major league baseball. The New York Yankees beat the Red Sox last night --

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. Repeat that. What did you say?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: They clinch the American league title for the 13th time in 17 years --

O'BRIEN: 13th time, huh?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: The Oakland A's overcame a 13-game deficit in late June. They now have the American league west title with a 12-5 victory over the Texas Rangers.

MARTIN: Will Cain not happy.

BERMAN: The playoffs start tomorrow.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: As if this wasn't painful enough, it has been a painful season for Boston manager, Bobby Valentine, maybe hopefully, former manager soon. His --

(CHANTING) Ooh!

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- Valentine crashed his bike while riding in Central Park. He says he was checking a text from one of his players, Dustin Pedroia. He swerved to avoid hitting a couple of tourists (ph). Valentine suffered minor injuries. And, I'm not making this up. There is speculation that Valentine could be fired today.

O'BRIEN: And he is with the Red Sox, right? And they were beaten by the Yankees last night, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Jets and Giants still terrible. Knock off the baseball stuff. They kill me on the Yankee stuff, Will. Come on --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We're not turning --

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. Up next, we're going to continue the conversation --

MARTIN: Fight, Will, fight.

O'BRIEN: Sshhh! -- about the candidates plans about the economy. We're going to be talking to the former economic adviser to President Obama, Austan Goolsbee is going to join us up next.

Then, a little bit later, from team Romney, Senator John McCain will be our guest. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It was Vice President Joe Biden who is kind of in the minority of people this morning who think that President Obama was the big winner in the debate last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you just finished watching the debate like I did, I'm sure you're as proud of President Obama as I am. You know, I've been saying for a long time, this election presents the starkest choice in my memory. And I think the president did a wonderful job in making just how -- making it clear just how stark that choice is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, I think he's right about the election presents the starkest choice in his memory. Polls, though, and pundits on both sides don't agree with the other parts of what he said. Much of the debate focused on economic issues. Lots of the buzz was that Mitt Romney came out strong while it was President Obama who actually was not strong.

Let's bring in the man who advised President Obama for years about the economy. Austan Goolsbee is a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. It's nice to have you with us.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FMR. CHIEF ECONOMIST, RECOVERY ADVISORY BOARD: Great to see you.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to run sort of pieces of the debate last night, and then, we'll open it up for discussion. The first interesting conversation, I thought, was this $5 trillion tax cut. Let's play what the president said. Let's play what Mitt Romney had as a rejoinder and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, that's another trillion dollars and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. ROMNEY: My number one principle is there'll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. So, I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So, there's no economist can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds 5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, walk me through how that could work. How can both of those two sound bites be true? Can you cut $5 trillion, not raise taxes, and make up enough money to hold that gap?

GOOLSBEE: I don't think so. I certainly would -- if you walk through the numbers, they don't. I thought in that -- at that moment in the debate, I thought Mitt Romney was trying to make news that he was saying, OK, look, if it actually adds up to 5 trillion, then I'm just going to scale it down rather than keep going ahead with the tax cut.

I thought, in some sense, one of the weak spots there for the president was he didn't go after it more. And it kind of descended into this in the weeds discussion about scoring and different non- partisan centers that had evaluated him.

But I think, fundamentally, that comes out of the debate as a substantive point that Romney may end up regretting because they're going to go back and they're going to say, now hold on. You specifically said you would cut this tax, this tax, this tax.

O'BRIEN: A lot of promises.

GOOLSBEE: They add up to 5 trillion. How can you pay for that? I think that will linger a bit.

CAIN: Austan, the only way he's ever going to pay for that if somebody asks him specifically what loopholes and deductions are you proposing to do away with? And the president did ask that question. In fact, no one --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Chris Wallace has, actually. Paul Ryan.

GOOLSBEE: And I think the bigger issue is you can take every single deduction there is, abolish them all, and it doesn't add up to $5 trillion.

CAIN: No, no. I can't agree with you on that. There've been many states (INAUDIBLE) you can dine loopholes. The Tax Policy Center says you're now referring to was incomplete, and they've revised it since then.

GOOLSBEE: I'm not just referring to that analysis.

O'DONNELL: In the debate last night, Governor Romney actually did talk about how he would eliminate some deductions. But remember, he talked about he'd have a bucket that he can fill up --

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: What was he saying in that bucket was he said, OK, let's just make up a number. Here's what the number is. He said it could be $50,000. If you capped deductions at $50,000, you're not even in the ballpark of $5 trillion.

MARTIN: It was not a specific. It was not a specific. What are the actual loopholes? And I think that was part of the issue there. Also, we talk about the economic issues. He kept hitting the president on the $90 billion and he said we could hire two million teachers when it came to environmental concerns. But the president never responded to it. Not one time.

GOOLSBEE: Used that figure twice, by the way.

BASH: OK. On that note, you know the president well. You were one of his top advisers until like five minutes ago. What happened? Where was he last night?

GOOLSBEE: He looked tired to me. I mean, I think a lot of people said that it felt like -- I don't know. You could see Mitt Romney had prepared, was crisp, was right on. This felt more like a guy who hasn't debated for four years, to me. I mean, it looked like he wasn't, you know, he wasn't honed, he wasn't in fighting weight on those points.

O'DONNELL: -- inexcusable on his prep team? I mean, you know, the Romney team didn't make it a secret that they've been preparing.

GOOLSBEE: Prepping all along. Look, I mean, the thing is, ultimately, it's partly the fault of the prep team, but the president's got -- it's difficult after four years, you know, you haven't debated. It's a different format, but he's got to step up and do that. On the 90 billion for clean energy staff, even there, I think what Mitt Romney was referring to were loan guarantees where obviously it doesn't cost $90 billion if the loan guarantee is on a $90 billion sized loan. It's only the loss rate times 90 billion.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: -- it wasn't just for those particular companies. That's why he was wrong.

GOOLSBEE: So, the president just didn't make that clear. And I think the bigger thing was the Medicare charge. You know, 716 billion.

O'BRIEN: We talked about that earlier. Some of us surprised --

GOOLSBEE: -- that it was usually piled on with three or four things at the same time. And so, the president was kind of responding to the first two of the list. But the fact that you got to the end and hadn't refuted that, I think, you know, was -- Romney looked strong and it seemed like the content, which is where the president was going to try to make up the difference, ended up getting muddled and kind of down in the weeds. And I think, on a lot of the facts, the president was correct, but it was so intricate that it was muddled.

O'BRIEN: Austan Goolsbee, always nice to have you. Thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.

Got to take a short break. Four years ago, it was John McCain who was squaring off with President Obama. We're going to get the Arizona senator's take on the debate performance last night when he joins us live. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's continue talking about last night's debate. Afterward, one CNN analyst, David Gergen, said we have a horse race. Last night, President Obama and Mitt Romney met on stage at the University of Denver. They were shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries and then basically ripped into each other and their policies for the next 90 minutes. Listen to a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: the president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more, if you will, trickle-down government would work. That's not the right answer for America.

OBAMA: At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good? Is it because that, somehow, middle class families are going to benefit too much from them? No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: John McCain is a Republican senator, former presidential candidate. He is the last person, in fact, to have debated the president. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for being with us.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. Sunday you told Candy Crowley, don't expect any surprises. Did you see any surprises last night?

MCCAIN: Well, I was surprised at how well Mitt did. And I think it was very important, because he came across as the person he really is as opposed to how he has been portrayed by hundreds of millions of dollars of attack ads. And obviously I was surprised frankly at the president's poor performance. But part of it is four years ago, it was about hope and change. Now it's about choice. And the president had a record to defend. And he didn't do a very good job at it.

O'BRIEN: Our polling shows that governor Romney won the debate. This is a poll of people who just watched the debate, 67 percent picked Mitt Romney as winning the debate, 25 percent picked the president as winning the debate. Back when you debated senator Obama at the time, he won the debate, 51 percent for then Senator Obama, 38 percent for you. And, more importantly, the overall election poll showed that he moved up in the polling three percentage points after that debate. Do you see a similar bounce for Governor Romney? Do you see a bigger bounce because the numbers, in some ways, are bigger?

MCCAIN: I do. And, again, it was all about hope and change and what the president was going to do. And he didn't have a record. He didn't have a record in the Senate of much note. Now he has a record of four years of the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression.

Last night was so bad if it had been a fight, they would have stopped it. And really one of the telling points, I thought, in the debate was when the question -- the last question about why don't people work together and sit down and work together, Mitt made an argument that's what he had done in Massachusetts and would do and the president basically said well, some people, you can't work with because the fact is, he has not reached across the aisle to work with Republicans. And that's what Americans want us to do, all of us.

O'BRIEN: That's, as you know, not exactly the paraphrase of what the president said. I'll let you go on from that. Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for "The New York Times" was praising Mitt Romney's performance. He also said he wondered if Mitt Romney's mess- ups on the campaign trail were part of an elaborate rouse to put the president off guard. He also said this. He said "Fluency is not the same thing as perfect honesty. Romney has had his share of bogus lines, the promise to cut the deficit for cutting funding for PBS was the standout. Dubious arguments, the distinctions he drew between Romneycare and Obamacare were technically true but frequently misleading. Frank evasions of important issues, his various pivots to the center tellingly didn't include saying anything about how to help the uninsured." That critique is consistent with others who will say Mitt Romney, yet in terms of specific and details, he still has some problems.

MCCAIN: Of course, I don't agree with that. He gave a number of specifics. He gave a number of details. And the fact is that the American people want us to get out of this recession. They want us to work together. They want us to rely on the private sector as much as possible. Mr. Douthat didn't mention the fact that the president had no response to the $761 billion taken out of Medicare. I can prove that because it was my amendment on Obamacare to put it back in that was defeated by the Democrats.

So, look, if columnists from "The New York Times" who calls himself a conservative wants to say those things, fine. But even Democrat observers talked about how the president was really not only not on his game but said things that were absolutely not factual.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure everybody on both sides are prepping very hard. And you're right. Fact checkers on both sides were very busy last night. Just ask John Berman, sitting next to me. That was his gig last night. You have debated President Obama. Do you think it's possible to -- that he can do a comeback? Is it doable in what have you seen as someone who has prepped to be against him?

MCCAIN: I do, Soledad. This president is very smart. He's very intelligent. He's an excellent speaker. I think he was fairly rusty. He has had four years relatively unchallenged in the things that he has said. Mitt went through a very tough primary, as we all know. I think that showed up last night. I would not underestimate the president of the United States in the next couple of debates and I don't think Mitt will either.

O'BRIEN: The next debate is going to focus on foreign policy and our latest polling shows that President Obama has an advantage there, 52 percent to 43 percent even after the crisis in Libya that you and I have spoken a lot about. What do you think Governor Romney, who you support, what do you think he has to do to make headway there?

MCCAIN: I would just point out the facts, that we're in retreat, withdrawal, Iraq is unraveling, Al Qaeda is on the upswing every place in the Middle East. This terrible stuff that's going on of Afghans in uniform killing Americans in uniform. All the president has done has announced withdrawals, withdrawals. We're leaving. He has overruled his military advisers and we find ourselves in a terribly difficult position throughout the Middle East. The latest, of course, Benghazi, repeated warnings that there were threats to the security of the consulate, which were obviously ignored and the president flies to Las Vegas.

O'BRIEN: I assume the Obama campaign is listening, taking notes on that and preparing for those kinds of questions. Senator John McCain, thank you for your time this morning.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, new jobless numbers have just been released. What do those number say about the economy? We'll take a look at those straight ahead.

And she's not going to take it, a Wisconsin television anchor defending herself on air after a viewer attacked her by e-mail for being overweight. Her response, which we were all cheering yesterday, went viral. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER LIVINGSTON, NEW ANCHOR: If you are at home and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what, your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Jennifer Livingston, who is my hero and I love her, is going to come and talk to us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. This just in, those weekly jobless numbers are now in to CNN. Let's get right to Alison Kosik. She has the latest on that for us. Good morning. ALISON KOSIK, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Weekly jobless claims rose 4,000, 367,000. It shows that those layoffs continue and that the job market continues to be week.

And a major milestone for Facebook. The social networking site now reaches more than 1 billion active users every month. CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg said what it means for him personally when he talked to Matt Lauer of NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FOUNDER, FACEBOOK: It's just this amazing honor, to be able to come into work every day and build things that help a billion people stay connected with the people they care about every month, it's just unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: And shares of Facebook right now, Soledad, are up 1.5 percent possibly on that good news from Mark Zuckerberg. Congrats to him.

O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik for us. Appreciate the update.

On STARTING POINT coming up, we'll update you on that deadly meningitis outbreak. New information on that.

And Jennifer Livingston, the TV anchor who basically took out a guy who was bullying her via e-mail about her weight, what she said went viral. She'll join us, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone.

A couple of stories we're watching this morning. The FBI is not confirming reports that Mexican troops arrested two men suspected in the deadly shooting of a U.S. border patrol agent in Arizona. Nicholas Ivie was shot and killed Tuesday while responding to a trip ground center; a second agent was wounded in the attack but is now out of the hospital.

Then meningitis outbreak first spotted in Tennessee is now in five states killing four people. Dozens of people are infected and more cases are expected. All of those infected have received steroid injections to their spines. It's believed the steroid was contaminated with a fungus.

It is the third day with no school in one suburban Chicago community. Talks were held last night. But for now teachers in Evergreen Park, Illinois remain on strike. Increased health insurance costs, decreased retirement benefits and the message used to evaluate teachers in the districts are the main sticking points.

And in a separate development Chicago teachers union has voted to approve a three-year contract offer that put an end to their seven-day walkout last month. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced the nominees for the class of 2013. The big news if you're Canadian, Russia has been nominated for the first time after a major online push from fans. They've been eligible since 1998, go Tom Sawyer. Rock Pioneer, Public Enemy and NWA both received nominations in their first year of eligibility.

Also on the list, Deep Purple, one of the first British heavy metal bands; classic rockers Heart and the Motown girl group The Marvelettes. I think Donna Summers is also on the list. I would think she's the biggest one there -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's a good list. That's a good line up this year.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, fighting back. A TV news anchor blasts a mean viewer who called her, e-mailed her, and said that she was a bad role model because she's fat. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And listen to me right now. Do not mess with Jennifer Livingston. She will take you out on air; what she said sparked a frenzy. Jennifer Livingston is going to join us live, up next.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody.

A local newswoman is being praised as an inspiration this morning after taking on a bully. Her name is Jennifer Livingston, she's a morning anchor on WKBT News 8 in Wisconsin. She got an e-mail which called her obese and chastened her for -- chastised her rather for not being quote, "A suitable example for this community's young people."

Let me read a bit of that e-mail. "Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain."

Now Livingston planned to just brush off the e-mail but her husband, who's a fellow newscaster, posted the e-mail to his Facebook page. He got thousands of responses which inspired her to go on air and fire back. Listen to how that went.

(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)

O'BRIEN: Jennifer is in Wisconsin and she joins us by Skype. Jennifer thanks for being with us. When your husband decided to post this on Facebook, did you support that? I mean, it was a cruel and nasty e-mail. Were you ok with his decision?

LIVINGSTON: I was. He asked me, of course. And he said "I'm so angered. I'm so mad. I can't believe people are just so cruel. And I just want to show an example to our community of what still, as adults, people say to each other." And he wanted to basically make that an example of a lot of the different e-mails that we get.

That's about the most critical I've gotten, because it was so personal about me being a bad role model for young girls and I'm the mother of three girls. But I did give him permission.

O'BRIEN: Ok so then your reaction on air, did you -- did you have to run that by your bosses? Did you say I am going to take somebody out on TV today?

LIVINGSTON: I -- I did talk to my boss. You know, it had been ongoing discussion since I got the e-mail on Friday. And the response from viewers was so positive that she -- my -- my news director trusted my judgment and she said, I fully support you in whatever you decide to do.

And we made a choice not to use his name on air, because I really -- it's not about him. I just feel like it's about this culture of critical thinkers that were here.

I mean we all critique. Why do you have to share it? Why do you have to share it with people?

O'BRIEN: Oh let's name him anyway, Jennifer. Because yesterday I was thinking. If I were Jennifer, I would go ahead and name him. So his name is Kenneth Krause and he is actually standing by his -- his e- mail. He's gone on to say this in a statement. And I should mention first you got a ton of support as you mentioned and tons of people tweeting and supporting you, famous people.

Your brother is a well-known actor, Ron Livingston. So a lot of the people he, including other actors as well, really came to your side.

But here is what Kenneth Krause, the evil e-mailer, said in his statement. I know, you're -- you're refined and a lady and I'm not.

MARTIN: Work it, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: "I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region children by transforming herself for all her viewers to see over the next year. And to that end, I would be absolutely pleased to offer Jennifer any advice or support she would be willing to accept."

Is there anything that he could offer you that you would accept?

LIVINGSTON: Well I -- I hold no ill will toward him. And I hope that people don't bully the bully. I don't, you know, want to make him an evil representation of the whole world. I just -- I hope that at some point he will learn that he could have approached the topic in a much more kind way. He could have been a lot more gentle to say, I've noticed you've gained weight. I -- I work out a lot. I would be willing to offer you some advice. I -- you know, I -- I -- there's just so many other ways that he could have approached it than saying you're a poor role model for children. Obesity is a problem.

I know obesity is a problem. Trust me, I know that. I just -- I don't wish him any ill will. I -- I don't really particularly want to reach out to him and ask him for help.

O'BRIEN: Well, I hold ill will all the time, Jennifer. So - I know. Will Cain, it's mean. But Jennifer is obviously a much better person than I am. Jennifer, thank you for talking with us.

Yesterday we were absolutely cheering you. Because I love seeing somebody just getting mad and taking out someone who is clearly a bully in the format that you had and the platform that you had. Thank you for talking with us.

LIVINGSTON: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. A pleasure.

All right, I've got to take a break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: One of the big newsmakers of the debate last night was Big Bird, believe it or not, because at this moment. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I was talking to Sherrie Westin this week. She's the executive vice president for Sesame Workshop. And here is what she said about Mitt Romney's proposal to cut the funding to PBS -- he's mentioned that before. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRIE WESTIN, EXEC. VP, SESAME WORKSHOP: The Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship.

So quite frankly, you know, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of Public Broadcasting but when they always sort of tout out Big Bird and say we're going to kill Big Bird; that actually is misleading because "Sesame Street" will be here.

O'BRIEN: Big Bird lives no matter what?

WESTIN: Big Bird lives on? Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: It's brought out because, of course, it sticks in a debate, right? Although my son was devastated when he heard that Big Bird might be killed. I mean really --

CAIN: No one is going to kill Big Bird. They're just talking about taking him off of welfare. That's all.

MARTIN: Oh, geez.

CAIN: And by the way, this was a moment of levity. This was a nice moment for Mitt Romney. It was funny.

BERMAN: Not to Big Bird.

O'BRIEN: I think it is an element that sticks, right? The reason you raise it and you practice it is because that's what people are going to talk -- that's why it became one of the most Googled --

BASH: And that is clearly something. I mean you worked with Mitt Romney. There's no question he practiced that, right?

O'DONNELL: I would think so. You know, it's one of those iconic moments that we talked about, where he can get -- capsulize an argument with one icon.

MARTIN: Right. That's going to solve our budget crisis, not funding Big Bird. Got you. Appreciate that, Mitt.

O'BRIEN: That's not what the point was.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: I'm just sort of reminding folks of it.

O'BRIEN: We're obviously going to look down the road to see how the polls are affected by last night's debate. Keep talking about it.

We have to get to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello which begins right now.