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Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit Stepping Down; Obama vs. Romney: Round 2; Clinton Accepts Libya Blame; Candidates Prepare for Presidential Debate; Interview with Jen Psaki Setting his Sights on a New Dream; Interview With Mika

Aired October 16, 2012 - 08:00   ET


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

Obama/Romney, round two. A live look this morning at Hofstra University in Long Island, where we're just hours away from the second presidential debate.

Can the President redeem himself or will Mitt Romney once again dominate? We're going to hear this morning from Congressman Peter King. Also, Jen Psaki from the Obama campaign.

On the controversy over Benghazi won't go away. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now saying don't point the finger for anyone at the consulate attack except for herself. Let's take a look.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world.


O'BRIEN: We're going to talk about that.

Also, his debut album sold nearly 6 million copies. His third album, his new one, comes out today, drops today. Pop star Mika will join us live.

It's Tuesday, October 16th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Richard Socarides at the far end. Usually, I like to have him near me so I can whack him on the arm.


O'BRIEN: You are in the Will Cain -- Also, former senior adviser to President Clinton.

Ron Brownstein is with us, editorial director of "National Journal". Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz from Utah is joining us.

And John Berman sticking around for "EARLY START".

Nice to have all of you.

All guys today. Yesterday, the other day, we had all women.

SOCARIDES: Yes, it was like we were on "The View."

O'BRIEN: You were being overwhelmed practically. Thanks to all. I'll take that compliment.

Moving ahead, our STARTING POINT this morning: presidential debate, round two. In just about 13 hours, President Obama and Mitt Romney are going to square off in the second of three presidential debates. It's the chance for Mitt Romney to solidify momentum from the first debate, a chance for the President to bounce back.

It's going to take place, rather, at the debate hall on the campus of Long Island, Hofstra University. It's a town hall style debate. A group of undecided voters will be asking the questions.

CNN's Dan Lothian is already there at Hofstra University, live for us this morning.

Hey, Dan. Good morning.


Well, I think it's safe to say that we're going to see a much different president this second time out than we saw in the first debate. His top campaign advisers saying that the President will be much more energetic, that he will be aggressive, that he will challenge Mitt Romney when he lays out his plan.

He spent the last three days in Virginia -- in Williamsburg, Virginia, prepping for this debate, the same team, basic team that he had, going into the first debate. We saw the President walking about with his chief of staff, Jack Lew. Also, Ben Rhodes has been added to the mix, one of the president's advisers on foreign policy and foreign affairs.

As for Mitt Romney, he, over the past weekend, was in the Boston area. We saw him go out to church but also at a nearby hotel, he was prepping for this debate. His advisers saying that the President might be changing his style and his tactic, but he can't change his record.

Now for the debate itself, Mitt Romney -- Governor Mitt Romney will be taking the first question. That was decided by a coin toss. And then in the audience, about 80 undecided voters from that group, they'll get a chance to ask questions of both of the candidates.

The challenge for the candidates is that you have real voters there that they'll be facing off with. And so, they have to make a personal connection while trying to score points, Soledad. O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us this morning -- Dan, thank you very much.

So, Libya will likely play a big role in tonight's debate, plenty of accusations about who dropped the ball and exactly when. Now, Secretary Clinton is telling CNN that she accepts the blame. Listen.


CLINTON: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The President and the Vice President certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.


O'BRIEN: Let's bring in New York Republican Congressman Peter King. He's the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a Romney surrogate.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You just heard Hillary Clinton there saying she takes the blame. Mr. Giuliani yesterday told me that he believes that there's a cover-up underway.

What do you think? Is there some kind of cover up?

KING: I give Secretary Clinton credit for taking some responsibility. I wish Joe Biden and President Obama would also take responsibility.

I think the administration has a lot to explain from the day this story broke, back September 11th, September 12th, they told misleading stories, confusing stories, contradictory stories. The reality is what they've said the very first day, almost every word they've said has been disproved. So, we have to find out why.

But more importantly, to me, the underlying foreign policy here is the President has been claiming somehow al Qaeda has been decimated. That somehow he's been so successful in the Middle East and North Africa, that we can turn toward the Pacific.

The fact is that this attack showed that al Qaeda and its affiliates and its offshoots are still a powerful force against the United States, and, in some ways, even more dangerous than September 11th.

O'BRIEN: A lot has been made of what Susan Rice said on "Meet the Press" back on September 16th. And she said this, "Our current assessment is what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstration against the facilities in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video."

So, technically, she's saying the video caused what happened in Cairo, but sort of linking it to what happened in Benghazi. Now, she says this: "In my September 16th Sunday show appearances, I was asked to provide the administration's latest understanding of what happened in Benghazi. In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials, including through the daily intelligence briefings that present the latest reporting and analysis to policy makers." And she basically says this represents the best current assessment when she went on television.

So, she's saying it's not a cover up, that there were mistakes because the intelligence was flawed.

KING: Yes, I don't accept that. Ambassador Rice reports to the State Department. Even though she's ambassador to the U.N., she's in the chain of command with the State Department. Did she take the time to talk to people in the consulate that night who said there was no demonstration? Did she take the time to check out all the traffic from -- within the State Department from the consulate back to Washington?

The fact is that did she even check out the fact that there had been so many terrorist threats from that area, the al Qaeda in the Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia, such powerful forces in that region?

If she had said we don't have all the information yet. There's no precise intelligence but we also know there's a lot of terrorist activity in that region. That would have been fine.

She didn't mention terrorism. She left out al Qaeda all together and Ansar al-Sharia altogether. She clearly wanted to give the impression that this was a spontaneous result of the video that was shown. That was misleading.

And she should have known better. As the ambassador of the U.N., she was out there -- she was expecting to give more than just a recap of what the intelligence people told her. Otherwise, it could have been General Clapper out there.


O'BRIEN: The Presidentsaid on 9/12, in his remarks at the Rose Garden, he said, ah, he said this, "No act of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." He mentioned terror the first day after. It's not this is a terror attack. But he absolutely is talking about terror.

KING: He barely mentioned it once. For the next week, the administration's line was this with his not a terror attack. It had nothing to do with U.S. policy. It was not a terrorist attack. That was the theme and narrative that they wanted to put out there.

And it was wrong. Why were they doing it? Why do they do it?

I think it's because it undercuts the president's campaign promise or claim that al Qaeda had been decimated. And also, they did of the concern about whether or not they provided enough security to that consulate.

Now, listen, I don't really blame them for not having enough security. It's a mistake or judgment call that's proven wrong.

What makes it worse is, what they should have said the day after is, it looks as if there may not have been enough security. We're going to review all of our security at consulates in dangerous areas throughout the world.

But instead, they ignored it altogether. They ignored al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia together and tried to blame it all on this ridiculous video.

O'BRIEN: So, you're not saying a cover up then, right? So what Mr. Giuliani said yesterday was a cover up, which seems to imply some kind of criminal activity. And you sound like you're saying it is a big, complete screw up. I know you wanted to jump in.


KING: Well, n, no --

BROWNSTEIN: I'm sorry.

KING: No, I am saying -- we can define cover up however you want. The administration has not told the truth and they have spread a false narrative. Now, are you talking about a criminal cover up? No. But I would say certainly they were concealing or holding back facts that would have undercut their position. They did not tell the truth to the American people.

BROWNSTEIN: Just to go back congressman -- Ron Brownstein of "National Journal". I want to go back to your first answer. You were saying with Osama bin Laden dead and all of the drone attacks on al Qaeda leadership, you believe that al Qaeda today may be a greater threat or a stronger force than they were before September 11th? Can you clarify that, why you feel that way?

KING: Yes, certainly. In fact, that is the consensus of most intelligence experts, because of the fact that al Qaeda -- about four or five years ago, al Qaeda began to morph into al Qaeda in the Maghreb, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They also have affiliates like Boca Haram, al Shabaab, and now Ansar al-Sharia, and also including people here in the United States.

What they've done is they are now more under the radar screen, more spread out and they're harder to define. It was great killing -- bin Laden. I give President Obama credit for that. Bin Laden being killed.

But having said that, he was one element. He was -- al Qaeda has shifted. It has shifted its emphasis from a centralized force to being a diversified force, which is harder to track down. They are under the radar screen in many cases.

BROWNSTEIN: So you are saying now they are a greater threat now than they were when President Obama took office?

KING: They are a greater threat than they were on September 11th because of the fact that they are much more spread out, the fact that there is active recruiting going on to people under the radar screen. And if you talk to intelligence experts, most will agree with that. On September 11th, immediate years afterwards, we knew who had they were. We had a general idea how to get them and were getting them one by one. And the culmination, President Obama got bin Laden in May 2011, whatever the year was, 2011.

But the fact is that now, it has spread out to many different groups and that is why it's considered by most intelligence experts to be more dangerous now than it was then. And that is the story the Presidentis not telling.

O'BRIEN: Peter King joining us this morning -- nice to see you, Congressman. Thank you for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

KING: Soledad, thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead, we're going to get some reaction from Jen Psaki. She's with the Obama campaign.

And you can watch, of course, CNN's complete coverage and analysis of tonight's debate. That starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be on the floor pre-debate.

Candy Crowley is going to be moderating, CNN's own.

John Berman will be manning the fact checking office, I guess.

BROWNSTEIN: Shouldn't they be ushering you off before they start?

O'BRIEN: Literally pushing us physically off the floor. Yes, I would guess that.

Also, you could take a look at Americans already voting. That would be -- take a look. Michelle Obama. Roll the videotape. Imagine if you will Michelle Obama, voting.

Yes, there she is. She voted by absentee ballot yesterday, posted a message on her campaign Twitter account saying. "I couldn't wait for Election Day."

President Obama will do the same thing, voting later this month in Chicago.

Other stories making news. John Berman has got that for us. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Concerns over anti-Taliban activists Malala Yousufzai's safety and security this morning. The hospital's medical director says specialists think there's a chance of a decent recovery from Malala. The 14-year-old is in a chemically induced coma as doctors evaluate the extent of damage she sustained when the Pakistani Taliban shot her in the head.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Pakistan's interior minister offered a $1 million bounty on the Taliban spokesman who took credit for the attack. Birmingham police say some well wishers were questioned overnight not arrested as they first reported earlier this morning.

More than 1,000 mourners are expected today at the funeral of former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. The service begins at noon at a synagogue in suburban Philadelphia. Vice President Joe Biden will be in attendance. Specter died Sunday after a battle with cancer. He was 82.

Attorney General Eric Holder is asking the court to throw out a lawsuit by House Republicans over Operation Fast and Furious. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants the Justice Department to release internal records about the botched gun trafficking program. Guns from the operation were found at the murder scene of border agent Brian Terry.

Justice officials argue the Constitution does not permit the courts to resolve this type of political dispute.

Monday night football led by Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos completed one of the biggest comebacks ever in the NFL. They erased a 24-zip half time lead, scoring 35 unanswered points to beat the San Diego Chargers. That was on Monday night football.

The team is now tied for first in the AFC west. I think this answers questions about whether Peyton Manning still got game. He does.

And the baseball playoff game two of NLCS, it was all Giants. They beat up on the Cardinals, 7-1, to even the best-of-seven series at one game a piece. Game three tomorrow night in St. Louis. And in case you're wondering, the Yankee down two games to O. They will play tonight in Detroit facing Justin Verlander.


O'BRIEN: Got to win, please, please? My sons are so upset. They're going crazy. Come on, Yankees.

BROWNSTEIN: Unlike most of America --


O'BRIEN: I don't care about most of the America when it comes to the Yankees.

BROWNSTEIN: Two hundred million payroll and zero runs against starting pitchers.

O'BRIEN: Blah, blah, blah. It's about the love of the game. BROWNSTEIN: I'm just saying.

O'BRIEN: They're 8 years old.

BERMAN: I love you, Ron Brownstein.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, a lot of old guys.

O'BRIEN: Don't help him out. His little Red Sox. Are they in it at all? No, no, no. Sorry.

BROWNSTEIN: You know what? Steroid testing, the best thing ever to create parody in baseball. All the big marketing spend all of this money for people in their 30s --


O'BRIEN: Throwing things out as I go to commercial break.

BROWNSTEIN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Just throwing out steroid use.

BROWNSTEIN: You can't respond.

O'BRIEN: That's correct.

Ahead on STARTING POINT: you're look in looking at some live pictures of Hofstra University. That's where the presidential candidates are going to try to convince voters in swing states tonight to cast ballots in their favor.

Coming up next, we'll take a look at some of those voters whose decisions could make or break the election.

And growing controversy over those comments from a GOP Senate hopeful's son.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago, or Kenya.


O'BRIEN: I'll tell you what he's saying now. That's ahead.

You're watching STARTING POINT.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And this just in breaking news this morning. The CEO of CitiGroup, the mega bank, CitiGroup, Vikram Pandit, has stepped down. Michael Corbat is his replacement. We're going to have more details as they become available. We're right in the middle of earnings season for all of these banks. We heard yesterday from CitiGroup it did better than Wall Street had been expected. And stock was up yesterday.

O'BRIEN: So why?

ROMANS: I don't know. Vikram Pandit took over right in the height of the financial crisis in 2007, you'll recall. The company was ailing. A lot of concerns about what the bank was doing back then and how it would survive the financial crisis. He took over. And now, he is stepping down. When I get more details, I'll let you know for sure. And I'll be watching the stock as well this morning.

O'BRIEN: Is this typical, I mean, you know, to have a release that comes out with sort of no details? Could it just be, listen, I'm ready to go do other things or when you have a release that just comes out with this stepping down?

ROMANS: I think that there has been a lot of criticism from Washington, shareholders, investors, and public interest groups about the major banks for five or six years now. You've got the mortgage crisis, you've got concerns about banks being the big recipients and beneficiaries of all kinds of government where just (ph) to keep the economy going but not necessarily passing that on to --


ROMANS: Exactly. You know, I don't know why he stepped down. All I know is that Vikram Pandit is now going to be out as the CEO of Citi.

BERMAN: One of the major, major layers in small business 2007.

ROMANS: When you talk -- when you look at all the post mornings (ph) of those big scary meetings in Washington and middle of the financial crisis, he was there. He was there, and he was one of those people who was sitting down with Henry Paulson, and Tim Giethner and the like and two administrations, quite frankly, trying to figure out how to keep the system solvent and going forward --


SOCARIDES: He's led the bank into some period of stability, right? I mean, he's --

ROMANS: Well, it has been rough for these banks.

SOCARIDES: They would say it was a period of stability.

ROMANS: And Citi, I mean, many, many analysts have Citi -- you know, Citi was a very weakened bank after -- you know, we went through 20 years of the banks getting bigger, and bigger and bigger, and bigger right? And now, the whole world is saying, wait. They're too big. They're too big to fail. We're really re-examining how these banks function and there'll be new leadership going forward, at least at Citi.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, let us know when you know exactly what is --

ROMANS: I will.


O'BRIEN: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Just a few hours away now from round two of the Obama/Romney debates, if you want to get a true measure of the state of American politics, probably no better place to go than Stark County, Ohio. It's one of the most competitive swing counties in a state that reliably picks presidents.

Miguel Marquez is in Hartsville, Ohio where he spoke with some very discerning voters. Hey, Miguel. Good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Soledad. As Ohio goes, so goes the presidency. Only twice since 1896 has Ohio not selected the presidential winners. We came here to lovely autumnal Stark County to see just how competitive this place is.


MARQUEZ: This is stark county, Ohio, a front line in this battleground state. So closely tracked state in national voting patterns, this place puts the bell in bellwether.

(voice-over) Kay Vaughan has farmed in Hartsville, Ohio, his whole life. Today, he's planting winter wheat. Like most people here, he takes politics pretty seriously.

May I ask who you're voting for?


MARQUEZ: Who are you voting for?

VAUGHAN: I won't tell you.


MARQUEZ: Like many, Vaughn is sick of political gridlock. He says the country's problems, so serious, it makes voting more important and tougher than ever.

VAUGHAN: A lot of people are hurting big. A lot of people need relief. And I'm not too sure the election is going to give it no matter who gets elected. That's the problem.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Stark County has seen the worst of the recession and the best of the recovery. Unemployment here shot up to more than 13 percent at the height of the great rescission. It's now plummeted to less than seven.

(voice-over) Vaughan, like Stark County and Ohio, has survived by changing. He turned over the business to his kids and his son-in-law, Bill Bakan. Bakan made some changes to the old family farm. Boy did he ever. Fourth of the family's yearly income now comes from a few weeks in the fall when the farm, now a market and winery, is transformed into a country fun fair. (INAUDIBLE).

BILL BAKAN, MAIZE VALLEY MARKER AND WINERY: You have to be diversified enough to weather the storm, but you can't dilute yourself so down you're not effective.

MARQUEZ: A delicate balance that makes Ohio Ohio.

BAKAN: Ohio is number one at practically nothing, but exceedingly above average at many, many things.

MARQUEZ: How quickly can one shred a car?


MARQUEZ: Slesnick Steel has been in the recycling business for 100 years. The state-of-the-art scrap yard. The boss here, Ed Slesnick, a lifelong Democrat voted Obama in 2008. He says this year, it's a tougher choice.

SLESNICK: This year, I am truly an independent voter and looking at the first debate and very keen on looking at the next two debates.

MARQUEZ: A year ago, his yard could barely keep up with demand. Two months ago, he saw orders plummet.

Is it a matter of hearing what they want to do or how are they going to accomplish it?

SLESNICK: I would say both in that question. But more importantly, how are they going to accomplish it with a $16 trillion deficit?


MARQUEZ (on-camera): Now, it is a real race here in Ohio. Before that first debate, CNN poll of polls showing President Obama with a seven to ten-point lead here that has been cut now since that first debate to a three-point edge -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Miguel Marquez watching that for us. Thank you, Miguel. Appreciate it.

And as we keep telling you, we're just a couple of hours -- not a couple -- a lot of hours away from round two of the Obama/Romney debate. You want to get true measure of the state, Miguel is going to continue his trip around the country, really looking at some of these important, critical counties where they're analyzing those voters who could truly make the decision in this election.

BROWNSTEIN: All the swing states in the country, the state of them that's had the fastest job growth in the past year, Ohio. And, you know, when the Obama people --


BROWNSTEIN: That is the last line of defense for Obama in a much darker kind of outlook over the last couple of weeks. That Ohio -- he still has a lead there. And that is kind of really the last -- as long as -- but it's tightening. As long as he's ahead there, very hard to see Romney getting --

SOCARIDES: Republicans need Ohio to win, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Republicans almost certainly need Ohio to win. Almost certainly.

SOCARIDES: Ohio is the new Florida.


BROWNSTEIN: Ohio is the old Ohio.


O'BRIEN: Ohio is the -- black is the new brown.


O'BRIEN: -- always trying to get a plug in for his state, that Congressman Chaffetz.

Still to come this morning, we're going to talk to a young man whose first album sold more than five million copies and he hasn't slowed down ever since. Pop star, Mika, talking about (ph) how music got him through his worst moments of his life and the rationale and thinking behind his new album. That's straight ahead.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business" this morning. Breaking news in the business world, the CEO of Citigroup, Vikram Pandit, stepping down. Pandit in a released from the bank saying, quote, "I have concluded that now is the right time for someone else to take the helm at Citigroup." That someone else is Michael Corbat.

He'll be taking over as CEO. The stock right now, by the way, down in the pre-market, but stock futures are up. Remember, it's been a really tough ride for these big mega banks since the heat of the financial crisis. Vikram Pandit took over in 2007.

We got earnings from Citi yesterday, better than expected. We're going to get about 40 percent of S&P 500 companies reporting earnings this week. And Soledad, we have stock futures overall up so far this morning. So, we'll continue to watch the --

O'BRIEN: I'm curious to know what's behind this.

ROMANS: The company is saying in its release telling -- officially telling the world that it's time for new leadership, time for --

O'BRIEN: Yes, but it's just kind of a standard -- (CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Yes. But you think of that ride at Citi over the past five years. I mean, this was -- we went through a period when banks were getting bigger and bigger and more powerful and, you know, impenetrable in the American economy and Vikram Pandit came in 2007 just the beginning of that when, boom, the financial crisis hit.

So, the guy who (INAUDIBLE) through some history in the remaking of the American financial system, no question.


O'BRIEN: All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the Long Island showdown happens tonight between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Is the Presidentready after his much less than impressive debate performance last time around? We're going to be talking with his traveling campaign press secretary, Jen Psaki. That's coming up next.

And then, Pizza Hut offered a pretty big reward to anyone who asks the candidates what their favorite pizza topping is. That's all-important election question. They're saying that if they do that during tonight's debate, they'll get a big reward. Now, they're kind of rethinking that stunt. We'll tell you what's happening there.

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


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Tonight, the presidential candidates face off again. It's the second of three debates in just under 13 hours, the stakes couldn't be any higher for Mitt Romney and also President Obama. New CNN poll of polls shows Mitt Romney leading Obama by one point, 48 percent to 47 percent. If you remember just a month ago it was the President who was leading. Jen Psaki is the Obama campaign's traveling press secretary. Why am I struggling with that intro today? Jen, nice to have you with us, as always we appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, I appreciate it that. Do you think there are going to be questions about Libya tonight? Because I've been going back and forth on twitter and other folks were e-mailing me. Some people think very clearly this is a topic of debate, others are telling me no. They don't think that in a town hall format people aren't going to ask about it. What do you think?

PSAKI: The only people who know the answer to that question are audience members who will be asking the questions and perhaps the host, Candy Crowley. We'll see. I think the President expects a range of questions from everything from the economy to health care, to foreign policy and he certainly is happy to speak about any of those topics. O'BRIEN: We've been running this clip of Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, taking the blame. She says I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000 plus people over the world, et cetera, et cetera. How does that affect the campaign?

PSAKI: Well, secretary Clinton, there's no one who cares more and is more focused on getting to the bottom of what happened in Libya than Secretary Clinton and then President Obama. They both have been working very hard on that every single day. They're participating -- the administration is participating, cooperating and several investigations, one with Congress, one by the FBI. And they would love to find more information as soon as more information becomes available they'll provide that to the American people. She was speaking, she's on the beginning og a foreign trip. She often does a round of interviews, and she was speaking directly to her own responsibilities as Secretary of State and said the request came to them and they declined the request and that's exactly what the Vice President said last week.

SOCARIDES: So, Jen, how is the President feeling today? Some of us who are big supports of his were a little worried after the last time, that maybe he hadn't gotten enough rest or perhaps he was distracted. How he is feeling today?

PSAKI: Well, to soothe any of your stress, you know, he has watched the last debate and, you know, he is his own harshest critic. He is coming into this debate energized. People with expect to see a passionate President Obama delivering the case for why he has a better plan for the middle class. Ultimately this is about who is going to be better for the American people for the next four years. So who has a better education plan, who has a better plan for tax cuts, who has a better plan for health care. He feels good about that. He is not going to hide from his positions unlike his opponent. So, stay tuned for this evening.

CHAFFETZ: This is Jason Chaffetz. I would take issue just with your last part there, that hiding from positions.


PSAKE: I'm not surprised you would take issue.

CHAFFETZ: Yes. I mean, the vision for America, I think, Mitt Romney has laid out. Also talking about what's happened the last four years. You can't ignore that we are in a stagnant economy and that under President Obama the economy has failed.

PSAKI: Well, look, with all due respect what I'm referring to specifically is Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's recent denial, as if they forgot their own plans, that they have a $5 trillion tax cut plan.

CHAFFETZ: They do not have --

PSAKI: That benefits millionaires and billionaires.

CHAFFETZ: No, no, no, no. (CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: As you know, at the last debate Romney said his plan would cover pre-existing conditions. So we know they're not comfortable with their plans. I understand why. I'm not comfortable with their plans either. We're happy to keep pointing out what's true and what's not.

BROWNSTEIN: Jen, Can I ask you about the other side of the equation there? Two prominent pollsters yesterday Peter Hart and Stan Greenberg and James Carville both released memos based on focus groups after the first debate saying that voters did not see any energy, passion or urgency from the President about what he would accomplish in the second term. Where was that in debate one?

O'BRIEN: They need a focus group for that?

BROWNSTEIN: Really, really.

O'BRIEN: It was pretty evident.


BROWNSTEIN: Give us the list. Give us the list. What, in fact, if voters give him four more years, what is at the top of his list for what had he wants to give them?

PSAKI: Well, first, he would continue to help the economy recover. As you know, we've had 31 straight months of private sector job growth, created more than 5.2 million jobs.

BROWNSTEIN: What will he do to have it recover faster than it has? that's the question people are asking.

PSAKI: No, it's a great question. It's a great question. He has laid out a lot of specific proposals, the American Jobs Act. He wants to do more to help small businesses, do more to hire construction workers, many of the people who continue to be out of work. He thinks investing in education and helping teachers make sure they have jobs, that's a key part of his plan. You know, we haven't seen a lot on the other side but I hope the President has an opportunity tonight to continue to talk about his plans. He's happy to do that.

BROWNSTEIN: Why didn't he mention the American Jobs Act either at the first debate or first convention speech if it's still at the top of his to do list?

PSAKI: He laid out in his convention speech and he mentioned a lot of the specifics about -- he may not have said the specific phrase American Jobs Act but every single day he's out on the trail he's talking about how we need to do more for small business, how we need to do more to help make sure teachers have jobs, how we need to do more to help entrepreneurs and small businesses. So he talks about it every single day. And I expect he'll talk about it this evening.

O'BRIEN: Jen Psaki, joining us with the Obama campaign. Jen, nice to have you as always. It's funny she talked about how --

PSAKI: Great to be here.

O'BRIEN: Thanks. Appreciate that. -- Being his biggest critic. If you read any Andrew Sullivan, it's like, no, Andrew Sullivan --

BROWNSTEIN: Two southern senators talking in the 1930s, one says to the other, Franklin Roosevelt is his own worst enemy, and the other says not as long as I'm alive. So I think the same would apply here with President Obama.

O'BRIEN: Tonight, Candy Crowley from CNN, of course, will be moderating the presidential town hall debate from Long Island, New York.


BERMAN: I've seen Long Island.


O'BRIEN: You've been to the Hamptons.

BERMAN: Congressman have you been to the island?

CHAFFETZ: I read about it.

O'BRIEN: And the Congressman has read about Long Island.

Grammy nominated singer pop star Mika will join us, talk a little bit about his new album and what went into the making of it. Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. A quick look at some top stories right now.

An apology to President Obama from the son of Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson. Jason Thompson was speaking at a Republican brunch Sunday. This remark got a few laughs but backfired after it went viral.


JASON THOMPSON, SEN. TOMMY THOMPSON'S SON: We have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago, or Kenya.



BERMAN: Like we said, Tommy Thompson then apologized for that comment. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was in attendance and agreed the comment was, quote, "out of line." Other election news, hold the pepperoni. Pizza Hut now rethinking its presidential debate stunt. The chain offered a pie a week for 30 years or a check for 15 grand to anyone in the audience tonight who asked President Obama or Mitt Romney what their favorite pizza topping is during this live debate. Now with the controlled environment of these things, it wasn't likely to happen anyway, but many critics appropriately said it was in bad taste and a waste of time. Pizza Hut is now moving the contest online and will choose a winner at random.

O'BRIEN: Another inappropriate comment that --

SOCARIDES: Talk about a half-baked idea.

BERMAN: Cheesy idea. You're being awfully is saucy this morning.


O'BRIEN: And we move on.

BERMAN: A little crusty over here.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I am.

SOCARIDES: Where does this come from?

O'BRIEN: Make it stop. Make it stop.

BERMAN: That was the ring shot right there.

O'BRIEN: Make it stop, please. I'm begging.

When Paul Heddings was 17 years old, he dreamed of being a baseball player. But losing his eyesight changed his life forever. Five years later he set his sights on a new dream and he's fulfilled it.

CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has his story. It's today's "Human Factor".


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As a drum major for Marching Mizzou, the University of Missouri's famed marching band, Paul Heddings is living his dream. It's a new dream. Because his original dream of playing professional baseball was disappearing.


GUPTA: The 17-year-old woke up and his world was changing.

HEDDINGS: Everything was just a little blurry. It didn't seem like anything was wrong.

GUPTA: But something was terribly wrong. His retinas had detached and started to tear apart in both eyes. HEDDINGS: I didn't know how my life would change, what I would be able to do, what I wouldn't be able to do. I could potentially go completely blind.

This happened to my mom, my grandma, a couple of uncles. Even my little sister is having similar issues.

GUPTA: They didn't lose much vision. Paul, on the other hand, is now legally blind.

HEDDINGS: My left eye has blind spots. And my peripheral vision is great. And that's why I'm so high-functioning. The right eye is just kind of there.

GUPTA: He says family, friends and music saved his life.

HEDDINGS: Here we go. B flat.

I just, you know, strapped up my boots and went to work.

GUPTA: He made the Mizzou Drum Line first playing cymbals and then after an extensive interview process clinched the coveted drum major spot. Most in the band didn't even know he was legally blind. He suffered three detachments and cataracts in both eyes. One has now been removed.

Heddings hopes his time on the ladder will change the perception of visually-impaired people.

HEDDINGS: I want to be able to say when I leave here that I did something special and that I didn't let this hold me back.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning he sold millions of albums worldwide, not slowing down any time soon. Pop star Mika joins us to talk about his new album and also to talk about how music has helped him get through some of the worst moments of his life. We'll talk to him coming up. Here he is.

We're back in a moment.

Welcome, it's so great to have you.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Mika shot to stardom in 2007 with the release of his first single "Grace Kelly". His upbeat debut album "Life in Cartoon Motion" sold nearly six million copies worldwide. Earned him a Grammy nomination, his third album is now out today, it's already dropped. Got great reviews. It's called "The Origin of Love" and the single from that is called "Celebrate". It's nice to have you with us. Thank you what a pleasure.

MIKA, MULTI-PLATINUM POP SINGER: Yes, thank you. It's great being here.

O'BRIEN: Do you like being a pop superstar? I mean, what's the likelihood? I would guess it would be awesome.

MIKA: I live in a bit of an odd box. I spend most of my life touring really. I live out of a suitcase. I am like the boy who ran away with the circus. The only difference with me is that my family came with me. They all kind of joined my team.

O'BRIEN: Are you a naturally shy person?

MIKA: I am. It's funny because I can walk on stage and I can sing in front of like 20,000 people and completely feel comfortable. And if I walk into a party, I literally feel like I crumble into the tiniest little piece of nothing. I can't walk from one corner to another.


O'BRIEN: How did you get into singing?

MIKA: I got kicked out of school.

O'BRIEN: You were 11, right?

MIKA: I was 11 years old, I was dyslexic and I couldn't read or write and I was in quite an intolerant French system, French school. Actually my teacher was very intolerant. And so I just deteriorated. And I didn't -- I stopped speaking for a while. And I couldn't read or write.

And in the end I got kicked out. And my mother was like, ok fine. As long as the authorities don't know, I'm going to keep him at home and teach him. I had this tough Russian singing teacher. And within about seven months or so I was at the World Opera House singing Strauss.


MIKA: So my job is when I was 11, classical music.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness.

MIKA: Opera. And then it transitioned, I went to the Rural College of Music and I was at the Rural College of Music training to be a classical baritone. I knew that I could never make it as a classical musician, so secretly I was writing pop songs at night, working as a waiter to pay for the demos.

SOCARIDES: Your music is so much fun, right? I mean it's -- but it's in a lot of different categories, right? Because it's pop but it's also a lot of other stuff?

MIKA: It's got pop, it's got the classical side of things. I'm obsessed with this period of song writing from the '70s. You know when I was at school even I used to pretend that I was one of the writers at the (inaudible) building in the '60s like -- I was like Carole King and James Taylor from next door, Barry and Cynthia Mann. But it's -- it is -- it's this kind of mash up of different genres.

I -- I guess it's about joy fundamentally, but it's about this wicked sense of joy. It's like I write it as some sort of tonic or medicine to make myself feel better about life in general.

SOCARIDES: Yes. And you also you're a big advocate for human rights around the world and do a lot of things to help people.

MIKA: I mean, I think it's -- I have gotten to a stage where I'm completely comfortable in -- in -- in my own skin. And for a long -- as far as my sexuality is concerned. And for a long time I refused to talk about it. And then I go out to a place where it's like you know what, now I'm happy. And there's absolutely no reason not to talk about it. Once it's coming from a place of positivity and confidence --


O'BRIEN: On "Celebrate" which features my -- my boyfriend my secret boyfriend Ferrell.

MIKA: He -- he is your boyfriend. You make a very pretty couple.

O'BRIEN: He is. His fiancee is totally cool about that.


O'BRIEN: My husband also very cool with it. It's all fun.

MIKA: That's all right. It's 2012.

O'BRIEN: That's right. Tell me about your sister because a lot of that plays a role in this new album. What happened to her.

MIKA: I had done my second album. I was on the road for four and a half years. And then I stopped and I didn't know how to write again. Anyway, life happened and this -- you know, things happen in life, which kind of set off the writing process. And my sister, one night, on the first night that she moved into a new apartment. She was born disabled on one side and she's weak on her left side. And she finally got her own place. On her housewarming night she had a horrific accident at 3:00 in the morning.

O'BRIEN: She fell out of the window.

MIKA: Out of a four-story building. She got caught by railings. So it was pretty brutal because she got impaled on railings. But that's what saved her life. I witnessed it, and I saw her at 4:00 am and just remember the silence. An accident like that, all you remember is hush. That kind of woke me up. And it kind of -- it deconstructed my ego in almost every single way. And so an album like "The Origin of Love" it's this new album, that is so joyful is actually born out of -- it started out with something that's so tragic and dark. She's doing well now. She spent a year and a half in hospital and now she's learning how to walk again.

O'BRIEN: Thank goodness. What a wonderful thing to come out of a terrible tragedy. Congratulations on your new album --

MIKA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: -- getting rave reviews already. It just dropped this morning. So that's great news.

MIKA: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: It's so nice to have you with us.

MIKA: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it. You bet.

SOCARIDES: Congratulations.

MIKA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break.

"End Point" is coming up next.


O'BRIEN: Big thank you to Congressman Jason Chaffetz for joining us this morning. He had to run out to another appointment. He is going to join us tomorrow. He's back again tomorrow to talk a little bit about what happened tonight at the debate.

"End Point", we have a few seconds for that. Do you want to start for me?

SOCARIDES: Well, I just think, you know, it's obvious that the stakes tonight couldn't be higher. Right? This might be the most important --

O'BRIEN: Are you nervous?

SOCARIDES: I am nervous. I'm a little nervous, yes. I think this could be the most important moment in the presidential campaign, unless we have already had the most important moment in which case, we're in trouble.

BROWNSTEIN: As John pointed out, we were talking about it during the break, the effect of the debate has been compounding over time. It's kind of accelerated. But I think we're going to look at this first presidential debate as up there with Carter/Reagan in 1980 and Nixon/Kennedy in 1960 as the single most consequential presidential debate. It changed the narrative, Obama. It kept the focus on Romney, incredibly, as the incumbent. And now it's squarely back on the President. What will he do to make my life better over the next four years?

O'BRIEN: What do you think. You have 20 seconds.

BERMAN: I saw this -- today the funeral for Arlen Specter, served more than 30 years in the senate. A public servant for a long, long time. So much in the last few elections are political discourse. We've ended up criticizing people who spent their lives in public service. Today, Arlen Specter laid to rest and he served for a long, long time. (inaudible) memory.

O'BRIEN: That's a very, very good point.

BROWNSTEIN: So we've got to bridge differences too.

O'BRIEN: Coming up tomorrow on STARTING POINT, we'll have complete post debate coverage with a wrap up with our moderator. Candy Crowley will be talking to us about how it went.

Don't forget you can watch the debate tonight. CNN coverage begins at 7:00 pm Eastern. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.