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Petraeus Sex Scandal; Fiscal Cliff Compromise?; Invisible Wounds of War; Lindsay Graham Indicates Possible Republican Compromise on Immigration; Hispanic Vote Discussed; Syrian Opposition Groups Unite; Spielberg's New Film "Lincoln"

Aired November 12, 2012 - 08:00   ET



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

God bless you, Alina.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, a growing bombshell scandal to talk about. Questions and a bit of mystery surrounding the affair that led General Petraeus to resign as the head of the CIA. Was national security ever at risk over the affair? Who replaces him now? We'll take a look at that.

Plus, as we get closer to this fiscal cliff in 50 days, new signs of compromise. We'll tell what it means for your tax dollars and to the economy.

And she's one of the stars of the new movie "Lincoln." Actress Gloria Reuben will joins us live.

It's Monday, November 12th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Russell Simmons. He's the author of "Super Rich." Fabulous book, by the way. I love that book.

He's founder of Global Grind. He's the president of Argyleculture. He's joining us this morning. We're going to talk about transcendental meditation, which he's been a practitioner for a while.

Chrystia Freeland is with us. She's digital editor for "Thomson Reuters."

Will Cain is a columnist at

Alina Cho is with us today. John Berman has got the day off.

STARTING POINT is the sex scandal about -- you know, David Petraeus. The key members of the House and the Senate say they knew nothing about the CIA director's resignation until it was done. And they say that is unacceptable. Now, lawmakers are demanding answers about the FBI investigation that began months ago, over the summer, and then uncovered that extramarital affair.

The timing of it all could now keep General Petraeus from testifying at a congressional hearing this week on the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya.

CNN's Barbara Starr starts us off. She's at the Pentagon this morning.

So, Barbara, what are the biggest issues out of this scandal that we now know has exploded?


Well, first on Capitol Hill, the intelligence committees on the House and Senate both contend, and quite accurately, that they are supposed to be informed of any crucial event regarding intelligence or national security. They did not know about Petraeus. They're calling it a bolt out of the blue. Why weren't they informed? That's what they want to know.

The hearings that Petraeus was supposed to attend this week on the Benghazi attacks, now it will be his deputy. Will Congress subpoena him to get him to come up there and tell what he knows about Benghazi and whether he had intelligence that it was, indeed, a terrorist attack early on?

And, most critically, perhaps, why wasn't President Obama informed about this? By all accounts he did not know until the Thursday after the election.

There's no indication of a national security breach at this point. But you have to wonder, would somebody not tell the president that his CIA director is at least in part -- part of an FBI investigation into e-mails? Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, one would think there are a lot of people who did not know. A couple minutes from now, Barbara, we're going to talk to Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He, of course, knows General Petraeus. And we'll be chatting with him about what he thinks of the story.

We're going to ask Barbara Starr to stick around for that as well.

Fiscal cliff now, 50 days and counting. This morning, signs of a deal could be in the work. President Obama wants the Bush tax cuts expire for Americans who are making more than $250,000 a year, says he's not wedded to every detail of the plan.

House Speaker John Boehner wants to keep all the Bush tax cuts in place. He's talking about closing tax loopholes. So, could that be a deal? Could they pull it off?

CNN's senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash in Washington, D.C. this morning. Hey, Dana.


Well, there certainly has been a much more conciliatory tone on both sides of the aisle since Election Day. You know, it's post-election year posturing. It just is and sources of both sides of the aisle pretty much admit that.

No one, at the end of the day, wants to look like they're the one who's going to stand in the way of a deal that could cause this nation to go over the fiscal cliff. But when it comes to this issue, the deepest divide, of course, is over what you were just talking about, Soledad. It is over the whole idea of taxes.

Now, I want you to listen to what Bill Kristol, the respected Republican commentator, said yesterday.


BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: The leadership in the conservative movement has to pull back, let people float their ideas, let's have a serious debate. Don't scream and yell when one person says, you know what? It won't kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires. It really won't, I don't think.

I don't really understand why Republicans don't take Obama's offer to freeze taxes for everyone below $250,000 -- make it $500,000, make it a million. Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword for a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood.


BASH: Now, Bill Kristol is not an elected official. He doesn't get a vote. But he is a voice that Republicans have listened to in the past. And by him saying that it wouldn't kill them to agree to tax increases for millionaires is a big deal. And you could sort of feel the aftereffects here in Washington after he said that yesterday.

So, it's cliche but it is true. The devil is in the details. The president campaigned on something very specific, letting the Bush era tax rates for families making $250,000 and more expire. And go up. Republicans say that would hurt small businesses. But may be OK with closing those loopholes to raise revenues other ways.

So the question really, Soledad, at this point going into this week, especially when Congress comes back, is where is the alternative? What can they come up with so that both sides can save face and avert falling off that fiscal cliff?

O'BRIEN: Right. Literally the tone, conciliatory tone has to turn into what the actual compromise looks like.

BASH: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Dana Bash in D.C. for us -- thank you, Dana. Alina has a look at some of the other stories making news. Hello.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Soledad. Good morning.

And we begin with a devastating blast that seemingly came out of nowhere. A normally quiet Indianapolis neighborhood now looks like a war zone. A massive explosion this weekend leveled homes and killed two people. The blast rendered whole blocks uninhabitable, and it could be heard three miles away. It caused an estimated $3.5 million in damage. But just what caused the explosion is still a mystery.

A salute to America's veterans. President Obama leading the Veterans Day observance by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. He said the country will never forget the sacrifice made by service members and their families.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, a proud nation expresses our gratitude. But we do so mindful that no ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service.


CHO: The president also said this is the first Veterans Day in 10 years with no American troops fighting in Iraq.

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano gets a firsthand look at Sandy's aftermath. She surveyed the devastation yesterday in Staten Island. She also took stock of relief and recovery efforts there. Sandy is blamed for at least 113 deaths across various states, including 43 in New York alone.

Thousands of people are still without power. We will have a live report from one of the hardest hit areas just ahead.

The Greek parliament has approved an austerity budget for 2013 which allows Greece to receive the next installment of a crucial economic bailout, a payment worth more than $40 billion. The prime minister says the severe spending cuts included in 2013 budget will be the last the Greek people will have to face.

And in case you missed it, the folks at "SNL" got the first crack at the 2012 election results this weekend. And they used the chance to show Mitt Romney drowning his sorrows by hitting the cartoon.


JASON SUDEIKIS, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": I still love you, America. I do. But you've hurt my feelings very, very much.


SUDEIKIS: Hello, Tagg.

KILLAM: I'm so very angry, father. I wish I could punch America in the face, I do, I tell you!

SUDEIKIS: No, no. Listen. This is not a time for anger, Tagg.

KILLAM: So what's next for you, father?

SUDEIKIS: Oh, I don't know. There's so much I want to see and do. I'd like to learn how mayonnaise is made. As I like mayonnaise very, very much.


CHO: That's great. Jason Sudeikis, of course, is not going to play Mitt Romney anywhere. But he still has Joe Biden. He still plays Joe Biden.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's one question. What's next -- OK, there it is. What's next for Jason Sudeikis? Because you got to wonder, that's a bit of a career loss for him.

CHO: He still plays Biden. There's been a lot of talk he's going to leave the show anyway. We'll have to see.

O'BRIEN: That could make your career if the guy you're playing wins.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, DIGITAL EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS: Tina Fey survived Sarah Palin not winning.


O'BRIEN: This will all work out for him.

OK. Back to our STARTING POINT this morning: the shocking resignation of the CIA Director David Petraeus. Let's get right to retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He's known Davis Petraeus for more than 25 years.

And we're going to bring back our Pentagon correspondent. Barbara Starr is also around with us.

General, thank you for talking with us. Certainly appreciate it.

Why don't you start for me with the impact -- not just the resignation which has a huge impact, but the impact the affair has on those who report to the general? I mean, I have to imagine that, you know, number one, questions about his judgment would have to be in the forefront, right?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think the real impact is the thousands and thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marine who admire General Petraeus, and still have many reasons to admire General Petraeus but in some ways have been let down a bit by this affair.

O'BRIEN: You've known him for 25 years. Are you let down by the affair? Are you shocked by it? KIMMITT: Well, look, this is an exceptional general, probably the best of his generation. Unfortunately, I think in this incident he proved that no matter how exceptional, he is a human being.

O'BRIEN: Barbara, question for you. Big questions now as we spoke just a moment ago is the timeline issue. Lawmakers especially are very concerned that they were left out of the loop. Is this just specious complaining or do you think that there's actual problems in not informing members of Congress about what was happening in this investigation?

STARR: Well, you know, Congress is supposed to be notified when something like this happens involving a major element of the intelligence community. So it gets back to everybody's judgment in this issue. Where was the FBI? Who made the situation not to mention it? There's no indication so far of a national security risk. But everybody's judgment is in question now.

I want to go back to something you were talking about, Soledad. Petraeus, once and always the four-star general. He didn't resign, I don't think, necessarily because of this personal event. It's his lack of judgment.

Once the President of the United States cannot trust your judgment, you really have no choice but to resign. Whether he wanted to or not.

O'BRIEN: So, back to you, General Kimmitt. What happens with this Benghazi testimony? I would have thought that his voice would be critical in this -- I honestly cannot imagine that they're not going to have him testify. What do you think?

KIMMITT: You know, the Congress of the United States has subpoena authority. They want to get General Petraeus up there, perhaps not in his capacity as a CIA director but as a former CIA director, it's certainly within their purview. Whether that makes sense to do so in light of his knowledge and how consequential that is to the overall Benghazi investigation, that's up to the U.S. Congress. They certainly have the power to do it.

O'BRIEN: What do you think he does next? I mean, where does his career go from here? He, obviously, majorly decorated in the military, then to the CIA, and then scandal. What happens?

KIMMITT: Well, my view is, we would be less of a country if we weren't forgiving enough that after a period of reflection and a period of redemption that we don't take advantage of this extraordinarily talented human being. He served this country for over 40 years. I believe that he's still got a lot more to offer this country. And I look forward to seeing that happen one day.

O'BRIEN: Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt with us this morning and Barbara Starr as well from the Pentagon -- thanks to both of you. I appreciate your time this morning.

We've got to take a short break. Still ahead on STARTING POINT: as we mark Veterans Day, we're going to remember those wounded warriors who are often still recovering or trying to recover from war. Russell Simmons leading the efforts to help our servicemen and women with a type of meditation. He's going to explain that coming up next.

And if you love Black Friday deals, this will make you even happier. It's now brown Thursday. I just made that up. We'll tell you what that's about.


O'BRIEN: Today, we observe Veterans Day, the day to honor the more than 22 million troops who 2 served in our military, but often, the sacrifice doesn't end when the troops come home. For many, there were injuries, physical and mental that haunt them as they try to return to civilian life.

Russell Simmons is on the board of the David Lynch Foundation. Joining us as well is Bob Roth. He's the executive director of that foundation and also the president of Operation: Warrior Wellness. It's a project that brings transcendental meditation to the veterans who are experiencing post-traumatic stress.

Nice to have you both with us. We've been talking to Russell all morning. So, Bob, we'll start with you.


O'BRIEN: When did you connect the idea that TM, transcendental meditation, can work for veterans?

BOB ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DAVID LYNCH FOUNDATION: Well, I've been teaching transcendental meditation for 40 years, and I've been teaching it 20, 30 years ago to Vietnam vets and even World War II vets, but it's just been in the past years where the understanding that post-traumatic stress disorder is a real epidemic that has no conventional, traditional solution.

So, you combine that with the fact that there's now 30 years of research on transcendental meditation showing that it's a profoundly effective for giving deep rest, healing the brain, and reducing stress. So, we got approached by a lot of military people and veterans organizations saying, hey, can you offer TM to the vets.

CAIN: Just a quick question, Bob. Meditation has played a role in my life only on the peripheral. Like, I kind of know what it is, but you keep referring to transcendental meditation. Can you tell me what that is different than what my conception of just meditation?

ROTH: Meditation is sort of a generic word. It could mean anything. Transcendental meditation is a very simple, easily learned, mental technique that's practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day, sitting comfortably in the chair with the eyes closed. And Russell and I can both do it. And Soledad --


O'BRIEN: -- after I read Russell's book.

ROTH: It's an ideal meditation for people who have very busy lives. Thinking, thinking, thinking.


SIMMONS: Everyone benefits from meditation.

O'BRIEN: Were there soldiers, though, who felt like, oh, this is touchy-feely -- and I may not want to do this. I am a soldier, I'm a fighter, and this is -- you know, that there's some sort of cultural issue?

SIMMONS: I'm sure there are lots of people. We have schools all over the country where we teach young people to meditate. And there are some people who think that meditation has something to do with religion. This idea of letting your mind settle is in every religion, but it's also in every spiritual teaching, but also everyone needs to look inside for reflection in order to work outside.

And operating from a calm space has got to be the greatest gift anyone can be given to teach people how to look inside and to then give from the inside out. I mean, all your happiness sits inside. Every creative idea you have comes from a moment of presence.

O'BRIEN: So, Bob, what do the veterans get out of it? I mean, what difference have you seen anecdotally in veterans who are practicing TM?

ROTH: Well, first of all, it's interesting, but it's a generational thing because the young kids coming, 20s, 30s, the idea of meditation is fine, you know? They go to yoga class. They hear about meditation, and they just want to be able to do it. And they can do transcendental meditation.

The research findings, and this is the reason why now the B.A. is funding research on transcendental meditation and we're working with wounded warrior project in many, many military bases, is that they found about a 50 percent reduction in the symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The research shows a reduction in heart disease, which is a by-product of PTSD, anxiety, all these sleep disorders.

O'BRIEN: It doesn't replace other psychological treatment.

ROTH: No. Adjunct therapy. We use it as an adjunct therapy, medically sound, scientifically tested. It's even being used at Norwich University, which the oldest private military college in the country. And there, the president Richard Schneider sees this as the missing element in promoting resilience.

O'BRIEN: What a great gift for Veterans Day when you think about it. You can (ph) give someone peace of mind and some calmness in dealing with some of the terrible things --

SIMMONS: It does replace -- you don't have to give a kid Ritalin.


SIMMONS: You don't need ADD, for instance. It does cure that. And there are many medical procedures -- medical processes or gifts that are not needed.

FREELAND: Do you need a certain level of kind of calmness and health to even start?



FREELAND: -- you know, if you're totally in trouble, how can you get it together to meditate?

O'BRIEN: You have literally once said -- but I will tell you this. You and you should get Bob's number. It could be the terrific transcendental meditation --

CAIN: We'll sit here quietly.


O'BRIEN: Maybe you'll pen for We would love to put it on our website. Just -- I know you've written a lot about transcendental meditation, and that would answer everybody's questions. I know there's a lot of history to that.

ROTH: Nice to be on the show.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us this morning. We appreciate it. It reminds me that I haven't meditated in a really long time.


O'BRIEN: All right. Turning to superstorm Sandy, there are signs of recovery in the aftermath of that and last week's nor'easter as well that followed. Struggle, though, isn't over for lots of people. We're going to take you to one of the hardest hit areas. That's coming up next.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Alison Kosik in for Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business."

U.S. stock futures are up, indicating markets will open higher this morning, but, there's a lot of volatility in the markets right now mostly because of the fiscal cliff. The S&P 500, the best indicator for the stocks in your 401(k), it's fallen about 2.5 percent since Election Day. Now, this week, we're going to be getting several reports on the manufacturing sector. Those are, hopefully, going to give us a pretty good update on the health of the economy, drawing attention maybe away from the gridlock in Washington over the fiscal cliff.

And the U.S. is expected to be the world's biggest oil producer by around 2020, kicking Saudi Arabia out of the top spot. That's according to a new report this morning from the International Energy Agency.

The rise is because of a recent resurgence in oil and gas production and the fact that cars and trucks are more fuel efficient. Plus, the U.S. is expected to be a net oil exporter by around 2030.

And yes, add one more to the list. Toys R Us is opening early on Thanksgiving night Thursday, I'm talking about, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. That's an hour earlier than last year. Target and Wal-Mart, they're going to open earlier on Thanksgiving night as well. So, you can get your turkey, you can eat that, and then, go work it off in the evening.

O'BRIEN: I guess you get a sitter for the kids and then you run out --

KOSIK: Yes. Take them with. Make it a family affair.

FREELAND: What about the poor people who have to work there?

KOSIK: I know.

O'BRIEN: Well, listen, as someone who has worked every single holiday, they can get over it.

SIMMONS: I hate to say it, but what about the turkey?

O'BRIEN: I know you're a vegan.


SIMMONS: (INAUDIBLE) I just think all the animals, the worst disaster in the history of the world and the abuse. I know it's not my segment.

O'BRIEN: That's OK.

SIMMONS: I wanted to share that.

O'BRIEN: Good luck about changing that tradition.

SIMMONS: The greatest cause of global warming, greater than all the trains, planes and automobiles times two.

O'BRIEN: What, the processing of animal?

SIMMONS: the waste of oil, the waste of grain, the waste of water, the waste -- and just makes you sick. Do I look sick? I'm 100.


O'BRIEN: You look -- I thought --


SIMMONS: I don't eat animal products, and I feel fine.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for that. All right. We're going to turn and talk about what's happening for folks in far rockaway. They have no food, in some cases. No supplies. There's no medication. It's already been two weeks of post-hurricane Sandy. And there are people who are still desperate for help.

Tens of thousands of people don't have electricity still in New York area. Some of them in the far rockaway section of Queens where, you know, it's getting very cold here and dangerous. Victor Blackwell is in the far rockaway section of Queens for us this morning with the very latest. How many folks, Victor, are we talking about who are still grappling with really no change since Sandy?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest number we have from LIPA is that about 37,000 here just on the rockaway peninsula still have no power. A lot of people who live at the ocean village community just a few hundred yards from me may be up on the 11th floor have been suffering through this with no heat, no electricity.

They say now they have cold running water and gas so that they can heat water on the stove and then create some -- some heat that way for their home. I want to take you, though, to this home right here. This is where Dee Arrington lives with her 17-year-old daughter.

And she got her power back just at about, let's say, 3:45 Eastern this morning. And she says that the nights without it were almost unbearable. Listen.


DEE ARRINGTON, LOST BELONGINGS IN FLOOD: I told her, we're going to be all right. You know? God is with us. And you know, we're going to have help soon. And I trust in our government, you know? We're going to have help soon. And everything's going to be all right.

BLACKWELL: Was there a moment that you didn't believe that, you were just telling her that?

ARRINGTON: I wouldn't tell her that. Yes, I did. I did. I didn't know how to -- how I was going to make it. I'm a single parent. I didn't know how I was going to make that.


BLACKWELL: And those nights, when she was there with her daughter, she said they'd wear five pairs of socks and a jacket and a coat and then blankets on top of them. But this morning, they have their power back. Cannot be said for the people who live in the building across the street. The hallways are dark. It smells like garbage, they tell me. And they say there are seniors and people with children there who cannot get out and no help is coming in. So, they're still waiting for some help and some support -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, where's FEMA for those folks, I mean, right? These are people should be helped out. Victor, thanks for your update on that. And keep watching it for us.

All right. Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, change or cease to exist? Imagine Texas becoming a blue state. Will Cain, imagine Texas becoming a blue state. It is a doomsday scenario for Will and other Republicans. This morning, we talk to Ryan Lizza about why Texas could be the front line of change for the GOP.

And also, the new movie "Lincoln" getting all kinds of buzz already, Oscar buzz. Actress Gloria Reuben is going to join us to talk about her role, straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Alina starts us of with the day's top stories.

CHO: We start with a story you've been watching very closely. A partial recount in the hotly contested race for Florida's district 18 congressional seat narrows the gap between Republican Congressman Allen West and Democrat Patrick Murphy slightly. But it's not enough to trigger an automatic recount. Democrat Murphy still ahead by a margin of more than a half percent, but West's campaign manager is vowing to take legal action.

President Obama called it the biggest failure of his first term. Now Republican senator Lindsay Graham says he and Democrat Chuck Schumer are ready to restart talks on immigration reform. Schumer even says a deal could be done before the end of the year. Graham tells CBS that Republicans learned a lesson on Election Day.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. Just don't reload the gun. I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform Bill that's an American solution to an American problem. But we have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics. And we can get them back with some effort on our part.


CHO: Got to hand it to Lindsey Graham. Has a way with words. Don't reload the gun. Key provisions of the plan include a path to citizenship for those already in the United States, and stronger border security.

Sunday night football action, the Bears and Texans in Chicago. Houston's Arian Foster had a big night. He rushed for 102 yards on 29 carries and scored the game's only touchdown. The Texans' defense, two interceptions before knocking Jay Cutler out of the game with a concussion. Final score, by the way, Houston, 13, Chicago, 6. Will Cain, how do you like that?

CAIN: That's not my team, Alina.

CHO: You're from Texas.


CHO: Shows you how much I know. That's Judy -- that's right, Russell Simmons. That is Judy Garland's dress from "The Wizard of Oz." It has a new home. Someone paid $480,000 for that dress at auction.

O'BRIEN: I have that dress, too. My daughters wore that for Halloween.

SIMMONS: I bought her house.

O'BRIEN: You bought her house?

SIMMONS: Last week, yes. The --


O'BRIEN: Since President Obama's re-election, the Republican Party has been grappling with the issue of courting Latino voters, a group that now makes up 10 percent of the American electorate and voted for the president by a resounding 71 percent. You heard Lindsey Graham just a moment ago. Here's a look at more of what he said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.


GRAHAM: It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. Just don't reload the gun. So I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform Bill that's an American solution to an American problem. But we have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics, and we can get them back with some effort on our part.


O'BRIEN: I think I said "Meet the Press." It's actually clearly "Face the Nation." our CNN contributor and Washington correspondent for the New Yorker Ryan Lizza has got a new piece out this morning talking about how the state of Texas could actually serve as a front line in the Republican party's battle to bring in more Hispanic voters. Nice to see you, Ryan. Sorry you're not here in person.

He used an interesting choice of words, didn't he? Tear this wall down which I thought was very Reagan-esque. Also talking about a wall. Usually when we're hearing from Republicans on a wall it's build that wall up. Give me a sense of what's at risk here for the GOP. RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Man, the velocity at which some Republican leaders in Washington are moving at this -- on this issue is surprising. You know, I closed this piece on Friday. Already it just seems like a lot of Republicans have come out, gotten the message that they can't go forward as a national party unless they make some headway among Hispanics. Almost every opinion maker in the Beltway and numerous senators are saying that they've got to move back to the Bush era policy on immigration reform. And if you want to understand why, the best place to go is Texas.

O'BRIEN: Why Texas?

LIZZA: Texas right now is a majority minority state. There are more nonwhite people than white people in Texas. Think about that. It's the only majority minority state in the country that we all just assume is a Republican state. You know, I spent a week there before the election, and the Republicans in that state are absolutely seized with this issue and terrified that at the current rate Texas is going to be a blue state as soon as 2016.

It's very rare to sit down with the chairman of a Republican Party, as I did in Texas, to sit there in a state where they control everything, every statewide office and the state house and the Senate seats, he sits there and tells you it's all a mirage. This state is about to be Democratic unless we make some headway with the Hispanic vote.

O'BRIEN: Remember they were talking to Kay Bailey Hutchison the other day. She talked about Texas as well. I think you were taking notes for your piece while you were interviewing her.

LIZZA: I was doing interviews on air.

O'BRIEN: She was basically saying, listen, we need to be more in the -- sort of the image of George Bush and less in the image of what's happening in Arizona. But when we talked to mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, what he said it's not just about immigration. The Texas thing is just about being positive on immigration, that's not going to work. It's about many other things. He said it's about substance as well. Can you explain that dichotomy there?

LIZZA: I think there are a few options available to the Republicans. There are some Republicans that just think, OK. All we need to do is run candidates with a Hispanic surname and that will be enough. That's sort of the easy way out, right? This sort of Republican identity politics, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, new senator from Texas, or any number of Hispanic leaders in the Republican Party run, that will be enough to attract Hispanics. You don't actually have to change on the policy.

Another group of Republicans says, no, that's not enough. Voters aren't stupid. They don't care what the ethnic background of the candidate is, they care how they talk about their issues and they care about what they say about immigration. That faction says you've got to change the policy. Then there's a discussion of how far do you change the policy? Is it just comprehensive immigration reform? Is that enough? A lot of Democrats would say no. The Republican Party platform talks about birthright citizenship. That is changing the constitution so you could no longer become a citizen just if you're born in America. There are efforts, you know, bilingual education is a big issue.

O'BRIEN: We have a Texan on the panel today. Let's turn to him.

LIZZA: Who's that?

CAIN: Whenever we can they make them aware of it.

LIZZA: He lives on the upper west side now.

CAIN: Quiet with that. Did you take any of my barbecue recommendations when you went to Texas?

LIZZA: I did hit, you know, ironworks in Austin.

CAIN: There you go. Franklin's is where you should have gone. You didn't answer Soledad's question. This is interesting. Is immigration the only policy that drives this electorate, Ryan?


CAIN: Is the Republican Party versus the Democratic Party's position on immigration the only thing dictating where Latinos vote, and if the answer is no as everyone is chiming in with my question --

O'BRIEN: It is a long question.


LIZZA: The reason immigration drives the Hispanic vote is because that's the issue Republicans used in the primaries. That's the issue they -- when they talk about it, they alienate Hispanics the most. Soledad, as you pointed out a couple times on this show, your mom who's Cuban-American, when she hears certain Republicans talking the way they do about Hispanics --

O'BRIEN: She freaks out.

LIZZA: She doesn't care about immigration.

O'BRIEN: You're exactly right.

SIMMONS: He still got a lot of blacks to become Republican.

O'BRIEN: I would posit at one thing. I think a lot of people felt there was not a lot of energy and engagement in this election cycle. People mistook that for not going out to vote. What happened was a tone. And where immigration really hits, Latinos and tones about racism and racist comments, it will send people to the polls like crazy, even if they don't actually care that much about their candidate. I think people did the match badly on that. We saw that in some of the polling. You have ten seconds.

LIZZA: That was Romney's mistake. FREELAND: Ryan, super quick question, Ryan. So it's not an accident that in the past Republicans have taken this hard line on immigration. I am struck by how quickly they've moved. But do they -- is there potentially a backlash inside the party?

LIZZA: Oh, there is going to be a major, major backlash. The voices that are prominent right now are the ones that have megaphones. Just wait until you hear from people in early primary states and more conservative folks, they're not giving up their position.

O'BRIEN: Arizona.

LIZZA: This is going to be a major war.

O'BRIEN: I completely agree with you. I think immigration is just part of it. There's a lot more in terms of substance everybody has. If they want to come to Jesus on this, it's a pretty big one. Thank you, Ryan Lizza.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, big developments in Syria to talk about, big implications for the ongoing civil war there. We have a live report coming to you in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New out of Syria this morning, opposition groups are formally agreeing to unite. The move will allow for more international diplomatic recognition, more funding, and better military aid. The group's stated goal is to crackdown on President Bashar al Assad's government and only accept a new government.

Which is interesting that this has happened, right? Which is part of the problem in funding these opposition groups is that they have not really been coalesced. They have not been together. It's a big problem.

Arwa Damon has a report for us this morning. I think we've got her. Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And what they're trying to accomplish right now is put together a body that all Syrians are going to be able to feel is an accurate representation of themselves, but of the revolution itself.

So far what they've been able to come towards has been something that is being viewed as a positive step. The president of this coalition, for example, he is -- yes, a Sunni Imam, a former Imam. He used to preach at one of the main mosques in Damascus. But he's most certainly viewed as being a moderate Muslim. Very well loved by his followers. Someone who preaches unity of all of the various sects that exist within Syria.

His two deputies, one of them a very prominent businessman, the other one a woman who herself is well known as being an advocate of women's rights. The big challenge right now is going to see how much influence they're able to exert over the Syrian battlefield and of course, whether or not they will gain that much-needed international recognition.

The U.S. amongst other western and Gulf powers has long been complaining about the lack of a unified body to speak to, negotiate with when it comes to the Syrian opposition. Complaining that the Syrian National Council is too Islamist, too dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

So everyone is very much viewing this as a positive first step. But again, it's still remains a very first and initial step with a very tough and long road ahead.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Arwa Damon for us this morning, thank you, Arwa.

Still ahead this morning, Gloria Reuben joins us. She's starring in a new movie, "Lincoln". That will be fantastic. She's going to join us to talk about that straight ahead. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abolishing slavery settles the fate for millions now in bondage and unborn millions to come. We must cure ourselves of slavery. This amendment is that cure.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. That's a clip from the new Steven Spielberg movie "Lincoln". It stars Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis. It opened but limited one this weekend, already getting Oscar buzz. The movie tells the story of the final four months of Lincoln's presidency when he worked to end the civil war which had already left 600,000 Americans dead. And also worked to pass the 13th Amendment which of course is the amendment that abolishes slavery.

One of the characters in the film is Elizabeth Keckley, the former slave who was Mary Todd Lincoln's dresser and confidante and actress Gloria Reuben plays that role. It's nice to have you with us.

GLORIA REUBEN, ACTOR, "LINCOLN": Thank you. Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: It's so interesting that there is actually so much known about this particular character. Because you researched her life before you played her.

REUBEN: I did, very much so. I mean, there were a handful of books that were written about specifically about Elizabeth's Keckley's relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln. Because yes, she was her personal dressmaker, modiste and confidante and best friend. Yet Elizabeth in her own right was a very successful businesswoman and was running her business in Washington, D.C., had opened up her dressmaking business before -- before they met. So along with reading the handful of books that I could get on their relationship, I planned and took a road trip to document the areas where Elizabeth Keckley spent her first 25, 30 years of life.


O'BRIEN: So that made its way into this book.

REUBEN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: It's published in essay, it's the book that goes along with the movie.

REUBEN: Yes, exactly. I wrote and they published -- incorporated in this book an essay that -- that I've shared kind of some emotional parallels that I have with Elizabeth Keckley.


O'BRIEN: So tell us about it. Tell me about Elizabeth Keckley.

REUBEN: Well, she was born into slavery. Her biological father was her master. When she was 14 years old she was given as a gift -- a wedding gift to the oldest legitimate son which is often how they kept a slave family and the legitimate family. She was raped as a young woman and gave birth to a son.

Over the years she really crafted the art of dressmaking and design. And in her late 30s she bought her and her son's own freedom. She moved to Washington, D.C., her son goes to (inaudible) university. She opens up her store, her shop in Washington. Four months later meet Mary Todd Lincoln. And again becomes Mary Todd personal modiste.

Her son ends up enlisting in -- in the war. He fights for the union. And unfortunately he dies in his first battle. And he -- he fought in 1861. He could pass as white. Her son passed as white. So he went to fight for freedom. Elizabeth tells the president a little bit about this when they have a scene together.

O'BRIEN: How do you make your career -- you've had such an interesting career. You starred in "E.R."

REUBEN: I did yes.

O'BRIEN: And you've done a bunch of movies as well. And then you quit so you could go dance.

REUBEN: Actually, I didn't quit so I could go dance. That's a common misconception. I actually had asked to leave "E.R." I was kind of -- the role was fantastic. And I'm always -- I always hold it close. And it was very poignant. And at that time a woman who was HIV positive, a heterosexual married women who -- who gets the virus.

But emotionally I'd kind of had enough. I actually asked to leave before I knew what I was going to do that.

O'BRIEN: Because we all thought you left to go dance with Tina Turner.

REUBEN: No, no, I did -- well, I -- I knew that I wanted to have more music in my life. I asked to leave the show. And then I met Tina. So that's how -- I took the leap.

O'BRIEN: So how do you decide -- what -- what rings a bell for you when you're looking at a script or looking at a choice of what to do next?

REUBEN: Well, I think this was kind of a -- a no-brainer. Let's see. Steven Spielberg. Daniel Day-Lewis. Well, okay. What could you think about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you -- what about the actual story?

REUBEN: It's spectacular. It's based on, of course, Elizabeth Keckley, you know, it's based on the last four months of his administration taken from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, "Team of Rivals". You know, the story is a magnificent one.

CAIN: I'm going to ask you about working with Daniel Day-Lewis. The story is that many co-stars never meet him because he goes into character months before the movie, stays in the character, never breaks. Is that true? Was he Lincoln, the total time you interacted with him?

O'BRIEN: It sounds like yes.

REUBEN: This makes it sound like he's --


REUBEN: -- no he's not. He's so human and generous and open. And we were all --

O'BRIEN: But is he Lincoln?

REUBEN: I don't know his process.

SIMMONS: Well, he freed you after all. Is he really that character or not? I've heard that he stays in character as well.

REUBEN: Let me just say something that -- and this is my first and God willing hoping not my last time working with him. All I know is that for this particular project we were filming in Richmond, Virginia. Needless to say that's the capital of what was the capital of the confederacy. We're doing this film on Abraham Lincoln 150 years after the Civil War.

You know, everybody -- it was just a natural thing. Everybody was in a very respectful -- it was the most respectful, quiet set that I've ever been on. Of course, helmed by Steven. But there was just this feeling of we were doing something really sacred here. And everybody --

O'BRIEN: Did you stay in character, too? SIMMONS: I want to know if he wore a top hat off the set.

CAIN: Oh, Russell.

O'BRIEN: That's a yes, Russell.

REUBEN: No, it's not. The thing is we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of fun. As I think that people will see when they see the film is that there's unexpected --

O'BRIEN: It looks amazing.

REUBEN: It's one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen. I can't tell you, to be a part of it is like a dream come true.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for coming in talk to us about it.

SIMMONS: Did he free the slaves for political or social reasons or did you inspire, your character inspire that shift?

O'BRIEN: Why did he free the slaves?


REUBEN: Obviously he wanted -- he wanted emancipation. He wanted to abolish slavery permanently. And I think that, he was a master politician. So he had to -- you know, he really fought with what do I do first? End the war so people stop dying or is the commitment to -- forever to abolish slavery.

O'BRIEN: His motivation. You'll have to read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book. I'm going to guess it's multi-factorial on that. Thank you. I'm such a huge fan. It's so great to have you join us this morning.

REUBEN: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it.

Short break and we're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Time for "End Point". Go to Russell today with our last remaining seconds.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Sum up the day for us.

SIMMONS: Well, we talked about meditation today. I think everybody should operate from this idea of a calm space like operating from abundance is critical. I think it allows everyone to be a better giver and good givers are great getters.


SIMMONS: Take that idea of meditation and the smooth transition from what's inside to what you have to do on the outside.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say run with it. Of course, that's sort of antithetical to meditation. Take the idea and run with it.

SIMMONS: No, no, no. We move -- moving and meditation, we work really hard, engage in the work and not the results.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate you being with us this morning, Russell.

SIMMONS: Was that all right?

O'BRIEN: It's perfect.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning. Hey Carol.