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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Israel Holds Ground Offensive into Gaza; Peace Talks Concerning Israel and Hamas Commence; The Future of the GOP; Morsi: "Positive Results" in Conflict

Aired November 20, 2012 - 08:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Some breaking news to get to. We were hearing and we are waiting for a report from Reza Sayah about what Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi is now saying. He is saying that id real's aggression, as he calls it, against Gaza will end sometime today, maybe in a few hours and that Egyptian-mediated efforts will produce positive results.

Reza Sayah is reporting for us on this issue. He joins us live. So back up and give us some detail. Is Mohamed Morsi really the person who would be able to effectively say that this aggression now ends?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's tough to say. What we do know is that intelligence officials in Egypt that are apparently leading the negotiations, and the man who is doing it is Mohammed Shahat. He is the spy chief. It's interesting because in 2011 he helped to negotiate the release of Israeli soldier Israel soldier Gilad Shalit, which suggests this Egyptian spy chief has pretty strong contacts in Tel Aviv and he also has pretty strong contacts in Hamas.

Again, Mohamed Morsi, the president, coming out and saying he expects Israeli aggression to stop on Tuesday. That's pretty consistent to similar statements we've heard over the past 24 hours. Last night an Egyptian intelligence official and a Hamas official said they're hopeful that a ceasefire could be achieved by today. And it looks like, if you believe what the Egyptian officials are saying, it looks like they're working on conditions. Hamas officials are telling us Israel has agreed to the conditions but they haven't agreed to the timing. Hamas' conditions is for Israel to stop the air operations and open up the ground crossings immediately and simultaneously. According to Hamas officials, Israel is willing to open up the ground crossings and blockade gradually. So that's where things stand right now, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: He had mentioned, it looks like sometime today -- I've also heard in a few hours. What's the timeline you're hearing, Reza?

SAYAH: The timeline is sometime today. It's the same timeline we heard late last night in speaking to Egyptian officials and Hamas officials. So, again, optimism from the Egyptian side, Hamas side. Israel is being a little bit more cautious, a bit more quiet about the possibility of progress, but we did read a tweet from the spokesperson from the Israeli prime minister's office, and he said that they're hopeful that something could be worked out. Again, an indication that something could happen sometime today. Many say they'll believe it when they see it.

O'BRIEN: Reza Sayah for this morning, appreciate it. As Reza just told us in Israel a little more cautious. I want to get to Frederik Pleitgen. He's in Ashkelon for with breaking news. It sounds like it's tentative and cautious reaction so far, Frederik.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So far saying these negotiations are going on and, yes, they've halted the ground offensive. But they're also saying it's not clear whether or not these things will lead to any sort of success. It is clear that the negotiations are going on.

I want to show you something. We're at the border with Gaza, overlooking Gaza, you can see back there big plumes of smoke coming up over Gaza. We had a big barrage of what we believe is Israeli artillery firing on that area back there. We're not sure if they were firing at any targets or they may have just been calibrating their weapons. But certainly there is a lot of Israeli armor that's here. And either they're testing their weapons and firing on open areas in Gaza or, in fact, there is some sort of target there.

We actually counted about 20 to 25 artillery shells, we believe, that hit over there. And so right now there is a lot of action going on here over Gaza. There was also just an airstrike just now that might explain why the Israelis are being so cautious, because there is really no let up here in the violence. There are still rockets going out of Gaza. In fact, there are still air strikes going into Gaza. One thing that the Israelis still keep saying is that even though right now the preparations for ground offensive have been halted, that does not mean that it isn't going to happen if, in fact, negotiations fail and if Israel doesn't achieve what this wants to achieve, and that is rocket launches out of Gaza stop completely. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Frederick Pleitgen for us this morning, thank you. More on the U.S. response to this conflict, let's get right to our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. We know that Secretary Clinton is heading into the region, and obviously a delicate task. With this latest breaking it must make things, I suppose, depending how accurate this reporting is, make it easier for her certainly.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, easier in the sense that an immediate problem might be relieved, an immediate problem meaning let's say the rocket attacks stop. Israel does not invade, and things kind of calm down. That would be optimal. But that's just the beginning. I mean, this is very, very complex, as you said.

And so as the Secretary arrives, and local time in Israel she arrives about 10:00 p.m. And she'll be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. She gets up the next morning and goes to Ramallah to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority. And you have to add he has been very much sidelined, as we've been pointing out. He doesn't have a lot of direct influence on what is going on, certainly, on Hamas, which runs Gaza. So that's a difficult situation. And then finally she will be going also on Wednesday to Cairo. And that's where the key is. They are the brokers here, the people who are talking to Hamas and trying to bring about some type of cease fire. It appears that that now is going to happen. But again a lot of caveats about that.

O'BRIEN: Jill Dougherty for us this morning. Thank you, Jill.

Interesting because it sets up for Hillary Clinton as she arrives this very -- it sounds like fragile, tentative, any synonym you want to use there in that for her as she arrives. But I guess --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It seems to me that she would not have left Cambodia for the Middle East unless they knew there was substantial progress already. As soon as we saw the news overnight, it seemed something was going on in the region.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. It's not at a presidential level but that's how these things kind of work, kind of precooked. You have to wait for it to fully bake.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has laid out two peace plans that have been passed by the Arab League. The President and Secretary Clinton should certainly speak to the Saudi Arabians. They will play a key figure in the ongoing negotiations.

O'BRIEN: Very interesting as Jill was talking about the short term and the long term, because the short term ceasefire for the immediate moment is valuable, but really this -- how long has this region been in this kind of --

BASH: A century.

O'BRIEN: What is the long-term solution? That is a huge, huge problem.

SKOLNIK: Peace.

O'BRIEN: No, no, that's the outcome of a long-term solution.

Let's turn to business news if we can for a moment. Housing market.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDNET: Strong. We have another new number showing strength in the housing market, you guys. The highest level now since 2008, this number just crossing 894,000 housing starts in October. This follows some good news on existing home prices yesterday. Existing home prcies, that's the bulk of the housing market, right? They're up more than 11 percent over the past year. That's according to the national association of realtors, median price in existing home, $178,600. But these housing starts for those who are bullish in the housing market, housing starts are construction jobs, trucking jobs, people who are laying bricks, who are pouring concrete and then comes all of the kinds of purchases that go into furnishing a house, carpeting, putting in the wood floors, windows, everything.

So when you're seeing a recovery in housing starts and residential home building, that's something that really moves money throughout the economy. I'm not seeing futures move on this, quite frankly. Even despite Sandy the northeast, these are strong numbers. Downgrade of France by Moody's is getting attention today and in the Dow, holding things back this morning.

O'BRIEN: Let's get to other news. John Berman has that.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. The NTSB recreates a deadly collision between a parade float and a train today. The NTSB will hold an investigation today in to bells, lights and gate worked as designed last week, giving a 20-second warning that a train was coming. Four veterans were killed during the parade, which was meant to honor them and their military service.

A bail hearing is set for today for New York's so-called cannibal cop. The 28-year-old NYPD officer entered a not guilty plea during a hearing yesterday, accused of allegedly plotting to kidnap, kill and eat at least 100 women. You heard that right. He used an NYPD criminal database to get information about potential victims and has been denied bail twice. His lawyer says she will try again today.

Government lawyers asking a military appeals court to deny a request by accused Ft. Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan to keep his beard. Hasan claims it's his religious right as a practicing Muslim to wear facial hair in defiance of army regulations.

At least half a dozen mudslides have blocked highways and rail lines in parts of Washington and Oregon, complicating travel plans for people hitting the road for Thanksgiving. Amtrak service between Seattle and Vancouver is canceled likely through tomorrow, as has some commuter rail service from Seattle on northward. That's kind of a bummer in the northwest for Thanksgiving.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, to get a voting bloc they didn't have, can the Republican Party win over Latino voters next time around? We'll talk with Jeb Bush Jr., who has been doing a lot of Hispanic outreach about what the plan is ahead. STARTING POINT will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It's been two weeks since the election and Republicans have been doing a little soul searching to try to figure out why their party lost the presidency. Our exit polls lay out some reasons. This one shows Mitt Romney winning the white vote while African-Americans, Latinos, Asians all broke for President Obama in a big way. Right after the election, Paul Ryan spoke about losing the race because of urban voters. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The polling we had, the numbers, we were looking at looked like we stood a pretty good chance of winning. So when the numbers came in, going the other direction, when we see the kind of turnout that was occurring in urban areas, which were fairly unprecedented, it did come as a shock. Those are the kind of losses, the ones that catch you by surprise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Jeb Bush Jr. is the son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, cofounder of Sun PAC, a conservative outreach program for the Hispanic community. Thanks for talking with us.

JEB BUSH JR., COFOUNDER, SUN PAC: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. Paul Ryan pitches sort of what happened on Election Day as this urban influx but you know certainly the President won Paul Ryan's own district, which is white and suburban. He won Eric Cantor's own district, which is white and suburban. He won Ohio, there's lot of white suburban people in it. Why do you think? What is your reason ultimately for why the GOP lost?

BUSH: Well, I think as it relates to our urban and Latino and Hispanic districts, you know the bottom line is we didn't get the message out. I mean they had more boots on the ground and they had a better message than we did as relates to immigration and the economy.

And you know unfortunately we lost; it was a tough night. But we're looking forward -- to take a word from -- from the presidential campaign -- we're looking forward to the mid terms in 2016. And we're going to be working hard to get the message out.

O'BRIEN: Is it -- is it not getting the message out or is it that there's no message that works? I mean, I thought I had a lot of conversations about Latinos and the GOP. I did a documentary about the GOP and Latinos in the state of Nevada. And I think there was a sense that it's the wrong message for lots of Latinos and you sort of saw that reflected on Election Day, I thought.

BUSH: Correct. And I would agree with that, I mean the sense of our messaging. I mean you know self deportation, or however you want to spin it is just not the -- it's not attractive to Hispanics, Latinos or anyone for that matter. You know we could focus on the immigration issue as it relates to building our economy, taking advantage of the American secret sauce and really you know using this as a -- first of all, to get this out of the way politically, but to really, you know, help our country out.

And we need to have comprehensive immigration. So we're hoping that we can get this issue off the table and look forward.

O'BRIEN: You know, some people have said it's not just about immigration. Although I know when we talk about the Latino voter, you know me and everybody else we all go talk about immigration first. But others have said it's not just about immigration. Clearly I thought tone was a big problem for the GOP.

The mayor for San Antonio, Julian Castro, told me the other day it's also about the content of policy. It's more than just sort of a message and tone. Here is what he told me the other day.

Oh, well, you know what? I'm going to have to read it to you. Because apparently I don't have that sound bite, he said, On health care for example -- forgive me for that -- "Republicans are against, are very much against Obamacare for the Latino community -- nine million more Latinos will be provided with healthcare. That's a huge deal when you talk about diabetes, obesity, hypertension. So having healthcare would be a great thing. It's also the substance, it's not just tone it's the substance of the policies that Republicans are embracing."

Do you see a change not only on the tone front and the messaging front as you call it, but also substance?

BUSH: We do. I mean, you know, during the election you saw most of the polling had the economy as the number one issue for Latinos in this country. But a close second was immigration and education. And I think going to Mayor Castro's point, we need to have kind of a diverse set of platform issues to really focus on.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Can you all fit under the big tent on that? Do you know what I'm saying? Like I guess --

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: Yes.

O'BRIEN: -- if you work with the Tea Party, right, the Tea Party says listen the reason we lost is that the candidate was pretty weak. If you look at Evangelicals, many say listen I felt that you know we really felt that they weren't conservative enough. If you look the others, they'll say you know we lost Latinos. They got a better messaging for Latinos.

Could all of those people fit under the tent of one party and not sort of undermine each other as you try to move forward?

BUSH: Absolutely. But going back to your question in terms of do we see a change and shift in the party? Absolutely. And we have great leaders like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval. We have more Hispanic Governors than Democrats, we have more Hispanic senators than Democrat you know but we really have to work on our ground game, we have to work on our messaging.

You know in 2004, 2008 George W showed that you can be successful with Hispanics and be a Republican. You know but he showed up in Hispanic communities, he spoke a little Spanish, which is trying and I think that candidness really came across well. So McCain and Governor Romney didn't do a good job, but I think in 2016 we'll -- hopefully have a candidate that certainly focuses on that.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Marco Rubio for a moment. A rising star, speaks Spanish fluently obviously. He did an interview with GQ magazine and he was asked a sort of a crazy question and sounded like a kind of gotcha question. Which was how old is the earth is. And what he answered was basically "I'm not a scientist. There are multiple theories out there about how old the earth is."

And when I read that, I thought that what he was sort of saying was that back to the umbrella question, right. Well, I want to give an answer for the scientist but also make people who believe in creationism happy and anybody who feels like they want to be able to educate their children about anything they want, I want to make them happy. And it was one of those multiple non-answers that made it seemed to me like this could be indicative of a problem. I'm trying to answer to too many -- what do you call it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Masters.

O'BRIEN: Masters, yes.

BUSH: Yes it was a -- it was a strange question and I guess kind of a head-scratching type of an answer. But again going back to the Republican Party and how we kind of shape the tone, I mean we've to be kind of a pro-science and pro-technology, you know, party.

And I think Marco Rubio is just that. But we also can't forget about our traditional values, things like faith and family. And you know governor -- Senator Rubio certainly represents that. On the -- the earth question, I guess -- I'll have to read more closely in terms of getting a better understanding. But yes it's kind of a strange -- a strange response, I guess.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It was a really weird response. I guess maybe moving forward that's an indication of you're going to have to come up with an answer. That's not a multi-part answer.

BUSH: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Or you know, or I think that's going to be a real challenge.

BUSH: Or -- or again, I mean, you know the Republican Party -- yes the party has been pushed in this area of kind of anti-science and anti-technology and I don't think that's true. You know, we're a young and dynamic party and we're -- hopefully after this election it's a very good example that we need to open up the tent and we need to bring in young -- young and exciting people into the party.

O'BRIEN: Is your dad going to run for president?

BUSH: I don't know. No comment. I certainly hope so -- but --

BERMAN: Which is it? Is it I don't know or no comment?

BUSH: You never know.

BASH: I think it's the "I hope so".

O'BRIEN: You said, wait a minute. You said "I don't know", "no comment", and "I hope so" which are all kind of contradictory.

BUSH: Exactly. Give me the full loaf of bread right there.

O'BRIEN: And I'll leave it at that. Nice to have you with us. Jeb Bush Jr. joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BUSH: Yes, ma'am. Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to continue to update you on what's happening in Israel, in the Middle East and Gaza as well.

We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Let's update you on breaking news in the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi is saying that Israel's aggression, as he calls it against Gaza, is going to end today. Egyptian mediated efforts will produce, quote, "positive results" just several hours from now is what he's predicting.

Earlier this morning, Israel announced it will hold off on a ground invasion to give diplomatic efforts a chance. And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she's in the air right now, expected to arrive a little bit later in the region today to try to help broker peace as well.

So no signs so far as to an actual ceasefire. Dozens of rockets have been fired into Israel. Most have been destroyed, though, by that Iron Dome, which protects it against rockets. Again, the Egyptian president, Morsi, saying the aggression between Israel and Gaza is expected to end in just a few hours.

Got to take a short break. Stay with us.

"End Point" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I love that graphic so much. Dana Bash, "End Point." you get to start.

BASH: Well, I think what we've seen in the Middle East particularly with this fighting really does bring home the problem that the West, particularly the U.S. has with the fact that they have to deal with the Palestinian Authority but the real juice, so to speak, right now is with Hamas. How do they square that circle, they meaning the U.S. and Secretary Clinton who's going there right now. That's the big question going forward.

O'BRIEN: And how do you leverage Egypt to do that efficiently and effectively. Will Cain?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, this conflict, and John Berman was just talking about this during the break. It's the first piece of evidence we have in what is a massively changing geopolitical region of the world. And we now know, at least, we hope to know what Egypt's role in that new world looks like because we had no idea a week or two ago.

BERMAN: I don't know if we know yet. But they certainly seem to be playing a part.

O'BRIEN: It's been interesting to hear the Israeli leadership praising Morsi.

BERMAN: They've given him a huge amount of leeway. He's out with a statement saying Israel will stop its aggression right now and Israel is not really complaining. They're giving Egypt a lot of room here.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Interesting to watch.

SKOLNIK: I think after the presidential election when they said that President Obama could not work with Netanyahu, it's interesting to see them work together on a peace deal.

O'BRIEN: We hope (INAUDIBLE).

Thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. Nice to have you, Dana, as always.

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