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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Powerball Jackpot Second Highest Ever; Negotiations over Fiscal Cliff Continue; Ambassador Susan Rice to Meet with Senator; Interview with Dick Durbin; Teenager Killed in Florida

Aired November 28, 2012 - 07:00   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, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. And our "Starting Point" this morning: $2 and a dream. A record $500 million Powerball drawing is just hours away, the jackpot growing as I speak. Talking to some potential multimillionaires in Times Square this morning.

And from bad to worse, the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, returns to Capitol Hill today after her first attempt to calm Republican critics over those Benghazi attacks seems to have failed. We'll talk about the impact of what she said.

And the kid from "Two and a Half Men" now says he's sorry after he slammed the very sitcom that's made him millions of dollars.

We have a packed show this morning. Senator Dick Durbin will join us. Former governors Tim Pawlenty and Christine Todd Whitman are our guests. And recording superstar Dionne Warwick stops by.

It's Wednesday, November 28th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning: turning two bucks and a dream into a fortune. Maybe. Millions of people across the country are hoping to hit tonight's $500 million Powerball jackpot. It's the second largest in lottery history. Nobody has won Powerball since early October, so they've rolled it over 16 consecutive times.

The lottery official is calculating that there is just a five percent chance that no one will win tonight if sale surges are expected, as they are. If you do win the cash value stands at $324 million. And the odds, unfortunately, of taking home the jackpot are really, really, really, really, really, really low -- 175 million to one.

Alison Kosik is monitoring Powerball fever live in New York's Times Square for us this morning. Good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. You know the odds are pretty Clinton but it's not keeping people away from buying the Powerball tickets, Soledad. I bought one ticket. And one is all you need. You got to be in it to win it. I'm in it at least with one ticket. A lot of people coming in today with dreams, dreaming of what they would do with the money, as they get their morning coffee, and head out to work, and also, of course, buy a few Powerball tickets here and there. O'BRIEN: Alison Kosik, if you win, remember, you and me, we're a team, girl. Thanks for the update.

Take a live look in Zionsville, Indiana. That Powerball has a mascot. It has a little puffy circular red man. I don't know why. But he's giving away 3500 free Powerball lottery tickets. First come first serve is the way to bring everybody out. Anybody who doesn't get a free one is expected to stick around, pay a couple bucks and buy one.

Ambassador Susan Rice will return to Capitol Hill this morning. She's going to be meeting with two more Republican senators. She kind of struck out with three of her harshest GOP critics. Those senators, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, were not satisfied, they said, with the ambassador's explanation for her comments following the Benghazi consulate attack. CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott has more details for us. She's in Washington, D.C. this morning. Elise, good morning.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad. Well, what came out in those meetings and why senators say they're even more concerned, centers around the information that the CIA had just after the attack about possible involvement in the Benghazi attack that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and those three other Americans. Now, ambassador Rice did not make reference to this information in her talk show appearances. The unclassified talking points she used were provided by the CIA, were stripped of these references to Al Qaeda, because the information was classified and couldn't be delivered in public.

Now, after the meeting, Ambassador Rice acknowledged those talking points turned out to be incorrect. But that she stressed she and the administration never meant to mislead the American people. And what the senators are saying is, as a cabinet member, Ambassador Rice is privy to this conflicting information. She should have been more discerning when she went on those talk shows, and that the secretary of state should Ambassador Rice be nominated needs more independent, not just held to party lines. Let's take a listen to what Senators Graham and Ayotte said yesterday after those meetings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Bottom line, I'm more disturbed now than I was before.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Certainly she misled the American public. I think that she would say that. She'd have to say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: Now, Soledad, Ambassador Rice is not without her supporters. Democrats on the hill say Rice's Republican critics are still the ones politicizing the Benghazi attacks, and Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman also met with Rice. He said yesterday he was satisfied that she did nothing to disqualify her to be secretary of state should the president nominate her. But, unfortunately, Senator Lieberman is retiring this year, and he doesn't get a vote. Later today, Ambassador Rice will meet with Senator Collins, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, and senator Bob Corker, senior Republican on the senator Foreign Relations Committee. Both have said they have some concerns, willing to hear her out. So, Soledad, should the president nominate her, she's certainly getting a chance to sharpen those diplomatic skills.

O'BRIEN: What do you think is going on here? I'm really curious. There's a lot of people holding the bag on misinformation, which has now all been confirmed, at least the information was wrong. The CIA, certainly the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has said that, you know, she bears responsibility. The president said he bears some responsibility. So why is the focus on a woman who's the ambassador to the United Nations, who essentially was acting as a spokesperson? What am I missing here?

LABOTT: I think a couple of things are going on. First of all, you know, with -- what the senators are saying is listen, if this is someone who wants to be one of the top cabinet positions in the national security team, and if she is, you know, this goes to the heart of her qualifications. She should have used better judgment. If she had this information, she should have been more questioning about some of the information and saying, hey, listen, we can't go out there.

But I also think that there are some senators that want to have some kind of, you know, make someone pay the price for what happened in Benghazi. A lot of people very close to ambassador Chris Stevens, and they also just feel that the administration has a lot more questions to answer about Benghazi before they're ready to help president Obama have his pick for his national security team.

O'BRIEN: Elise Labott with us this morning. Thanks, Elise, appreciate the update.

Christine's got a look at some of the other stories making news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. New developments in the deadly garment factory fire in Bangladesh. Three midlevel managers are under arrest, accused of locking the main gate of the factory after the inferno broke out Saturday. That fire killed more than 100 workers and injured more than 150 others. Several thousand people are mourning and are protesting near that factory which makes apparel for exports for places like the United States.

And 34 days left before automatic tax hikes and spending cuts are triggered by the fiscal cliff. Democrats and Republicans appear stuck on entitlement reforms. Democrats don't want deep cuts to programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. Some Republicans say it's the only way to get a deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The reason we're having these negotiations is because Washington Democrats have spent money without any care for the cost or the future and refuse to do anything to protect long-term spending programs like Medicare, a failure that's among the biggest single drivers of our debt.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: One out of three people in this country are going to rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health insurance. So we need to find ways to preserve these programs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Senator Durbin says the debate over entitlement programs should be fought after the new year. He's going to join us in a few minutes to talk about it.

Police on New York's Long Island investigating a deadly bus crash. A six-year-old boy was killed last night when the driver of that bus lost control and went barreling into the front bedroom of the boy's home. Police say the bus driver swerved to avoid hitting a pedestrian. Eleven people on board the bus suffered minor injuries. The boy's seven-year-old brother was hurt but not seriously.

A rewrite for the kid from "Two and a Half Men." Angus T. Jones is now saying sorry after he called his show filth and told viewers not to watch it. He said, quote, "I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I've been blessed."

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: "I never intended that." And now former co-star Charlie Sheen, who was, of course, fired from the show, is weighing in, quote, "It is radically clear to me that the show "Two and a Half Men" is cursed.

O'BRIEN: Says the man who kind of cursed it from the get-go. Show is just a complete mess, isn't it?

ROMANS: Sure is.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, he's one of the highest ranking Democrats in the Senate, and, as you just heard, he said the Democrats should take entitlements off the table until the fiscal cliff mess is solved. Assistant majority leader Senator Dick Durbin is going to join us up next to explain why.

And you know those glitch-filled Apple Maps? Well, guess what? Somebody's head is rolling over that. We'll explain what happened. Back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Republicans have been adamant in the fiscal cliff talks, saying the Democrats have put entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, on the table, if they want the GOP to budge on more tax revenues. But now one high-ranking democrat says entitlements should be off limits until the whole fiscal cliff mess is behind us. The assistant majority leader of the Senate Senator Dick Durbin joins us this morning. Nice to see you, sir, always great to talk to you. Appreciate your time.

DURBIN: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Now with this latest development, how hopeful are you that, in fact, a deal is going to get done? And what would that deal look like?

DURBIN: Well, we should reach an agreement. The point I made was, when it comes to Medicare, we know that it's going to run out of money in twelve years. Whatever changes we want to make should be thoughtful changes. Not made in the heat of the fiscal cliff, not done in the closing days here, of a lame duck session. Let's look at this thoughtfully and make sure at the end of the day Medicare is going to survive and be stronger.

But I think there is plenty of ground here for us to come together as Democrats and Republicans, the Congress and the president, and avoid the worst parts of the fiscal cliff.

O'BRIEN: OK, so what entitlements then? What would you put on the table? Right now it's been the narrative is kind of Republicans will put taxes on the table, Democrats will put entitlements on the table. And I talked to a couple people who say everything's on the table then they start ticking off all the things that are not on the table -- excuse me. So what's on your table that's an entitlement that you'd be willing to negotiate before we fall off the cliff?

DURBIN: Of course. And Social Security is a separate thing. It does not add a penny to the debt. We should deal with this long-term survival and solvency, and we can do that in a separate setting other than this last-minute fiscal cliff negotiation. I will put Medicare into the long-term negotiation here because, as I said, it runs out of money in 12 years.

O'BRIEN: Short-term what's on the table?

DURBIN: What we need to put on the table in short-term is actual deficit reduction. We can do that through mandatory spending cuts in other areas. We can do it through the tax revenue that the president has called for. I think for instance, that the speaker of the House decided today to call the measure passed by the bipartisan Senate to protect all families making $250,000 or less from any income tax increase December 31. That would put enough revenue on the front end of this conversation to move us toward a solution.

O'BRIEN: But so far I hear from you, in the short-term, no entitlements are on the table.

DURBIN: Only the Medicare part of it, I want to be very careful. This means so much and we saw what a mess was made of it by Paul Ryan's budget, where the actual future of Medicare was in doubt with his premium support plan. We don't want to go near that. We want to make sure that Medicare at the end of the day is a program that is solvent, and we can count on it for generations to come.

O'BRIEN: So if I'm a Republican lawmaker watching this interview I'm saying, OK, he basically has put nothing on the table that's an entitlement. So all this talk about Democrat -- and this is talk, by the way, from you. You're the one who said, you know, we need to be honest on our side of the aisle, we need to make meaningful reforms in Medicare and Medicaid without compromising the integrity of the program. You and I talked about that not long ago.

DURBIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: If I'm listening to this and I'm a Republican lawmaker I'm saying he's put nothing on the table in the short term. We're going to go over this fiscal cliff.

DURBIN: We don't need to do that. The point I want to make is yes, entitlements need to be part of a long-term strategy but do it in a thoughtful way. We're down to four weeks here. I don't want to see the future of Medicare, major changes, decided in the heat of the moment here. Let's get through this fiscal cliff, let's find a way to avert it, but let's at the end of the day take Medicare and treat it as the important program it is for so many millions of Americans.

O'BRIEN: I speak with great respect to you, sir, but we're down to four weeks because of all of y'all, right? We're down to four weeks -- we're not down to four weeks because of me and any other voter. We're down to four weeks because Congress has not gotten its act together and now we're down to four weeks, and technically less because I think the last day for Congress is December 14, even though the fiscal cliff is December 31st. If you all go home, it's even fewer than 34, 33 whatever days. So, I guess, it sounds like there's not going to be a deal.

DURBIN: Well, I think there will be. And just keep in mind, not trying to defend myself or anyone. Congress certainly is to blame for the fact this hasn't been solved. But two years ago we had the Simpson-Bowles commission report which I voted for. We've come up with alternatives. The super committee which Senator Patty Murray co- chaired, was an effort to try to move in the same direction as Simpson-Bowles and we didn't get it done.

But forget the past for a moment and look to the future. We need to reduce this deficit, we need to have meaningful reform, which includes thoughtful entitlement reform. What I'm suggesting is let's not do this in the last few days here, make changes in Medicare that we may regret later on.

O'BRIEN: OK, but what, what is to give us the confidence that, in fact, something that's thoughtful down the road were to actually come of all this, right, because the track record is not so great? Why would I invest in, OK, I'll give you the let's do reform down the road when there's been nothing in the recent past that would make me feel confident that Congress can get it together and actually do meaningful reform in the long-term?

DURBIN: You have a right to be skeptical, Soledad. But the point I want to say the cliff December 31st is something we should avoid. Those who think it is something we can welcome and bargain with afterwards I'd like to see us avoid it. I still think we can. I do believe we can. The president and the speaker are the ones who are focused now on the negotiation. Both parties have to stand behind an effort to find that bipartisan solution.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a quick question about Susan Rice Ambassador Susan Rice met privately with some top senators, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham and senator McCain. She's going to meet today with Senator Corker and Senator Collins, and after the meeting, yesterday, senator McCain said he was hard pressed to support her. Senator graham said that he's even got more -- he's more disturbed than he was before.

Since we know now that the intelligence was flawed, and that they -- CIA altered the talking points, the president has said he takes responsibility, secretary of state Clinton has said she takes responsibility. What do you think is, is actually going on here?

DURBIN: Well, unfortunately, it's become entirely too personal when it comes to Ambassador Rice. I spoke to her last week. I was in New York and spoke to her on the phone, and we talked about the fact that she was given an intelligence report which she dutifully reported to the public as she was told. And now what I hear from some of my Republican colleagues, they're not only blaming her for this intelligence report, they're trying to blame her for the actual tragic event.

O'BRIEN: Personal why?

DURBIN: That is unfair.

O'BRIEN: Personal means some kind of relationship or something has gone wrong.

DURBIN: They just keep focusing on Ambassador Rice.

O'BRIEN: Why?

DURBIN: There is a larger question -- well, frankly I think they believe she's vulnerable politically. At least that's their conclusion. It's not mine. The fact of the matter is she had nothing to do with the terrible event that occurred in Benghazi. She reported it as she was told by the intelligence agencies, and, frankly, they've been piling on ever since. And I just think it's gone to the point where it's unfair.

O'BRIEN: Wolf Blitzer asked Senator Ayotte about the intelligence community saying that, in fact, it was them who deleted the Al Qaeda reference and that the goal was to protect classified sources, and she said this. I'll play a little bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYOTTE: It's very different when you tell someone that individuals with ties to Al Qaeda are involved in an attack, and you omit that. And I just don't understand how who they were trying to protect with the reference to Al Qaeda. I mean, we're tipping Al Qaeda off? I think that Al Qaeda knows that we certainly have pursued them around the world. And so I just -- this doesn't make any sense to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: A lot of this I think it's fair to say doesn't make seine answer to a lot of people. How do you predict that this ends, do you think that Republicans will stand in her way and she won't get the job?

DURBIN: With respect to Senator Ayotte, what the intelligence community was trying to protect was its sources, people whose lives were on the line. And they were making a careful judgment about what they can say publicly that might endanger their sources of information. In terms of the future of Ambassador Rice I don't know what the president's plans are. She's done an extraordinary good job as ambassador to the United Nations.

O'BRIEN: The assistant majority leader of the Senate Dick Durbin joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir.

DURBIN: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, bad news for a nation obsessed with bacon -- god, bad news. Christine, bad news for us. The majority of the pork that you're eating is contaminated. We'll update you on a really disturbing study that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning, welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business this morning. Home prices are recovering in much of the country. New home sales numbers come out today. We learned yesterday home prices posted their biggest gains in more than two years in the third quarter. These are the five cities with the strongest gains in the past year. Home prices in Phoenix gained 20 percent. Minneapolis prices rose almost nine percent. Only two big cities last value, New York and Chicago.

Another Apple Maps executive is losing his job. According to Bloomberg business week Richard Williamson who oversaw the maps unit is out. This comes after the heads of the operating system lost his job last month over complaints about the maps software, including embarrassments like misplacing the Washington monument.

Quick market check for you --

O'BRIEN: He lives in Washington, right?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: U.S. stock futures are down, Greece bailout is behind us so for the time being the focus is back on fiscal cliff and the state of the U.S. economy. Other top stories for you this morning, former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole expected to be discharged from a Washington's Walter Reed Army medical center today. An aide says the 89-year-old checked himself into the hospital for a routine procedure and that he's doing well.

You might want to put down the pork chop. A new study from consumer reports found 69 percent of raw pork products in U.S. supermarkets are contaminated by a food-borne bacteria that can cause fever, cramps, and intestinal bleeding. Researchers say it means that we need better hygiene in animal plants. The pork industry questions the methods used in the study.

O'BRIEN: Wow.

ROMANS: Cook your meat.

O'BRIEN: We eat a lot of bacon on this show.

ROMANS: The country does, or you and I personally?

O'BRIEN: The country does. And then you and I personally.

ROMANS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: We eat a lot of bacon. We should microwave it before we eat.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, might be another stand your ground case to tell you about in the state of Florida. A teenager shot and killed. The murder suspect says, in fact, he was the one who was threatened. We'll have details coming up in a live report.

And then the dangers of belly fat in men, why your gut could be affecting your bones.

Plus we'll dig in a little more into the fiscal cliff negotiations with former Minnesota governor TiP pawlenty. He's our guest straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Morning, welcome everybody. The so much paper today I can't get it together. Welcome. I can't work like that. I know, I know.

Our STARTING POINT, joining us this morning, Ron Brownstein is the editorial director at "National Journal," nice to have you with us, Roland Martin, the host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin," Will Cain, columnist with TheBlaze.com. Great to have you with us. Christine sticks around. We dressed together. We call each other, me and Will, hey, what are you wearing?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about this controversial law in Florida. We talked about it before in the Trayvon Martin case. It's the stand your ground gun law might be put to the test again this time. This time a murder suspect claims that he was threatened but there are lots of questions. Michael Dunn's attorney says he asked four African- American teenagers in an SUV to turn their loud music at a Jacksonville gas station, says they hurled insults at him, then flashed a shotgun, and then Dunn decided to defend himself. He shot into the SUV eight or nine times.

And 17-year-old Jordan Davis was hit twice and killed. Martin Savidge is following those developments from our headquarters in Atlanta this morning. Good morning, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. The latest, by the way, is the fact that there's going to be a memorial service for that 17-year-old youth that's going to take place in Florida tonight.