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Earthquake Hits Japan; Interview with Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan; Did Costas Cross the Line?

Aired December 7, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning: a powerful earthquake strikes in Japan, happened in the area that's still recovering from that deadly tsunami just a year ago. We're live in Tokyo this morning.

Plus the debate over my special report, "WHO'S BLACK," CNN's look at how we define who we are. It's kind of trending on the Internet this morning and we'll talk about that, too.

Just 30 minutes away from the November jobs report, is the economic recovery continuing? Christine has that for us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We'll have to see what super storm Sandy does to those numbers. We'll know for sure in 30 minutes.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And Chris Christie talks Superstorm Sandy with Bruce Springsteen. We'll have that for you.

O'BRIEN: A packed show for you this morning. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash is going to join us. Howie Kurtz, who's the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," and Lauren Ashburn with "The Daily Beast", will be our guest as well, and economist Diane Swonk will join us when we talk about the job numbers.

It's Friday, December 7th and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Ryan Lizza is with us. He's Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker," CNN contributor, too. Richard Socarides is with us, former adviser to Bill Clinton.



RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Although some days he wishes he was.

O'BRIEN: Oh, wow! This is Richard right here, joining us. That's Will Cain, people. We know that. Our Texan, our resident Texan and cowboy boot wearer. CAIN: Every day.

O'BRIEN: blogger. Nice to have you all with us. Zoraida sticking around as well, which we appreciate it.

Let's talk about that tsunami threat. It's now been lifted in Japan. But it was a really terrifying moment out there. The country was jolted by a powerful 7.2 magnitude quake. And you can see, that's obviously the building shaking we were shooting at it. I think that's our Japan bureau, that camera.

The tremor hit off the coast, 300 miles northeast of Tokyo, the building shaking.

I want to get right back to Alex Zolbert. He's live in Tokyo this morning. Alex, the video I'm seeing is -- obviously the cameras and recording how much the building is shaking. Is that from the CNN Tokyo bureau?

ALEX ZOLBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, I apologize, I can't see exactly what you're looking at. We did send some video over. There's some video from other buildings. But I can tell you, we were sitting here in the bureau, here in the heart of Tokyo, on the ninth floor of our rather small building. And, yes, it started shaking in a big way. It felt like you were suddenly on a boat.

But there's a huge sigh of relief in Japan at this hour, it's just after 10:00 in Tokyo. As you mentioned, tsunami warnings have been lifted. And by all accounts, there are no significant -- there are no report reports of any significant damage from this earthquake. So, this is very good news.

As you mentioned, this earthquake was centered in pretty much the same area of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit in March of last year. Soledad, I know you were there, covering that story. That earthquake triggered the tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people. This time around, as I said, a huge sigh of relief.

The biggest wave, by all accounts, was three feet in height. We spoke to one woman up there in the tsunami zone and she said when the earthquake hit, her initial reaction was oh, no, not again. But, Soledad, at this hour, all appears to be OK. Just a few minor injuries here in Japan -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Alex Zolbert for us. Thank you. We appreciate that update. People describe that when the sirens go off, they basically have a few minutes to run up hill as fast as they can. When you're talking about elderly people, you know, it's terrifying.

SOCARIDES: It's very scary. I have friends in Tokyo this morning who emailed me and said it knocked out all communication. You couldn't get in touch with why your loved ones and find out if everybody was OK.

O'BRIEN: But now, it's been called off, so that's really good news. Great to be able to update folks with that. Other stories making news, Zoraida has that for us.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Egyptians are out in force again today, registering their anger at President Mohamed Morsi's refusal to rescind his own decree that granted himself sweeping powers. Opposition leaders say his government has lost legitimacy. And thousands also gathered for the funerals of those killed in the violence outside the presidential palace on Wednesday.

NATO troops readying Patriot missile in Turkey's border with Syria right now. This morning, Russia's foreign minister said his country will brainstorm with the United States and others on how to end the civil war in Syria. Top U.S. officials are concerned that the Assad regime may opt to use chemical weapons against the rebels.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The intelligence that we have raises serious concerns that this is being considered.


SAMBOLIN: President Obama has warned Syria not to use chemical weapons and reminded the Assad regime that, quote, "the world is watching."

"The New York Times" reporting this morning, the speaker of the House wants to solve the fiscal crisis face to face with the President, one on one. We are 25 days away from the massive tax hikes. And Congress breaks for the holidays in just seven days.

According to "The Times", John Boehner is asking top Democrats in the House and Senate to step aside so he and the President can negotiate one on one. And nobody is objecting apparently. CNN has not confirmed this report as of yet.

And people have different skill sets at different times. That's how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie explained his post-Sandy praise for President Obama. But on "The Daily Show" Christie seemed most excited to talk about another bromantic moment, his hug with hometown legend Bruce Springsteen.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Did you give him -- you also have to give this, the pat, or did you just go slow dance?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: No, I went slow dance.

STEWART: You've got to be kidding.

CHRISTIE: No, I went slow dance. I did.

STEWART: No pat?

CHRISTIE: No pat. I went slow dance.


SAMBOLIN: You have the opportunity, seize it. Our recent poll shows Christie would beat Springsteen if the rocker ran for governor next year.

O'BRIEN: How funny has Chris Christine been?

SOCARIDES: He is a funny man.

O'BRIEN: He has been like killing it. So hilarious.

SAMBOLIN: Great moments.

CAIN: He is a real guy. He's being authentic.

That's the debate men have. Do you go with the one arm, with the pat?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We have that all the time. Will and I have this bromance going on.


LIZZA: He's validated when he finally got Bruce Springsteen to say something nice about him and give him the hug.

O'BRIEN: I just think "SNL", hysterical. He has been so funny.


O'BRIEN: All right. Let's turn now and talk to something as equally as interesting, the fiscal cliff, shall we?

You know, this morning, we're going to talk to Congressman Justin Amash. He is a Republican from Michigan. And he got -- was in for a little bit of a surprise earlier when he discovered that he was booted off the House Budget Committee.

Nice to have you with us, Congressman. We appreciate your time. Walk me through how you learned that you had been kicked off this very much of a big deal committee.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: Thanks for having me on, Soledad. And I learned through news reports. So I started to hear the word on Monday and didn't hear anything from leadership Monday, Tuesday and finally I approached him on Wednesday about it myself.

O'BRIEN: So, this is your own party that booted you off. I know you went to -- took to Facebook and you posted this. I'm going to read it for folks.

You said, "I have still not received a single call, e-mail or text from Republican leadership confirming this story" that you're booted off. "In fact, I wouldn't have even learned about it if not for the news reports. I look forward to hearing from my party's leadership about why principled, conservative voting record offends them."

Has anyone responded to your Facebook posts where you're like, hello? Anyone want to call me, fill me in?

AMASH: Not directly. They talked about this potential score card that was used and Republican leadership insisted that wasn't the main reason for booting people off committees but it's pretty clear they had a score card. If you were in support of more government, you got a positive score. If you were in support of less government you got a negative score, which seems completely contrary for what you would expect for Republicans.

CAIN: Congressman, this is Will Cain.

That's certainly one line we've heard, that you guys that lost your positions were simply too conservative or too Tea Party. But there are others are saying because you guys went out of your way not only to buck leadership, not only vote against leadership, but it seemed like you were trying to embarrass them at times. What do you say about that?

AMASH: No, that's totally ridiculous. And I would emphasize that this is not a conservative versus liberal thing. There are people like me in Congress who are out there, representing the vast majority of Americans who want us to balance our budget. It's not a matter of who is willing to work with Democrats or Republicans.

For example, I have a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that has 14 Democratic co-sponsors. It's one of the most popular bipartisan budget proposals out there.

So, it's not about who will work with Democrats or who will work with Republicans, or who is too conservative. It's about whether people are serious about getting things done to balance our budget.

And there are few of us who are very serious about it. We're actually calling for things like reductions in Pentagon spending.

SOCARIDES: But, sir, you know, that's what you say. You say you have this plan. What leadership -- the message leadership is sending to you is that your plan is out of step with mainstream Republican thought on this.

I mean, don't you think they're entitled -- the leadership is the leadership -- don't you think they're entitled to decide who sits on their committees?

AMASH: No, absolutely not. I mean, at the end of the day, the American people sent us there to work on this debt problem. And I'm certainly not out of touch with mainstream America. Mainstream America believes we need to go there and work together, Republicans and Democrats, to balance this budget.

SOCARIDES: So, you think the leadership is out of step? You think the leadership is out of step with mainstream America? I mean either you are out of step with mainstream America or they are. AMASH: They are. Look at the kind of deals that are being talked about all the time. Even this $800 billion revenue proposal, it's a drop in the bucket. Every year, we have a trillion dollar or more deficit. So, when we're talking about $800 billion in taxes over 10 years, that's only a few days of spending every year.

We've got to get -- if we're going to talk about taxes -- I'm willing to discuss taxes and a lot of others are willing to discuss tax, then let's talk seriously about taxes. If we're going to talk about spending cuts, let's talk seriously about spending cuts.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask --

AMASH: But we're not going to take care of this $16 trillion debt unless we do that.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. There are people who've described what's happening in the GOP as sort of a civil war. You have the Tea Party, sort of mainstream conservatives and then moderates, those that remain. And then there have been sort of calls, it's certainly in, to fire, to get rid of John Boehner.

Do you think that's going to happen? Would you support that?

AMASH: Well, I think there's a lot of unease in the conference. There's a lot of unrest at all levels. But I would again push back on this idea that it's some kind of Tea Party versus moderate versus mainstream theme.

People like me are out there, calling for reductions in Pentagon spending, calling for working with the Democrats. And actually if you look at the four people removed from their committees, we have been the ones who have been willing to work with Democrats on a lot of these tough spending issues.

So, it's not a matter of --

O'BRIEN: Would you support the re-election of the speaker? Or do you think he should be fired?

AMASH: Well, we're going to see how the next few weeks go and whether he is willing to make amends and put out that score card. Let the American people see what he based the decision on. And I think -- I think that's critical. We need to see what the decision was based on. And I think the American people need to hear the truth. Both sides need to work together.

We've had enough of these games, these partisan games in D.C. and we've had enough of people sucking up to corporate lobbyists. We need to do what's right for the American people.

LIZZA: That sounds like a no.

O'BRIEN: I'm trying to figure out if it is a no. It is a yes/no question. If the vote were taken right now, would you support him or no not? AMASH: Well, right now, I'm not very happy with the speaker. So let's see what happens over the next several weeks. Let's put it that way.

O'BRIEN: All right. Congressman Justin Amash joining us this morning -- thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

AMASH: Thanks so much, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT: A gun culture in the NFL. Bob Costas took a lot of heat when he made comments about gun control. Did he it in the middle of a game. Today, players are speaking out as well. We'll talk about the controversy there.

And then, "All I want for Christmas is a Latina girlfriend."


O'BRIEN: Can you believe that?

SOCARIDES: I love that.

O'BRIEN: This billboard -- I don't -- is for real. I don't know. But who would want to date him with that?

SAMBOLIN: No kidding.

O'BRIEN: We're watching STARTING POINT: We'll explain what's behind that.

SAMBOLIN: Don't date me.

O'BRIEN: Don't date me billboard.

We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Football fans probably got a little bit more than they bargained for this past Sunday night when veteran sportscaster, Bob Costas, decided that he would take a moment to comment on the tragic murder/suicide of an NFL player, Jovan Belcher. And while he was commenting, he was really quoting a Fox Sports columnist, Jason Whitlock.

So here is what Bob said.


BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTSCASTER: Our current gun culture, Whitlock wrote, ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenient store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.


O'BRIEN: Wow! You can imagine that remark -- those remarks set off a firestorm of criticism against Bob Costas, particularly, from folks who support the Second Amendment and other folks who are conservative. And it sparked a big debate about the boundaries that a journalist should or should not have as they're sitting on the air in the middle of a football game and what they can talk about.

Let's bring in Howard Kurtz. He's the host of CNNs "RELIABLE SOURCES" and the Washington bureau chief for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." Lauren Ashburn is a "Daily Beast" contributor, editor-in-chief of the We need to come up with a -- like nickname for the two of you.





O'BRIEN: So, do you think he was out of line? Should he not have done this in the moments -- and it was a small chunk of time that he --

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Bob Costas mishandled it, because he tried to deal with a polarizing issue in just 90 seconds, but, as an award-winning journalist who's covered this for years, 24 hours after this horrible tragedy, he had the right to weigh in on this, knowing full well that he's a smart guy, that he was going to incense many of his fans.

ASHBURN: Here we go, Bob -- people tune in to see Bob Costas as Bob Costas, not to see him deliver a political rant. This is one of the nicest guys in the business. He is the face of the Olympics.

O'BRIEN: He's not coming out of left field, right? He hasn't decided to just sit up and talk about the fiscal cliff, for example, and how he feels about it. He is talking about in the context of a football game, something that has just happened in sports to people who are well-known and they're talking about a gun -- I mean, it's not not connected.

ASHBURN: It is connected to football because of the murder/suicide that preceded it. And I think maybe his emotions and the emotions that surrounded that could have gotten in the way. I think that average people at home want to tune in, they want to get in their barcalounger, they want to have their soda, eat their chips, and watch their game. O'BRIEN: So "USA Today," the weekend edition, right, cover, NFL with a gun, wealth and celebrity can make a player a target and they go on to talk about how a lot of the players feel like they need to be armed because once they become famous and rich, you know, so many people are after them.

KURTZ: My problem is we can no longer wall off sports as this sacrosanct with little garden of entertainment, because all kinds of labor issues and domestic violence issues and other issues intrude. And if you are going to be a sports commentator like Costas, and of course, you risk your popularity if you weighed in to this where half of the people in the country can disagree with you, you can't pretend that is just about what happens on the field between --

ASHBURN: It's a brand issue here, too, for NBC. Rush Limbaugh came on and said, look, his liberal bosses at NBC approved this. So this now becomes a brand issue for NBC, which said it is not a partisan network, NBC News. And so, there is some economic --


ASHBURN: Well, of course. But that's what people think.

KURTZ: -- just went to the White House, Rachel Maddow and company, visiting -- meeting with President Obama.

CAIN: It seems like you're almost having a different debate, the two of you. I disagree with the Bob Costas said, but I agree with you. He has a right to go do this. He's earned this right. He should also pay the price, as you're saying, Lauren, for what he did.


CAIN: If audiences turned off, they should turn away. It's not that he loses his job. It's not that he --


O'BRIEN: Oh, my God. I agree with Will Cain.


O'BRIEN: I agree with Will Cain. You said, does he have the right? Of course he has the right. He's a thoughtful, intelligent human being --


KURTZ: I mean, don't we have enough partisan --


O'BRIEN: You run the risk of backlash, but yes.


ASHBURN: Sacrosanct place with sports.

O'BRIEN: Are you kidding me?



ASHBURN: Get politics out of sports. Politics is everywhere. This country is so divided.


LIZZA: I don't want my sportscasters editorial --


LIZZA: Frankly -- and Bob Costas is a smart guy.


LIZZA: No, he wasn't just quoting a sports --


O'BRIEN: It's clearly a conversation that was happening in the sports world around something that just happened.

SOCARIDES: Two people had just been killed.

KURTZ: The damage is such that Bob Costas felt compelled to go on a couple of different cable shows and defend his position and say, OK, I'm not an anti-Second Amendment guy. I do believe in the right to defend himself. This is all what he couldn't do and that by jamming that into 90 seconds. But clearly, according to Jason Whitlock, the columnist, he was embracing the cause of gun control on some level.


ASHBURN: And on Twitter, he got slammed. Social media is so nasty.


O'BRIEN: And Twitter is just nasty. We're out of time. But guys when we took your nickname that's short -- catchy. Yes, something cute.


O'BRIEN: We'll have that for next time. Nice to have you, guys. Appreciate it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk a little bit about skin color. We're working on a documentary called "BLACK IN AMERICA: WHO'S BLACK," all about skin color and perceptions of skin color in this country. We'll take a look at that straight ahead. Back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. A quick check of your top stories.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): More than 2,000 people are assembling at Pearl Harbor this morning. It is to mark the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack that killed thousands and propelled America into World War II. Ceremonies got under way about 30 minutes ago.

In union strong Michigan, Republican lawmakers pushed through right to work legislation during a lame duck session. The move drew angry protests from Democrats and union supporters who blasted the GOP power plate.


JEFF BEAN, UNITED TEACHERS OF FLINT: It terrifies me that they're trying to pass this through so quickly with no discussion from the other side, no understanding of what's important in it. No discussion about the finer points and all the things that this will affect. I think democracy is way too important to just let it go, slide through like this.


SAMBOLIN: Michigan's governor says he'll sign a right to work bill when it hits his desk.

And it's Ram tough all right. "Motor Trend" magazine selecting the Ram 1500 as their 2012 truck of the year, the editor say. They impressed by the truck's fuel economy and its posh interior as well -- Soledad.


O'BRIEN: I like that.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): You like it?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I do. Maybe they'll send us one. I'm kidding. Just kidding.

All right. Still ahead on STARTING POINT -- thanks, Zoraida. Just a few minutes, we're going to find out about the new jobs reports numbers. Really get some inside into the economy. Are we in recovery mode? And how does Superstorm Sandy figure into all of this?

Plus, come on, Santa, this is what this man wants for Christmas. Can you believe this billboard? "All I want for Christmas is a Latina girlfriend." You know --


O'BRIEN: Latinas -- smart Latinas will see this and run like a wind to get way from this man. We'll talk about that, straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Waiting on the November jobs reports numbers, CNNMoney survey of economists forecast 8.0 percent unemployment rate, 77,000 jobs to be added. Ali Velshi and Christine Romans are here to break it down in a moment. They're going to be joined by Diane Swonk as well. So, let's start with you, guys, first. Tell me what we're looking for in this jobs report number and how Sandy --


ROMANS: I'm listening to the Labor Department call --



VELSHI: This is going to be an unusual jobs report one way or the other for two reasons. One is there are two surveys, as you know, one that gets the unemployment number and one that gets the number of jobs created. They were taken in different weeks this year because of Thanksgiving.

The calls that were made to figure out the unemployment rate were a week earlier, which means some people who were affected by hurricane Sandy didn't have power or weren't at home, won't have been reached. So, you may find a spread between the unemployment number and the jobless rate.

The other thing is, Sandy will is going to have had an affect on this, and what we're interested to know is whether or not the fiscal cliff fears had any affect on this. Was there less hiring? Was anybody laying off in anticipation of the fiscal cliff?