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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Sandy Hook Kids Head Back to School; Returning Normalcy to Newtown; 113th Congress Sworn In Today Noon; Interview with Rep.-Elect Joaquin Castro of Texas

Aired January 3, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is Thursday, January 3rd and STARTING POINT begins right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and Happy New Year to our panel, very handsome Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker". Welcome. Richard Socarides, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and writer for newyorker.com, and New York Congresswoman Nan Hayworth. I saw you shaking your head talking Congress a moment ago.

BERMAN: This is a starting point for you today so welcome. We're so glad you're here.

REP. NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK: I get to keep the pin, which is unlike most breakups I guess.

BERMAN: All right, our STARTING POINT this morning, as we'll talk about that no doubt later on, right now in Newtown, Connecticut, it is a return to school and hopefully a return to some normalcy in Newtown.

Kids from Sandy Hook Elementary School are back to class for the first time since a gunman went on a shooting spree, killing 26 children and educators. That was nearly three weeks ago now.

Deb Feyerick is live near Monroe, Connecticut. That is near to the new Sandy Hook school.

And, Deb, it's a different location but same name for that school.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really is and that was something school officials insisted on, they want to make these young kids K through fourth grade feel comfortable and make them feel that, you know, this is their environment, their new school.

The children did have an orientation, an open house over the last couple of days. They also met with their teachers and bonded over pizza. So, there is some sense of what's going to happen today as they go into their classrooms. They know that their desks are the desks they had in the old school have been moved to the new school. So there's a sense of connection, and that's really important as they go about trying to start the year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FEYERICK: So, you were in the gym and you were in the art room.

(voice-over): Ben and Ethan Paley heard the gunshots and screams that horrible morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Three weeks is not nearly enough time to understand all the feelings they've experienced since then -- fear, worry, anger.

Still, the 9-year-old twins are trying everyway they can.

BEN PALEY, SANDY HOOK 4TH GRADE STUDENT: It's a healing shawl. So, it's supposed to heal us.

FEYERICK: Going back to school this week is a big part of that healing.

(on camera): Are you guys looking forward to kind of going back to school?

B. PALEY: Well, we just went there today to visit it and look at everything. And it's very -- it's a very interesting school.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Originally for teenagers, the school in Monroe has been transformed for K through 4th grade. Toys, cubbies, carpets and familiar things brought over from Sandy Hook Elementary.

B. PALEY: All of our desks are there. But my desk, I noticed someone was in there and cleaned it and made it -- well, not cleaned it, made it neater, because my desk is usually very messy.

ANDREW PALEY, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENTS: I think them getting on the bus is, for us, it's a movement forward. So, I think a lot of us are look at that as this is the next step. Now, it's getting back to a routine, and it's getting them to school so they get back to that normalcy, and start learning again, and be who they are.

FEYERICK: Ben and Ethan want the school turtle to be Sandy Hook's new mascot.

ETHAN PALEY, SANDY HOOK 4TH GRADE STUDENT: Our motto that I could go with is actually one step at a time.

FEYERICK: It's also one step of a time for moms and good friends Denise Correia and Sarah Swansiger and their daughters.

DENISE CORREIA, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: There's no real playbook for this. I don't think any of us have a playbook. So, we're kind of sensing our child and trying to meet the needs that we can.

FEYERICK: Counselors will be on hand for the children and parents can spend the day at the school, just in case.

SARAH SWANSIGER, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK STUDENT: I joked with one of the other moms, I'll see you in the morning, I'll bring you coffee. I think I need that adult time, too, because I'm not sure I'm ready yet to totally let them go in peace, because I think my peace has been shattered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Yes. And some of the parents told us as they put their child on the bus this morning, they will then get in their own cars and they will go to the school. Now, we're about two miles from the school because school officials really wanted to keep the press as far away as possible simply because they want this to be a normal experience, they want the kids to be able to get back into the routine, into the rhythm of what a class day is like.

They're already going to have enough stimulation with the new building and the stairs which they didn't have in the old building. So there's going to be a lot of adjustment.

But nobody knows quite how they're going to feel during the day or for that matter at the end of the day, but at least they're getting back to something that they are more familiar with -- Brooke, John.

BALDWIN: Deb Feyerick, thank you so much. And, you know, part of this whole story is the continuity when you talk about these classrooms. It's pretty interesting.

Earlier this morning, I talked to Dr. Julian Ford and he actually counseled a number of these Sandy Hook families in the days immediately following the mass shooting and he's also trained dozens of mental health professionals, currently providing support to families in Newtown. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Julian, good morning.

I imagine today is an emotional day for a lot of people in Newtown. And really as these children go back to school, what is goal number one today?

DR. JULIAN FORD, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: The most important thing for everyone in helping the kids go back to school and helping the parents feel comfortable with their children going back to school is knowing that past is not prologue. What's happened is a terrible tragedy but now the community, the children and the families get to begin back on the path that they were on, even though nothing will be quite the same, it's wonderful that they have a chance to go back to the school with so much that is familiar.

BALDWIN: I'm sure for a lot of these moms and dads sending these little ones back. It's probably a tough time and you say that, you know, your advice to parents keep in check with your emotions because then you can better help your own children. Is that right?

FORD: Absolutely. The more that we're aware of what we're feeling, the more that we're able to actually make sure we translate that into the message that we truly want for our children, and that's clearly that we're calm, we're confident, we feel the impact but we also know that it's the right thing to do, to go back to school, to get back together with teachers, with peers, with friends, and to resume the routines that give us the structure and security that we count on.

BALDWIN: You mentioned routines. I wanted to ask you about continuity, because I think -- a lot of us have been talking about how the school staff and these teachers have really worked hard to recreate these classrooms that were once in Sandy Hook Elementary School, are now in the school, they're calling Sandy Hook, down to the desks and the crayons, the backpacks.

I'm just curious, why is that -- why is that a good, positive thing? Why wouldn't you want to, in a sense, start anew?

FORD: Well, as adults, we tend to associate those cues with things that have happened especially when there's a traumatic shock and loss as everyone has experienced. We tend to associate that with a kind of both a replay of what's happened and expecting that things like that will happen again in the future, even though there really isn't that much of a likelihood, fortunately.

But for children, they're really focused on the present moment. So, when they go back in the classrooms and see the familiar objects and see the desks very similar, for them, it's going to -- that's going to signify, OK, I'm back at school, this isn't Chalk Hill, this is Sandy Hook, I'm back with my friends, I'm back with my teachers and that's what they need in order to be able to have the sense of security to go back and dive right back into the school life.

BALDWIN: And that sense of security is so important not just for the children but we have to talk about the teachers. I mean, so many of them leapt into action three weeks ago.

What kind of support do the teachers need right now?

FORD: Well, they need to know that we're all with them, and that what they've done is just remarkable, not just their courage at the moment of the impact but also over the several weeks since then, they've been doing an amazing job of preparing, so that they can provide the kind of not only security, but what kids really need, which is a sense of security, opportunity, affection and that there's a plan.

These teachers and school folks have a real plan for how they're going to bring kids back into the learning experience, help them to process what they've been through -- without necessarily dredging up any of the old memories because that's more for adults to do at this point in time. And those teachers simply need to know that we are all with them today.

BALDWIN: We are all with them today, and here is hoping that they can't not necessarily move on but move forward in Newtown.

Julian Ford, clinical psychologist -- Julian, thank you.

FORD: Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: You know, I thought it was so interesting when you asked him about the school all the artwork is the same, the desks is the same right down to the crayons, everything else, because I have to say, when I first heard that, it sounded --

BALDWIN: A little odd.

BERMAN: -- a little odd to me.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. The idea is to normalize things as much as possible.

BALDWIN: Continuity, they need it. They need the desks, they need the same hooks for their backpacks.

LIZZA: And even kids that are going to school. I mean, I know, my children in school -- my 6-year-old is in kindergarten, and, you know, their rule at schools is that if the kids ask about it, if they watch this on the news, then they'll talk to them about it, but otherwise, it's not really mentioned or brought up in school in any way. Maybe the older kids know a lot more about it than the younger kids.

BERMAN: And we talk all about the students. But, you know, you guys are parents. Can you imagine sending your kids back to school today?

REP. NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK: My kids went to our public school, and I was thinking about it, I was trying to imagine going back to our elementary school, taking them back, knowing what had happened a month -- less than a month earlier and my heart is with them.

BALDWIN: There's a room for those parents today, and I'm sure it will be full.

BERMAN: They're going to use -- I am sure it will be full.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BERMAN: All right.

Other top stories we're looking at this morning:

President Obama signed the fiscal cliff bill overnight, setting the stage for new political battles in the coming weeks. The looming mini-cliffs include the fight over the debt limit. The fiscal cliff measure was -- I said it was signed, it actually wasn't signed. It was marked using an auto pen --

BALDWIN: Auto pen.

BERMAN: -- which copies the president's signature because the first family is on vacation in Hawaii.

BALDWIN: The Congress that Americans elected in November today are getting to work. Members of the 113th Congress will be sworn in at the Capitol, just about four hours from now. There are plenty of new faces. You have 13 senators, 84 representatives making up the freshman class and this is the most diverse Congress ever. Let me just run through some of this -- the first Hindu, first female combat veteran, first openly bisexual member and the Senate has its first Buddhist. Otherwise, the new Congress will look a lot like the old one, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House.

BERMAN: One of the first questions the 113th will tackle whether to keep John Boehner in his post as speaker. Mr. Boehner has scheduled a first vote tomorrow to help Superstorm Sandy victims. He was roundly criticized for delaying action on a Sandy package.

New York Congressman Peter King telling CNN Boehner restored his promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: The bottom line is that we are now receiving what we asked for and as far as I'm concerned what's done is done. I've always considered John Boehner a friend and I said it on the House floor today, which made it more painful for me to say what I felt I had to say. I owed it to my constituents and I did feel that New York in a number of cases was being taken advantage of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We will talk with Congressman Peter King later this hour on STARTING POINT.

BALDWIN: And Patti Page, the Singing Rage, has died. Page hit the world big time after World War II with hits like "Tennessee Waltz" and this classic --

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BERMAN: I prefer "Tennessee Waltz".

BALDWIN: That was one of more than 100 hits Page put on the charts. She sold more than 100 million records, had TV shows on all three networks. She also appeared in a number of movies.

Page reportedly was the first singer to overdub her voice. What does that means? That means she became her own backup singer on her records.

Patti Page was 85 years old.

BERMAN: All right. Some sports news:

Even mannequin Tim Tebow is riding the bench. A Dick's Sporting Goods store in the New York area decided to kick the quarterback while he's down. Check this out. What they did, they have a mannequin in the Tebow jersey riding the pine in a store display.

An ESPN reporter tweeted out the photo. The mannequin said he was just excited to be part of it all. That's a joke. I have to say, Congresswoman -- Representative Hayworth, we were talking about Congress and the new Congress, and every time we mentioned it, you nod your head a little bit.

HAYWORTH: Yes, well.

BERMAN: Talk to me, what does it feel like today to be leaving Congress?

HAYWORTH: I'm grateful for the privilege of having served and I served with marvelous people on both sides of the aisle. It is fascinating to see what goes on from the inside. Every member there is an advocate for a cause, for their people, and trying to balance all of those concerns with the general concerns of our nation.

And this is you see it played out every day in the decisions we make.

BALDWIN: Just quickly, though, just first day -- I mean, is this like a first day of class? Were you nervous? Obviously you were excited.

HAYWORTH: You mean two years ago?

BALDWIN: Yes, two years ago.

HAYWORTH: When we were sworn in. Oh my gosh. It's a blur.

BALDWIN: It's a blur.

HAYWORTH: When you're brand new, you just, we're very lucky, we have experienced staff who guide us around, make sure we get to where we're supposed to be.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Don't you think when one door closes another opens? I think Nan may have a future on television.

HAYWORTH: Well, thank you.

LIZZA: What was the biggest misconception as an average American, you're a doctor, going into Washington, what did you --

HAYWORTH: Real citizen legislature, and there were about 45 of us in the freshman class of 2010. Never any experience in government and I think it is -- one has a series of realizations, not so much there was a big shock, but the fact that there is -- there is so much that impedes enacting pure principle and the 2010 wave election, of course, for the House of Representatives, we'll study it for years no doubt.

But we were really elected in this passionate wave and you get to Washington and you find out that, hey, by the way, there's a whole bunch of procedure and established law you guys have to --

BERMAN: Sounds like you're saying it's harder than you thought.

HAYWORTH: A little bit. Kids, don't try this at home. BALDWIN: We want to continue the conversation here as a lot of people are new in Washington. You know, today being the brand new day for the 113th Congress -- in fact, one other factoid, more Latinos serving today than ever before.

BERMAN: And next, one of the new faces, Texas Congressman-elect Joaquin Castro will be joining us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Today at noon, the 113th Congress gets sworn in, and that Congress sets new record with the most Latinos elected to both the Senate and the House. And among those Latino representatives is newly elected Democratic representative-elect, Joaquin Castro, from the 20th Congressional district in Texas.

BERMAN: Now, he should look familiar to anyone who watched the Democratic National Convention. Joaquin spoke there. He introduced his twin brother the San Antonio mayor, Julian Castro, who delivered the keynote address.

Good morning, Representative-Elect. I guess, we'll only be able to say that for another --

BALDWIN: Couple more hours.

BERMAN: -- you know, three and a half hours right now.

REP.-ELECT JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: That's right. Good morning, you all.

BALDWIN: Good morning.

CASTRO: We get sworn in in a few hours. I'm excited. My family flew in yesterday. And so, it's a big day for us.

BERMAN: You know, is that an understatement? I mean, what is it like for you right now? You're three and a half hours before being sworn in as a member of Congress. Butterflies, nerves?

CASTRO: Yes. A little bit of all of it. You know, yesterday, as I was getting ready to go to bed, my stomach was turning a little bit, and I didn't know if it was because I ate too much or because I was getting nervous about today. But I feel good this morning.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you, Congressman-elect, on the stomach turning note, not to be Debbie Downer here, but you know, look, you're walking into Congress, it's been a little messy recently there. If you look at the approval ratings, only 18 percent of Americans, 18 percent approve of the job that Congress is doing.

What does it feel like walking into a job where Americans already dislike you?

(LAUGHTER) CASTRO: That's definitely one way to put it. It's a little bit daunting, and I think that this freshmen class that's coming in, about 70 new members, Democrats and Republicans, have learned a lot from what happened over the last few weeks with the fiscal cliff debacle.

And I think you have a lot of folks that are coming in that are committed to doing a better job, quite frankly, and making a real effort in earnest to come up with an agreement, to compromise, and to be reasonable lawmakers.

BERMAN: But how are you going to do that? I mean, you're the new kid on the block. So, what are you going to do to change the environment? Can you?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, I think -- you know, you're one of 435 in the House of Representatives, but you certainly can in the way that you go about your business of lawmaking, building relationships with folks, not only in your party but folks on the other side. And I think a lot of us come in with that mind frame. Certainly, that's the way I've conducted myself in the Texas legislature for the last ten years.

BERMAN: I was going to ask, Nan, do you have any advice for this gentleman coming into office? I mean, as someone who was there two years ago?

HAYWORTH: ABSOLUTELY. Well, Joaquin, welcome, of course.

CASTRO: Thank you.

HAYWORTH: And I should say Representative-Elect Castro. And I would say remain positive just as you are now and if it's not about you and if it is about the people you're serving, and if you try to forget that you're a Democrat and you have Republicans who may have opposed you as you know in various election or electoral processes, I think you'll do great. It sounds as though you've got exactly the right attitude going in.

CASTRO: Thank you, Congresswoman. I appreciate that.

HAYWORTH: Wish you well.

LIZZA,: Joaquin, can I ask you something about the relationship with your brother?

CASTRO: Oh, sure.

LIZZA: So, you guys are both the sort of rising -- I keep reading that you're both rising political stars in Texas. Does it ever get competitive between the two of you? I mean, people talk about both of you as statewide -- potential statewide candidates in Texas. I mean, could you ever see yourself, say, in like a primary against him or --

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA: How do you guys keep things, you know, even keel? CASTRO: Well, you know, we grew up very competitive with each other in sports, in school. He was a little bit better in school. I was a little bit better in sports. But you know, as you grow up and you mature, I think you become each other's biggest supporters. And so, I've said that my brother is my best friend. I was very honored to be able to introduce him at the DNC when he was doing the keynote speech. And, so, I consider myself my brother's biggest supporter and biggest champion.

LIZZA: So, who gets dibs if there's an open statewide seat in Texas?

CASTRO: Well, you know, I'm a minute younger. So, he always says that he does.

BALDWIN: A minute younger. Let me ask you about this, because you know, the new Congress, it has the largest number of Hispanics ever.

CASTRO: Right.

BALDWIN: Thirty-six members, which is pretty huge and when you think about we covered so much of the role of the Hispanic community in the past November elections. And I just want to play a little sound. This is President Obama talking on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, talking about how he's going to make immigration reform a priority. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done. I think we have talked about it long enough. We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That's something we should get done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We all witnessed and covered the debacle that was the fiscal cliff in which we have three more to go here in the next couple of months. How do you think you can help make this a priority in Congress?

CASTRO: Well, now that at least part of the fiscal cliff has been averted, I do think that we've got to handle the rest of that in the coming months, but immigration reform really should be a top priority. I was very pleased to see the president make it a priority. I would be very surprised if the Congress doesn't act on immigration reform in this year 2013, and I also have to say that it's about time.

SOCARIDES: Can I ask? Can you do immigration reform and also gun control this year?

CASTRO: I think so. I mean, there's no question that both of those and certainly gun control are heavy lifts, but you know, the president is in his second term. He's not seeking re-election again. And quite frankly, there's a lot of public momentum on these issues. So, I think we can.

BALDWIN: Congressman-elect, soon to be Congressman, best of luck to you. Don't be too nervous.

CASTRO: Thank you. I'll need the luck. So, thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you. Good luck.

BERMAN: Yes. Big day for him.

BALDWIN: Big day.

BERMAN: So, that would be very, very exciting.

Other news now, the Aurora, Colorado, theater that was the site of a mass shooting now inviting victims back to the movies, but those victims say the invitation is insulting and heartless. We'll have the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. The Colorado movie theater where 12 people were shot and killed is set to re-open two weeks from today and the theater is offering up free tickets for victims' families and mental health counselors on site if they need to talk to someone, but many of the victim families say it's disgusting, this offer, and they plan to boycott the theater.

They say Cinemark never once reached out to the families to offer condolences. The theater has been closed since the shooting's July 20th. What do you guys think about that?

LIZZA: I think they should just open it quietly and not make a big deal. I mean, it's sickening. It's a generous offer, I supposed, but (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: But the families were saying, it's not generous. You haven't reached to us. You haven't responded when we reached out to you. They say it's appalling. Shaking your head. Shaking your head.

HAYWORTH: Clearly, it was not completely thought out and probably was very well-intended, but --

LIZZA: That's what I'm trying to say. It was well-intended, but they didn't recognize the impact it would have on the family.

BERMAN: Sometimes, silence maybe the safest approach.

LIZZA: Well, (INAUDIBLE) are saying they never have reached out until now. It makes just seem like a PR stunt.

BALDWIN: And some movie tickets, I mean, really?

BERMAN: All right.

BALDWIN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, fury over relief funding for Hurricane Sandy victims, New York Republican Peter King comes out swinging against members of his own party, but an about-face this morning. Congressman King joins us live next.

BERMAN: Plus, the disturbing twist in the case of two high school football players accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. Teenager now caught on videotape joking about the horrific crime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)