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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Notre Dame vs. Alabama in BCS Title Match; Interview with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Shooting Survivor On Today's Aurora Hearing

Aired January 7, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is Monday, January 7th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning: Mary Bono Mack is a former California Congresswoman joining us. Her husband, just a moment ago, was sitting there. But he stepped out for a sec.

Charles Blow is still with us, op-ed columnist for "The New York Times". McKay Coppins is a political editor for BuzzFeed.com.

"EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman sticks around with us.

STARTING POINT is nice big showdown. Me talking college football. My poor husband is terrified right now.

Two of the most celebrated college football programs in the country are on a collision course for the BCS Championship. Top ranked Notre Dame, a decided underdog, in spite of being number one, trying to keep its perfect season intact against second ranked Alabama.

Carlos Diaz is in Miami, looking ahead to the clash of these iconic college teams.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARLOS DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Soledad. Yes, they're talking about this BCS national championship game being one of the most anticipated matchups in the last several decades. You've got the number one ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish coming in against the number two-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama going for its second national championship in a row, its third title in four years.

Notre Dame rising from the ashes. They haven't been in this position in 24 years, trying to regain the glory of the past. You have Manti Te'o, the leader of Notre Dame, on the defense, losing his grandmother and his girlfriend this year to cancer, and then fighting back to lead the team, to be a Heisman Trophy runner-up. That's a great story there.

On Alabama's side, their QB, A.J. McCarron had a near death experience as a child on a water ski, and now he comes back after being on the brink of death as a child to lead Alabama to the national championship game, trying to become only the second quarterback in the last 54 years to lead his team to consecutive national championships.

It's a very big game from Miami. Tickets are going for around $845 for the nose bleed seats way up at the top of the stadium. So, it's a situation where you have two big teams, two storied teams, a big rivalry, a big game here in Miami -- Soledad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: All right. Carlos Diaz for us.

It's so much fun to go to a big game like that. You know, I'm not a huge football fan, but I love this kind of rivalry when you know the teams and everyone is very excited. People love one side or love the other side. That's going to be an awesome game tonight.

Pro football now. The AFC, the Baltimore Ravens advance 24-9 win over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

And in the NFC, things -- they quickly go from bad to worse for Washington Redskins fans. The star quarterback, RG3, reinjured his knee on Sunday. You could see it during the game. Playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Looked really, really bad. He was hobbled throughout the game. The Redskins coach taking some heat for not taking him out. For me included, Mr. Shanahan.

The Redskins blew a 14-point lead to the Seahawks in a 24-14 loss. Redskins Trent Williams got a little carried away during the post-game handshakes when he smacked Seattle's Richard Sherman in the face.

Oops, I was trying to shake your hand. Excuse me. I smacked you in the face.

You know, it's interesting, and all that -- I just thought, I know Mike, and Mike disagree with me. We were talking earlier from ESPN. I just think you can't play somebody who's limping on the field. It's awful to watch, like it hurt to watch him.

MCKAY COPPINS, POLITICAL EDITOR, BUZZFEED.COM: I think that the issue here is that athletes are always going to want to play, right? They're going to talk -- most -- anyone in the NFL, you're never going to ask them, are you still OK to play, and they're going to say, no, take me out, right?

I think that the problem is that the coaches, the medical staff, no one in this team apparatus really has an incentive to say, we should really watch out for your health.

O'BRIEN: Or your career.

COPPINS: That's up to the athlete, and the athlete is going to look like a wimp where he says, actually, take me out now.

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The wimp word is it. That's the social pressure that goes along with most athletics, which is that people feel like it diminishes them as an athlete if they acknowledge that they are injured in any way. In this case, at least it's a leg.

You know, there are a lot of people who play with concussions, things that have long lasting consequences, long after you have finished playing professional sports. Now, you don't have the brain capacity to live the rest of your life.

O'BRIEN: That's why you have the medical team there, right?

COPPINS: These athletes are treated as disposable people, right? They end their careers at 30, 35, and they have nothing to do for the rest of their lives. And, you know, they're dealing with these injuries forever.

I think that that's something that --

O'BRIEN: You're mad at Coach Shanahan, too.

COPPINS: I think the league has to think about this.

BLOW: You are leading --

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: It is all you.

O'BRIEN: I'm leading the football revolt. Again, my husband is freaking out right now.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We've got other stories making news and John has got that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": It's amazing in Washington they're talking about a few other things besides the Redskins, but not much.

They are talking about this, though. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan is President Obama's pick to become the next director of the CIA. The nomination is expected to be announced this afternoon. The 57-year-old Brennan spent a quarter century at the CIA and was the deputy executive director under President George W. Bush. If confirmed, Brennan will succeed David Petraeus.

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is the president's choice to be the next Secretary of Defense. Now, this pick is angering many leading Republicans who question Hagel's commitment to Israel and is unwillingness to back sanctions against Iran. He's also angering some liberals, I should say.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads back to work today. She has a meeting first thing this morning with her staff and will be welcoming Afghan President Hamid Karzai when he arrives in Washington on Friday. Secretary Clinton was released from a New York hospital last week after recovering from a blood clot in her head. In Colorado, a preliminary hearing this morning in the case of James Holmes. He's accused of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more at a midnight massacre at an Aurora movie theater back in July. Prosecutors will begin to outline their case against Holmes, revealing the first public details of this rampage. A judge will decide if there's enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

A simply barbaric rape case in India has stirred worldwide outrage. Five men accused of robbing and assaulting a 23-year-old woman and her male companion on a bus. Those accused appeared in court today. A juvenile court will narrow down the age of a sixth suspect who claimed to be 17.

The companion told a French news agency the woman was raped and beaten with a metal bar. He survived with a broken leg.

President Obama has signed into law a $9.7 billion superstorm Sandy aid package. Most of that money will be used to pay flood insurance claims. The House and Senate will vote on a second $51 billion package on January 15th.

House Speaker John Boehner received harsh criticism last week when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Congressman Peter King, both Republicans, when he refused to bring a $60 billion sandy bill up for a House vote.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Yes, people are mad about that. I mean, I was on vacation. You could see people going crazy on Twitter.

And, Peter King, when he's mad, watch out.

BERMAN: He went crazy here.

O'BRIEN: I love that man. Yes -- when he's mad, he's mad.

We want to talk more about all of that with freshman Senator Chris Murphy. He's a Democrat from Connecticut, taking over Joe Lieberman's seat.

Nice to have you with us, sir. Thank you for joining us.

Let's talk about --

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes. Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Yes, let's talk about Chuck Hagel, first and foremost. Would you support him to be the next Secretary of Defense?

MURPHY: Well, everything I know about Chuck Hagel tells me that he'd be a very strong pick here. He'd be the first Vietnam veteran, the first enlisted soldier to serve as Secretary of Defense. He's a guy with really serious foreign policy chops and someone, frankly, who hasn't been afraid to depart from his party when he thought they were wrong.

Obviously, he took a very public stance against the Republican orthodox on the Iraq war, back when very few Republicans were doing it. And so, I've only about had seven days to look at him thus far, so I'm going to take my time to, you know, research his record and look at his positions and do all the due diligence that I need to do.

But I'll tell you. I like this pick. I think he's someone the president trusts.

And, you know, I understand some of the concerns that are being raised, but let's be clear -- President Obama is only picking someone who's going to support his position on Israel, which is a strong position in support of that special relationship, and someone who's going to make sure that his Secretary of Defense implements strongly the nation's policy on gays in the military. And I know Chuck Hagel will do both of those things.

O'BRIEN: McKay wanted to ask you a question. But, first, let me play a chunk of what Lindsey Graham had to say because it was very Lindsey Graham-esque, if you will. He says it's an in your face nomination by the president.

Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel. I don't know what his management experience is regarding the Pentagon, little, if any. So I think it's an incredibly controversial choice, and it looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in-your-face term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COPPINS: Senator, I just want to ask you, a lot of people view this appointment as just needing a political win, after -- especially after the president, you know, kind of floated this trial balloon with Susan Rice and ended up not picking her.

You know, do you view this as a political move to try to win a fight with Republicans?

MURPHY: No, absolutely not. This is someone that the president inherently trusts, and this is one of the most important positions in the administration.

So, the president needs someone that he has faith is going to be able to preside over a transformation of our military, right? This is going to be one of the most important four-year periods of time in our military's history over the past several decades. We're going to be withdrawing from Afghanistan. We're going to be figuring out our new footprint in the world, and the president trusts Chuck Hagel.

And to try to make this sound like it's a pick outside of the mainstream is absolutely ridiculous. Chuck Hagel has been widely regarded as one of the smartest people on defense and national security issues on both sides of the aisle. Many of his colleagues, who right now are contemplating voting against him in the United States Senate, have wonderful things to say about him.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you, Senator, new Senator -- that's kind of how we do it. You'll learn as you keep doing our show over the next few months and years ahead.

But there are Republicans who don't like him and there are Democrats who don't like him. I see it in sort of three areas, right?

MURPHY: Sure.

O'BRIEN: There was a comment he said about someone, a diplomat being aggressively gay. There was this idea that he talked about a Jewish lobby instead of the Israel lobby, and said that they were exerting a lot of pressure on people in elected office. And maybe more importantly than all of that is he doesn't seem to necessarily support what the president believes on sanctions in Iran.

So, those seem be to the main three sticking points. Are they big enough sticking points for people on both sides of the aisle to derail the whole thing?

MURPHY: Well, listen, the bottom line is that any Secretary of Defense, just like any other cabinet post, is going to implement the beliefs and views of the president of the United States. And we've gotten into this world today in which you almost can't pick anybody who has previously independent views because somehow that will be perceived as being contrary to the views of the president.

The fact is we need strong leaders in these positions, and strong leaders come sometimes with positions in the past which might not have always directly aligned with the president's.

Listen, Hillary Clinton is a perfect example. She's been a great Secretary of State because, in that role, she's implementing the views of the president, just like Chuck Hagel would, if he's confirmed as Secretary of Defense.

BLOW: Hey, Senator, this is Charles Blow.

How much of these do you think -- I mean, I think definitely is just caught up in the politics of people opposing the president. I mean, I look at president sorry, Senator McCain, who used to love Hagel. In fact, I found a thing in "The New York Times" magazine that said, where he's quoted as saying, I'd be honored to have Chuck in my -- in any capacity in his administration, and he'd make a great Secretary of State.

But now, McCain is making rumblings that he also is against Hagel. How much of this is just caught up in kind of the politics of Hagel being a pro-Obama Republican?

MURPHY: Well, I mean, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Hagel hasn't even been officially nominated yet. So we don't yet know exactly what the resistance is going to be to him.

But, you know, McCain is not alone. Mitch McConnell, on Hagel's way out the door in the Senate, lauded his foreign policy credentials and now is starting to hedge.

I think you're right, Charles. I think Republicans are spoiling for a fight. I think they recognize that this guy's coming into his second term with a head of steam, that he's very well regarded on issues of foreign policy, and Republicans are used to holding an advantage on that mantle. They have lost it to an extent. And so they just want to pick a fight.

Hagel is a mainstream candidate. I'll do, you know, my own research on him. But it certainly seems at this point, like it's a little bit more political than it is policy-based.

O'BRIEN: Senator Chris Murphy is a Democrat from the state of Connecticut -- nice to have you with us, sir. We appreciate it.

And hopefully many more times since you're now a brand new Senator.

MURPHY: Look forward to it.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Appreciate that.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, he was there when a gunman opened fire inside a Colorado movie theater, survived, but was shot in the neck. Up next, a massacre victim will talk about the suspect's hearing which is happening today.

Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: In just a few hours, the accused shooter in the Aurora movie theater massacre is going to be in court. A preliminary hearing will get under way to hear evidence against James Holmes. He is charged with killing 12 people and wounding at least 58 other people in a theater happened last July.

Stephen Barton was in the theater when Holmes opened fire. I should say Holmes is alleged to have opened fire. He has not been convicted in the case, but Steven was able to escape. He was shot. Nice to have you back. We talked about the Newtown shooting. So, nice to see you in person again.

STEPHEN BARTON, AURORA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little about your injuries again from that shooting.

BARTON: I was shot with the shotgun basically in the face and upper torso and the neck. And, I currently still have eight shotgun pellets still in me.

O'BRIEN: So, when you hear about this hearing, which could be, if he doesn't stand trial, right, if he's found mentally incompetent, this could be the only opportunity for a lot of evidence about the case to come forward. How do you feel about this? BARTON: You know, I obviously don't want him to walk, but as long as he doesn't see the light of day again, it doesn't really much concern me beyond that. I mean, to me, I see the trial as being an opportunity to learn more about what happened that night beyond just my own personal recollection.

O'BRIEN: What do you remember? I mean, is it like, for you specifically, is it a blur or do you have a sense in your head of, you know, how it --

BARTON: No, I remember very vividly. I remember everything that happened. But, obviously, there's some thing that I didn't se because either I was keeping my head down or taking cover, and I'd just be interested to know.

O'BRIEN: What do you want to know?

BARTON: Just more about what happened in the theater. And beyond that, you know, actually more about what led him to commit this crime, because, you know, I think this is just another reminder of the terrible cost of basically the failure of our gun policy in this country. And, I think it just brings it back to the forefront into people's minds.

O'BRIEN: Or the failure of having good mental health care.

BARTON: Sure. They go hand in hand, of course. But, to me, at the end of the day, if you don't have the gun, if you don't have the access to assault rifles, such easy access, then you don't have these horrible mass tragedies that seem to always be occurring.

BLOW: Do you recall seeing him before he started to shoot?

BARTON: No. I just -- I remember seeing the flash of his gun. And I'm thinking at first that it was fireworks and then, you know, quickly realizing it was much more serious than that.

COPPINS: You know, President Obama and the White House have a lot of issues that they want to address in the second term. How important is it to you that he pursue comprehensive gun control legislation in this coming year?

BARTON: Extremely important. I mean, this is --

O'BRIEN: He works with mayors against illegal guns.

(CROSSTALK)

COPPINS: Are you calling on him to really take some action?

BARTON: And we have been since Aurora to really take leadership on this issue and since Tucson, really. And, it's so many times in the past that we've seen kind of a failure of leadership, but this feels different. I mean, the president has verbally committed his administration to working on this issue. And I think that's the right thing to do. O'BRIEN: Would you want to testify? I mean, they said 70 -- Casey Wian has been reporting on this for us. He said 70 people will testify, will be called to testify in this hearing, which could last a week, which is pretty unusual. Would you want to testify?

BARTON: You know, frankly, I should think I'm better served working on this issue because, sure, this has happened, but the trial won't change the fact that it happened. It's in the past, as far as I'm concerned now, and the best thing to do is move forward now and ensure that with strong gun laws, with mental health reform, that we don't have these issues continuing in the future.

(CROSSTALK)

FMR. REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: I'm sorry. I've been a proponent of assault weapon ban over my Congressional career, but you know, to me, you said something very important. This trial we have to get as to an understanding why this is happening. You know, we can't do one without the other. Mental health is a huge component here, and it's been largely overlooked.

I'm hoping a lot of that does come out in the trial. I don't know that that's going to be the gist of it, but I've never understood the term, you know, not guilty by reason of insanity. You're guilty. You did it. Maybe your mental health, and as a guest earlier said, you go to a mental health institution rather than to jail. But we have to do them both.

O'BRIEN: Would that bother you if he's found -- because it is not guilty by, you know, a measure of insanity.

BARTON: You know, to perpetrate a horrible crime like this, you have to reason there's something wrong. I don't know if that absolves him of guilt in this situation. I personally don't think he was criminally insane. I don't think he is criminally insane. I don't know, really.

BONO MACK: He's a young man, and I have a 24-year-old son. You know, Soledad knows that I've been very focused on prescription drug abuse issues. I think our kids these days have so much thrown at them. I don't know what is happening to them, but I think if we don't look at it in totality, including, yes, what does it mean?

Like in the Tucson shooting with Gabby Giffords, if the, you know, shooter didn't have -- if there's not one opportunity to subdue him into stopping, the carnage would have been worse. That's one of the reasons I support the ban on the high capacity clips.

O'BRIEN: It does make you think like it would be nice if you could figure out on many fronts, right, because it's a multi-factorial problem. It's not just sort of fix this one thing.

BARTON: Yes. And we have to be proactive. I mean, in the moment the people are tackling the shooter, it's way too late.

BONO MACK: But what's happening to our kids? What's happening to them that they're turning to these hard-core opiates and they're so stressed out and they're -- in my view, they're flipping the switch at some time and losing their humanity --

O'BRIEN: It's kind of the big $64,000 question. Stephen is like, I don't know, because --

(CROSSTALK)

BARTON: I mean, there is problems with drug abuse and mental health, but you know, when it's easier to purchase a gun than it is to buy Sudafed in a pharmacy, I think that, to me, is an important part of this equation.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us. I didn't notice, last time we did an interview, I hadn't noticed your scar, maybe because we were outside and you had your coat on.

BARTON: Yes. I mean, I lucked out really.

O'BRIEN: You did.

BARTON: Despite the scars, I'm glad to be here.

O'BRIEN: We're glad to have you with us. Appreciate it.

We got to take a break. We're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, Minding Your Business.

U.S. stock futures are down slightly ahead of the opening bell. Stocks closed at a five-year high on Friday. Just in this morning, Bank of America will pay Fannie Mae $3.6 billion to settle the government's complaints over shoddy mortgages. B of A will also buy back 30,000 home loans from Fannie that Fannie Mae says don't meet government standards.

There are some strong signals in the economy right now. Car sales, 2012 was the best year for car sales before the recession. The housing market expected to show more strength this year. Home prices are rising almost across the country. So, what could hold us back? Well, a political uncertainty is number one. We've got three more fiscal cliffs looming, the debt ceiling, massive spending cuts, the sequester, of course, and a continuing budget resolution.

Also, the jobs recovery remains mediocre. Only 155,000 jobs added to the economy last month. Jobless rate is 7.8 percent.

Wages and incomes are barely budging, yet, the prices of all kinds of things will be higher this year, notably grains, meat -- you know, you can expect to pay three to four more for your cheeseburgers, Soledad. Rents are going up. Mail, there will be a postal price increase again. And public transit across the country, a lot of cities weighing higher costs to get to work. O'BRIEN: Thanks again, the bummer of the news.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- by Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Home prices are rising.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Thank you, Christine. It's always a joy to have you on the show.

ROMANS: Happy Monday, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, President Obama could soon face another battle in Congress over his Defense Secretary nominee. Tell you why some members of this new Congress are already putting up a fight.

And next, politics to the max with former Congress members, Connie and Mary Bono Mack. That's ahead. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)