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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

White House to Convene Gun Violence Panel; Interview with Senator Ron Johnson; U.S. Debt Debated; ESPN Apologizes for Sportscaster's Comments

Aired January 9, 2013 - 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: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, gun control in the spotlight. The vice president and his task force meet with victims today to try to prevent another massacre just before the NRA will get the floor. What we can expect in a live report this morning?

Then, take me out to the hall of fame? Today, we'll learn the new baseball hall of fame class. Should players tainted by the steroid era make it in?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. government spent more than $100 billion to save AIG, the poster child for those bad bailouts. So, why is the insurance giant now saying it's got a raw deal and considering suing the government?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And tracking Jaws. A great white shark threatening Florida beaches. How scientists in Utah sent a warning?

O'BRIEN: Lots to talk about over the next two hours. We'll be chatting with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson; Jen Psaki, she's the traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign. Dan Shaughnessy, the sports columnist for the "Boston Globe" will be joining us. Jenn Sterger, she's an actress and model. She had her own moment with Brent Musburger back in 2005. And model Cameron Russell, who will tell us why she doesn't think girls should be models.

It's Wednesday, January 9th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, the NRA and the White House 24 hours from a face-to-face gun control conversation. National Rifle Association confirming now that it will meet with Vice President Biden's gun violence panel tomorrow. They don't sound so thrilled about it. They're sending a rep to hear what they have to say. President spokesman Jay Carney responded with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We look forward to hearing from a variety of organizations and civic groups and others who have insights into this problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NRA says it's here to hear what the White House has to say. CARNEY: The process is designed to get input.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Sounds kind of circular doesn't it? White House correspondent Dan Lothian is in Washington, D.C. for us this morning. Dan, not only did it sound circular, it sounds like it could be a little bit chilly. Today there's a different conversation with the victims of gun violence meeting with the vice president as well. So let's talk about the two meetings.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the NRA, as you pointed out, could be very chilly. They have expressed concerns, a lot of focus on gun control, but not enough focus on issues such as mental health or violent video games, things they believe contribute to gun violence and that's where they believe the focus should be.

In addition the NRA has come out saying there should be armed guards at all schools to prevent another violent attack like we saw in Connecticut. So that has been the position of the NRA.

But as you pointed out, they are coming here to listen to what it is that the vice president and his group might have to say. The vice president and his group saying they are putting these meetings together to listen to what the NRA and other organizations have to say so they could put together policy proposals so the president can figure out where he wants to go moving forward on gun violence.

Now, the White House says in addition to those options that this group will eventually put on the table, they believe there are steps that Congress can take right now, such as reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons, closing loopholes around background checks, and also limiting high capacity magazines. Again, those are issues that some lawmakers have already expressed interest in taking up right now. The White House saying those can be put forward and you can address gun violence right away. In the meantime, the vice president trying to come up with other options.

O'BRIEN: And Wal-Mart not taking part, the biggest gun retailer in the country. That's an interesting exception to the conversations.

LOTHIAN: That's right. And it's sort of raising eyebrows out there, because the White House issues an invitation to various groups, pointed out, the NRA tomorrow, today, the White House will be sitting down with victims groups and gun safety groups. They're also reaching out to Hollywood, entertainment, also video gaming companies getting representative to sit down at the table and talk about gun violence.

But Wal-Mart says it's a scheduling matter here, and a spokesman saying, quote, "Unfortunately, we are unable to attend, but we are having ongoing conversations with the White House and reaching out to lots of groups and organizations on this topic and sharing our experience, with the statement going on to say, "We take the sale of firearms very seriously and are committed to the responsible sale of firearms." So unclear whether or not Wal-Mart will join further conversations in the future, but at this point, not accepting the invitation to join the conversation now.

O'BRIEN: Because of schedule, just so packed. Interesting. Dan Lothian, thank you for your time this morning.

Reports the governor of New York will announce a plan for stiff new gun laws in the state of New York later today in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. "The New York Times" reporting that one of the nation's most restrictive bans on assault weapons is on the table. Cuomo says he wants to tighten existing laws, broaden the number of number of weapons and ammo magazines that law will cover. And it's this comment by the governor to a radio station that has gun rights advocates up in arms. The governor confirming, quote, "confiscation could be an option" when he announces his new proposals later today in his state of the state address.

Vermont's largest city passing a measure banning semi-automatic weapons and multiple ammunition clips. The state hall was packed on Monday night with critics wearing hunter's orange. The ban goes to committee, and the public will vote and send it to the state legislature all before it can become a law.

In just a few hours, the preliminary hearing for the accused Aurora movie theater shooter will resume just one day after prosecutors revealed disturbing evidence in the case. The hearing will determine if, in fact, Holmes should stand trial. Yesterday, they played two of the dozens of 911 calls from the theater, including one where 30 shots could be heard fired in less than 30 seconds. Here is the father of one of the victims responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM TEVES, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: I mean, just any one of those shots could have been the one that killed Alex. If it wasn't, it hurt somebody else or killed one of the other people who we have become friends with. It was horrific.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: CNN's Casey Wian is in Centennial, Colorado, for us this morning. The prosecution says they're about to wrap up the case. How do you think it has gone for them so far in what they are trying to accomplish?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, I think they have been able to accomplish quite a bit. They've clearly been trying to show the James Holmes methodically planned this attack for a long time and that he was capable of doing that to counter what is expected to be a limited metal capacity defense.

They have shown that he booby-trapped his apartment in an effort, an elaborate scheme involving remote controlled cars, fishing line, diversionary smoke devices, napalm, all kinds of explosives, to draw first responders away from the movie theater. They've also shown that he began purchasing firearms in May of 2012, two month before the shooting. He purchased 6,300 rounds of ammunition, two smoke grenades. Then they even went so far as he registered on two on two dating websites, and on both of those sites he asked the question "Will you visit me in prison?" Clearing trying to show he knew what he was doing and what the consequences might be, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Casey Wian for us this morning with an update, thank you.

I want to get right to John Berman now with an update on the rest of the day's stories. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Soledad.

So is it possible there won't be a single U.S. troop on Afghan soil by the end of next year? According to the White House the administration considering leaving behind 15,000 troops to train Afghan security forces, but now the president is said to be open to a scenario that involves a total pullout. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama meet Friday in Washington.

History will be made at this year's presidential inauguration. New details released that Richard Blanco will serve as the inauguration poet. He is the youngest and first Latino to receive the honor. The musical lineup will include Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, and James Taylor. President Obama is inaugurated January 21. You can tune in to CNN for special coverage. We'll be live on the mall starting at 5:00 a.m. that day.

January 22nd may be the day that Hillary Clinton testifies on the Capitol hill about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The secretary of state returned to work Monday after being sidelined for weeks by illness. A spokesman said Clinton is open to testifying before she leaves her post.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez' inauguration was scheduled to happen tomorrow, but medical treatment for cancer and a severe lung infection will keep him in Cuba. So now the question is does the constitutional allow the inauguration to be delayed? Who is in charge in the meantime? An opposition leader is asking the country's high court to decide if that is even possible.

So the baseball hall of fame announced its newest inductees this afternoon, and because of the scandal of steroids, we could see some of the all-time greats shut out. The headliners on the ballot include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, catcher Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling also on top of the list. In the next half-hour of STARTING POINT "Boston Globe" sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy joins us. He's going to tell us why he called the ballot poison and hard ball anthrax as well.

O'BRIEN: He's so shy when he talks about this issue.

BERMAN: Dan Shaughnessy knows how to write controversy.

O'BRIEN: And as Vice President Biden's gun task force meets, do conservative arguments protecting the Second Amendment hold water? We'll talk with Republican senator Ron Johnson about that and about financial issues and the government as well. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. It's the most magical place on earth, but is Mickey Mouse keeping too close eye on you? The new Disneyworld wristbands, are people concerned about Mickey Mouse as big brother? STARTING POINT is back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. Minding your business this morning, futures mixed as earnings season begins to heat up. Sales for Alcoa, the largest aluminum producer in America, beat forecasts. Overall fourth quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to rise about 3.3 percent.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. AIG, the poster child for the most hated bailout of the financial crisis, will consider today whether to join a lawsuit against the government, a lawsuit claiming AIG got a raw deal when taxpayers saved it in 2008. The suit led by former CEO Hank Greenberg comes as AIG launches a PR campaign to say thank you to taxpayers.

Magic bands at the magic kingdom, Disney testing a wristband that allows you to reserve rides, pay for lunch, and even works as your room key. You go to meet Snow White and she knows your child's name. Convenient, or big brother?

O'BRIEN: Of course. That's why they put the toys low, so they can get you to spend more money.

ROMANS: A shorter line is worth it. You can opt in, don't have to share all of your information. Disney has the information they can use to tailor the information.

O'BRIEN: That's the cost of moving through faster. I support that.

Moving on, we were telling you about this week's White House meetings on gun and gun violence. Today, victims of gun violence are meeting with the vice president. Tomorrow, the NRA. The NRA spokesman said we are sending a rep to hear what they have to say. I want to talk this morning with Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson. It's nice to have your with us.

SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: Nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk budget in a moment. These cups are incredible. Let's talk about guns first. We know a little bit about what the president is planning to put on the table. And I'll throw up a little bit of what we know. Universal background checks, that's being floated, tougher mental health exams, stronger penalties for carrying firearms near schools comes out of reporting by the "Washington Post." What do you think of these proposals that we're hearing about from the White House?

JOHNSON: First, I'm glad that they are looking at a broad range of issues here because I don't think there will be one single solution to this. Quite honest, I don't known there is a solution out of Washington, D.C. in this case. These tragedies are horrific, but the fact of the matter is, we actually have a constitution and we do need to guard our freedoms. And whether are you talking about gun rights, you are smacking right up against the Second Amendment. If you're talking about video games, mental health issues, these are difficulty issues to grapple with. I'm a little concerned they will try and rush this thing through, try and pass legislation out of Washington, D.C. within a month, and I don't think Washington, D.C. is capable of solving the problem.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to the Second Amendment. Oftentimes, the minute you start talking about gun control, people say I'm a Second Amendment supporter. It says this, "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," which has a wide range of interpretations, of course, and that's what people are arguing about.

JOHNSON: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Is there a middle ground? Christine and I were talking about this yesterday. It seems like there is a conversation with the AR-15s and they are coming for my guns, and no one has a conversation in the mid that would keep small children safe in a school. What does the middle ground lock like to you?

JOHNSON: Maybe that's what we'll get out of the meeting on Thursday.

O'BRIEN: What does it look like? You could draft it right now yourself. An A-plus from the NRA, how would you draft it? Is there a middle ground?

JOHNSON: I'm not in that position to draft it. What I'm looking at is, what is all the evidence? Quite honestly, this isn't my big issue, I am here because we are bankrupting this nation. But when you take a look at the evidence, assault weapons bans, and that's a term really created by anti-gun lobbyists, quite honestly, to make it sound scary. These are lawful weapons that can be used in hunting.

And when you take a look at bans, they simply didn't work. We have gun-free school zones, and that's where people go to kill children. So I wish there was some magic wand you could wave, prevent things from happening. But these massacres are perpetrated by sick, demented, and evil individuals.

O'BRIEN: Who have access to guns, though, right?

JOHNSON: I understand. There are guns in America right now, and law- abiding citizens get them, and criminals, even if we have laws, criminals will still have access to dangerous weapons, whether there are guns. I don't want to start throwing ideas into people's heads, but say people --

O'BRIEN: It disturbs me I don't hear a middle ground ever.

JOHNSON: Let's sit back and listen to what comes out of White House meetings. I have a flexible mind. I'm willing to give the president and the vice president the benefit of the doubt. I am glad they are talking about the range of issues instead of going after gun rights. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about debt.

JOHNSON: There's the issue.

O'BRIEN: Awesome. Are these a gift?

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: You have created the Social Security deficit cup.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: There is a ten-year spending plan in this cup. And your handy plastic, reusable.

BERMAN: One of the things these controversies need more of is souvenir cups.

JOHNSON: No taxpayer money spent on this at all. It comes from my company, so it's pretty easy for to us do that. Americans have to understand how severe our fiscal situation is. And trust me, I travel all over the place and talk to individuals and they do not know the depth of the problem.

O'BRIEN: The issue right now and the conversation has been the debt ceiling, which we are about to smack up against. Christine is our doom and gloom reporter every morning about the debt ceiling. So spending and debt ceiling to a large degree, while they are connected, they are different conversations. Debt ceiling, we have spent that money. That a bill that has come due you have to pay.

JOHNSON: You're really not. You are borrowing more money to spend in the future. That's misnomer that we are borrowing money to pay off past debts. No. We're borrowing money to spend more money in the future, do more deficit spending. If we weren't doing deficit spending, we wouldn't have to borrow more money.

So the debt ceiling, the last one could you say, the debate was messy. We didn't get a downgrade because the debate was messy. We got a downgrade in our debt because the results of that debate did not solve the problem. President Obama, after he got his tax increase, the tax part of his balanced approach, when he came out and said, OK, now, the debt ceiling is off the table, not going to negotiate it --

ROMANS: Because it's spent, right? We have a $16 trillion national debt. That's money that has been committed by congress. It's been committed by the very people who will fight over whether we should pay the bills. The question is, you go ahead, say Congress committed this money, on February 15th, interest on the debt, $9 billion coming in and $52 billion has to be paid.

JOHNSON: You have $2.5 trillion of revenue coming into an annual basis, which equals what we spent in 2005. So you have to increase the debt ceiling because we continue to run deficits.

ROMANS: So we need a budget to move forward. JOHNSON: How about do that with the Senate?

ROMANS: We haven't had a budget for four years?

JOHNSON: Christine, take a look at the only time we've produced fiscal restraint in this country, the messy debate over the last debt ceiling. When President Obama doesn't even talk about it, any time the president comes to Congress and asks for additional debt benefit on the backs of our children and grandchildren, we should have the debate. It should go on and on and on until we resolve the issues.

O'BRIEN: You are around for one hour and 40 minute with us this morning. I find this fascinating because a lot of people don't understand the details of the debt ceiling. But I do think we have to really understand like long-term and short-term implications. So we will pick your brain all morning. Nice to have you with us.

We'll take a break. Ahead this morning, we'll talk about what ESPN is now saying. It's an apology for what Brent Musburger comments about the very, very cute girlfriend, A.J.'s girlfriend, during the game over the weekend. Is that apology enough? We're back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has agreed to be on our panel. Also joining our team this morning, Jen Psaki, Democratic strategist who served as the traveling press secretary for President Obama's re- election campaign, Ryan Lizza, long time, no see, man.

How do we feel about this apology from Brent Musburger? From ESPN, they say his comments yesterday during Monday night's BCS championship game were inappropriate and they apologize and he understand they were inappropriate. This is what he said when the camera spotted this beautiful young lady, Katherine Webb, girlfriend of A.J. MCcarron.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENT MUSBURGER, SPORTSCASTER: I'm telling you, you quarterbacks, you get the good looking women. What a beautiful woman. If you are a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throwing it around in the backyard with pops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Wow. Hey! ESPN said this. "We always try to capture interesting storylines and the relationship between an Auburn grad who is Ms. Alabama and the current Alabama quarterback certainly met that test. However we apologize. The commentary went too far and Brent understand that."

BERMAN: I think they hit it exactly right. It was not a gross infraction, but he kept on talking a lot about it right now, kids growing up to be quarterbacks so they can land the cute chicks.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the person who is going to be offended is going to be her. She said it's fine. If it's OK with her, then it should be OK with everyone else. He could have pulled back a little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: She is beautiful. I'm sticking with that. And she's also lovely. I think Mrs. Musburger would be like, honey, bring that back in.

JOHNSON: That's where you need the apology.

O'BRIEN: He is 70 something, she's 23.

JENN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a little creepy factor here. My first reaction, once a frat boy, always a frat boy. I don't know if he's in a fraternity. But I have to give her props. She is a pro.

We'll talk to Jen Sterger. Many years ago she was the target of a similar thing. Brent Musburger basically pointed her out, gave her career, became a model. She said she thanked him for that very thing. We'll talk to her a little later this morning.

Also ahead this morning, we'll talking about tracking jaws, how scientists in Utah were able to warn folks on a Florida beach that a massive 4,000 pound shark was right on that beach.

Plus, a Mexican restaurant serving up controversial T-shirts. That's up ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)