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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Obama to Unveil Gun Control Agenda; Interview with Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia; Fallout From Armstrong's Confession; Top Schools Spend Big on Student Athletes

Aired January 16, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, fire and smoke in the heart of London. It happened during rush hour, a helicopter crashes into a crane and then falls to the ground in a ball of fire. Two people are killed. Several wounded. We'll have the very latest on this story just ahead.

Then, a new gun control agenda. President Obama laying out his new proposals today. The NRA says he's a hypocrite.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: A nightmare for Boeing. Two airlines ground the 787 Dreamliner after a series of disasters. How dangerous is this problem?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": He beat out the likes of George Clooney and Tim Tebow, the latest honor for Britain's Prince Harry.

O'BRIEN: It's Wednesday, January 16th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Michael Skolnik is back with us. He's editor in chief of GlobalGrind.com, political director for Russell Simmons. Abby Huntsman is back. She's a host of "HuffPost Live". And Chris Frates is back with us, reporter for "National Journal."

John Berman is helping us out this morning as well. We appreciate it.

We begin with a story happening overseas -- breaking news -- a helicopter hit a crane and then crashed near a busy commuter hub in central London. Right now, they're in the middle of rush hour commute. Witnesses say the chopper was flying very low and fast when it hit the crane which was on top of a 50-story residential tower that was under construction. Two people are now confirmed dead, including the pilot of the helicopter. Nine more people have been injured. We'll have more on this developing story as it comes into us here at CNN. President Obama officially unveiling his gun control plan today. A source is telling us it will call for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, more funding for mental health programs.

The White House calls the plan commonsense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights, while keeping guns away from people who shouldn't have them. The NRA on the attack released an ad calling President Obama an elitist hypocrite for being skeptical about armed guards at schools while his daughters get Secret Service protection.

I want to get right to Congressman Randy Forbes this morning. He is -- as the president officially unveils his gun control plan today, we want to talk about that with him.

Congressman, it's nice to have you with us. We appreciate your time this morning.

REP. RANDY FORBES (R), VIRGINIA: Soledad, good to be with you. Happy New Year.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

FORBES: First time I've talked to you this year.

O'BRIEN: I know, I know. Likewise to you, sir.

So, we were running through what we believe will be in the president's proposals that he will announce later today. Of that list of things, assault weapons ban, high capacity magazine ban, universal background checks, more funding for mental health programs. What -- pick three things that you would say, yes, as a Congress person this can make a change in what is happening in this country now with gun violence -- what three things would you support there?

FORBES: Soledad, I don't think we can say that. And reason is, I sit on the Judiciary Committee and I sit on the subcommittee that will hear the proposals. We're looking forward to hearing what the president has.

But you may have the proposals, we do not have the proposals yet and we still have this concept that we do the trials before we do the verdicts. And here, we do the hearings and gather the facts and get the evidence. So, what we're looking forward to get the president's proposals and hearing the facts on both sides of the case, so that we can make the analysis.

O'BRIEN: Yes. But people in D.C., they leak like sieves, the proposals, no one has given them to us either. But we've been able to craft them from what people who've been on a lot of these conversations have to say. But hypothetically speaking, of the things I've laid out, hypothetically, if he were, in fact, to lay those out, what things -- even without the list -- what would you be comfortable in supporting that would make a change that helps confront this big issue of gun violence in this country, name the thing that you support? FORBES: OK. If I can name the things that I would support, first of all, where I got my information from and just in the last few weeks, I've talked to sheriffs and police chiefs.

Let me tell some things that they have that aren't the hot topics that you guys are looking at now, and maybe even the president is looking at. For example, I had one sheriff in the western part of the country yesterday told me that the big problem they'll have is they'll have juvenile sometimes that have criminal offenses with firearms that won't even get a severe penalty until the fifth time they've used them. We need to deal with that and we need to look at that problem.

Second thing is I had a police chief in the southern part of the country that told me yesterday -- look, sometime our prosecutors aren't prosecuting cases. They had a situation, a videotape and a car wash where someone had a mass killing there. The prosecutor said he didn't have enough evidence. Federal government had to come in under (INAUDIBLE) and get a conviction, that's what we need to do.

And then the third big thing, Soledad, that's not in all of this, is right now, if you really look at the spike up in violent activity and much of it with guns, it's in our gang activity that is taking place. A police chief told me just the other day we've got some of our gangs here that are doing most of this violence and they haven't even talked about that.

Those are the kind of things we're looking forward to actually having police chiefs, actually having sheriffs come and telling us what's the real problems, what do we need to get our hands around and we'll be dealing with that.

O'BRIEN: I think those are really, really smart, and all those things that you listed, I think they do sound like huge problems.

But, as you know, with the gang activity that the sheriffs and police officers were talking about, one of the big problems are the straw purchasers, right? And the reason they're able to do that because we don't have universal background checks and we don't have an ability --

FORBES: Soledad, let me just point this out to you. That's exactly what we need to be hearing in our committees because what the police chiefs will tell you is that most of these gang members aren't buying these things --

O'BRIEN: No, their girlfriends are -- their girlfriends who don't have records are, right? And the girlfriends --

FORBES: Or they're going to steal the guns.

O'BRIEN: Right. I agree.

FORBES: Most of them are not in the business of buying them legitimately.

One of the things we need to make sure of, Soledad, a lot of people hate guns and are fearful of guns and I appreciate that. But what we don't want to do is say these things sound good and feel good but they're really not going to get at the problem. That's what we'll be looking at --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Walk me through -- so the universal background check, how could you be against that? I don't hate guns, I'm not any more afraid of them sort of more than anything else. I think smart people who are well-educated in how to use them, can be -- can use guns very effectively and efficiently. And I trust police and sheriffs when they tell me about their concerns, so I'm not one of those people you list.

So, to me, a universal background check sounds very pragmatic. I would like to know who is selling weapons, if they have a felony conviction I would like to understand who's got weapons. Why -- how can be a bad thing?

FORBES: You can take it further to that, Soledad. Well, first of all, I didn't say it was, because we haven't had the hearings to see the proposals. But the other thing that you didn't even mention was we want to make sure that people with mental illnesses don't have them.

O'BRIEN: Completely agree.

FORBES: We want to make sure that people don't commit crimes. So, you're exactly right. We need to do the analysis but we need to make sure that we're not doing stuff in there that are going to jeopardize people's rights.

Let me give you a perfect example. We had the same kind of argument that took place in Virginia about 15 years ago. We had a bill that came on because we wanted to take guns off of school property. You and I both agree that that should happen.

However, the bill would have said that if you or I borrowed somebody's car, we took our child to school to drop them off in the parking lot and there was a gun in the glove compartment that we didn't know about, we'd have been guilty of a felony.

So, Soledad, in that particular situation, don't we want to exclude people that didn't even know that guns existed, some people in the debate said -- oh, my gosh, you just want guns on school property and you don't care about kids.

And sometime, the devils are in the details, and they're the details that we'll get in the hearings when we get with people that are dealing with the matters come and testify, Soledad. And we will be doing that.

This is the president of the United States. He deserves to have a hearing on his proposals, and we want to make sure we give him a fair and balanced hearing. And at the end, we'll make sure we make decisions on the evidence that we accumulated, not that the president comes in and tells us before we documented it. ROMANS: So, I've got to ask you about this Congressional Accountability Pay Act that you have filed legislation for. It would allow -- it would say that if federal spending increases by, say, 3 percent, then salaries for Congress would be cut by that same 3 percent.

I'm curious how effective this could be when you consider most Congress people actually make way more money than your average American. I mean, the top 50 Congress people are making, like, $6 million, so a 3 percent, you know, cut to their salary is, like, $5,000 it won't mean anything.

I mean, do you think this really has legs or are you trying to make a bigger point with this measure?

FORBES: No, Soledad, I think it does have legs and let me tell you why. You and I both knew because we've talked about this before. We've got to fundamentally change how we do business in Washington, how we think and how we act.

And everybody agrees, you and I agree, the fundamental problem we have is this out-of-control spending. So, what we have to do is either the president has to take control of it and so far his budgets haven't done, or either we have to have a balanced budget amendment which is very difficult because we need two-thirds votes and the states have to ratify, and we just don't have time, time will run out on us.

Or we look at legislators and say, you need to have some skin in the game. If you can't control spending and it goes up by 10 percent your salary goes down by 10 percent. It won't impact --

O'BRIEN: But, sir, "Forbes" said you make a lot of money. "Forbes" says you are a wealthy man. That 10 percent of your salary in Congress which is roughly $170,000 something, that is not going to be a dent in your personal wealth. So, I'm wondering -- and there are a lot of Congress people -- that have wealth far higher than yours.

Is it really going to hurt them?

FORBES: Well, first of all, Soledad, "Forbes" has never said that about me. I wish they did.

O'BRIEN: 2010.

FORBES: I wish that was true. Well, I think if you look, it wasn't accurate.

And I think one of the things you will find is that members of Congress will pay attention if they actually have skin in the game. One of the things that we shouldn't be doing we've had the pay increases for members of Congress, I voted against every one of them.

I think what we ought to be doing is saying if you can't deliver, we're not going to continue to give you the payment that you would get if you can deliver. That's what the CAP Act says. It will have some results. The question's whether we can get it out of the Congress and especially out of the Senate.

O'BRIEN: "Forbes" magazine says your estimated wealth in 2010 was just under $3 million, they're making that up?

FORBES: Well, Soledad, what you've been looking at --

O'BRIEN: They're low or they're high?

FORBES: They are making -- they're very high. And let me tell you why, if you look at the way they do that, they take the disclaimer forms and the disclaimer forms take all of your assets, but they have ranges that can be a million or $2 million off. So all they say is he has a house worth between $500,000 and $3 million and they always go to the high side.

O'BRIEN: Their math is a little off.

FORBES: But I wish it were, Soledad.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We wish it were accurate for you as well. Nice to talk to you, Congressman Randy Forbes.

FORBES: Always good to talk with you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that. Republican from the state of Virginia joining us this morning.

There are other stories making news today. John Berman has got that for us.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

President Obama with yet another spot to fill in his cabinet. Sources tell CNN that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has informed the president that he intends to step down at the end of March. During his tenure at the Interior, Salazar established seven national parks and 10 wildlife refuges and 18 solar energy projects. He also oversaw the federal response to 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and massive BP oil spill.

The House approving $50 billion in aid for superstorm Sandy victims, that's on top of the $10 billion in flood insurance already OK'd. Final passage comes 2 1/2 months after Sandy pounded the region, wiping out entire communities. The disaster aid package will be considered, again by the Senate following the inauguration.

Some 8,000 bus drivers and matrons are striking in New York City right now. Here's new video of them chanting and holding signs earlier this morning. More than 150,000 New York City school kids had to find another way to school today because of this strike. At issue, job security. The city's put private bus company contracts up for bid looking to cut costs, and the union says bus drivers could suddenly be out of work when their contract expires next June. Japan's two biggest airlines have grounded their entire fleets of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. This after an ANA Dreamliner was forced to make an emergency landing when the crew smelled something burning in the cabin. The plane did land safely and no one was hurt, but it's the latest in a series of faults and safety concerns with the Dreamliners in the past week or so.

So, he's a red head that enjoys trips to Vegas. Prince Harry has been named the most eligible bachelor in the entire world by "Town & Country" magazine. He beat out other royal offspring and some really famous faces like George Clooney and Tim Tebow.

"Town & Country" said Harry is the wildcard royal, the naughty one, the one who goes out with rough women, hangs out with the fast crowd, downs too many drinks and goes home at the wrong moment. That's why we all like him best.

You know, he's the right --

O'BRIEN: Who ever uses the phrase rough women? What are we in our great grandmother's era?

BERMAN: It's "Town & Country" Magazine.

O'BRIEN: What exactly, John Berman, a rough woman?

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: John, I'd love to hear it.

BERMAN: When I start writing for "Town & Country", which could be quite soon as the rate I'm going, I will relate to you what it means.

O'BRIEN: But, you know, they will speak at charities and it's like, is that the same guy that we saw in pictures yesterday in Las Vegas? He can play two different roles.

BERMAN: At the charities, he's wearing clothes. So you know?

HUNTSMAN: He's a prince.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: There's a difference.

HUNTSMAN: I think he deserves it. He's just entertaining.

O'BRIEN: And he's single, which puts him right at the top of the list for the royals for some degree.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Lance Armstrong, apparently he admitted to Oprah he was doping. It's unclear the extent of what he's going to tell her in the interviews that are going to air tomorrow and the next day. So what will the impact be on the sport of cycling? We're going to talk to a champion cyclist Paul Willerton. He used to be teammates with Armstrong.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Today, we're waiting for Lance Armstrong's next move as the organization that banned him from competing in sports says his doping confession is not enough. The new word from the World Anti-Doping Agency that Lance -- they won't reduce these sanctions against him until he makes a full confession under oath, this following that interview that he conducted with Oprah Winfrey, an interview in which Oprah said that he, you know, confessed.

The degree to which he confessed is unclear, of course, until it airs, but he confessed to using performance enhancing drugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "OPRAH'S NEXT CHAPTER": I would say that he did not come clean in the manner that I expected. It was surprising to me. I would say that, for myself, my team, all of us in the room, we were mesmerized and riveted by some of his answers. I feel that he answered the questions in a way that he was ready.

I didn't get all the questions asked, but I think the most important questions and the answers that people around the world had been waiting to hear were answered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Every time she talks about what to expect, I cannot wait to watch this interview on Thursday and Friday on OWN.

Paul Willerton is a former professional cyclist, former teammate as well of Lance Armstrong. So, he joins us now. He's in Bend, Oregon.

So, what's your reaction to this word of the confession? We don't know exactly, you know, what he said or how he said it or the details yet.

PAUL WILLERTON, FORMER PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST: It doesn't come as much of a surprise, Soledad. The big question at this point is really what he's willing to divulge beyond this. And --

O'BRIEN: What do you mean by that? Like, what would you like to hear as someone in the sport, what would be interesting to you about what he could divulge?

WILLERTON: Well, he's cornered in the sense that he wants to maintain control, and he knows that he holds the keys to the people around him that were complicit in what he did, and that's really the most valuable thing that he has to offer at this point.

O'BRIEN: Some of them are his friends.

WILLERTON: And that would go a long -- that would go a long ways toward getting to the bottom of how all this happened.

O'BRIEN: So, some of those people -- so, you're saying he'd have to make a confession that explains kind of how it all worked and the roles of various people who are point people in the cycling sports organization. People said that his reputation is brutal, that he -- not just a fierce competitor.

He's a very tough, difficult person, you know, there was -- Hamilton, Tyler Hamilton, when he did an appearance on "60 Minutes," he said after that appearance, he ran into Lance Armstrong and Lance Armstrong said this to him, "I'm going to make your life a living hell, both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom."

That's what Lance Armstrong is said to have said to Tyler Hamilton after he talked about doping on "60 Minutes." Tell me a little bit about what kind of a person Lance Armstrong is and how that plays into this doping scandal.

WILLERTON: Yes. Those types of threats were really ruled over the sport for so long, and I think that that's really the beauty of the story at this point is that really truth -- that truth has prevailed in the end, that we had Lance Armstrong versus cancer. We had Lance Armstrong versus everyone in the Tour de France, but Lance Armstrong versus the truth, that is -- that's one that he really couldn't win in the end.

And we lost a lot of faith over the years. This is 15 years old for all of us that have known the truth all along. And, we really began to wonder if this day would ever come.

CHRIS FRATES, REPORTER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, Chis Frates here. I wondered when you talk about Lance Armstrong, you also talk about Lance Armstrong versus himself, and I wonder, you know, he has this reputation. Can he build himself back up or has he threatened and intimidated so many people here that there's really no road to redemption for him?

WILLERTON: Well, part of what I think is going to happen on Oprah, I don't think that we're going to get a Lance Armstrong who is -- there's not going to be sobbing. He is going to try to justify much of what he did. I don't know what a partial confession is, but that's -- that's something that we'll just have to see here.

But, the nice thing about what is happening is that we can -- this is really the beginning in a sense that now the story can start to accelerate, and for the people who are willing to still tolerate the story and Lance Armstrong --

HUNTSMAN: This is Abby Huntsman here. Do you think the American people will forgive him, there's any way that we will just finally forgive him and understand?

WILLERTON: Oh, I'm sure that -- I'm sure that some people will forgive him. And there's some things that are really hard to forgive and unforgivable. And, you know, when you sue people that you know are telling the truth, that is -- that is really difficult to forgive.

O'BRIEN: Paul Willerton is a former professional cyclist and national champion and a former teammate of Lance Armstrong's as well. Thanks for talking with us this morning, Paul. We appreciate your time. WILLERTON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

That will be interesting to dig into what happens with this confession. I tell you, it's fascinating to watch that tomorrow and on Friday.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, division I schools spend more on student athletes than other students. In fact, a lot more. Is it a big deal or does it have a payoff ultimately? We'll talk about that straight ahead. It's our "Tough Call."

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. They are some of the top public universities in the country, schools competing in NCAA Division I sports. According to a new study, top-tier schools spend as much as six times more on an athlete than they spend to educate other students. Schools in six of the top football conferences in the country spent more than $100,000 per student athlete in 2010.

Now, part of me says that's appalling, right? Shouldn't that money be going to the university? On the other hand, you know, those sports teams are really the draws to bring in the money that funds the university and keeps the engine go.

HUNTSMAN: It's the culture. It's the culture of these schools. That's why we -- and that's where they get most of their money.

O'BRIEN: Right.

HUNTSMAN: But you have to remember, why were universities invented? To learn. You know, we can't forget that. To be competitive in the 21st century, it really goes back to making sure our students are getting accurate education.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Actually, the big problem to me, though, is that we're allowing young black and brown students to play football on the football field on Saturday but not let them in the classroom on Mondays. And so, we're seeing a decrease --

O'BRIEN: What do you mean by not letting them?

SKOLNIK: We're seeing a decrease in students for academic reasons who are black and Latino going into public universities and an increase in sports. All right.

So UCLA, my alma mater, we had 95 students in 2008 - freshmen, 95 black students, 2008, 75 of which were scholarship athletes. Seventy- five. Twenty-five students in the class of 5,000 freshmen were black. That's it. So I think that we need to have an emphasis on recruiting black students and Latino students like athletes.

O'BRIEN: Isn't there an argument that says, yes, and if we can invest money into those student athletes, we are helping. In fact, we're helping all the students, right? Because the strong teams bring in strong donors. Strong donors not only build the football field, they also go ahead and contribute to the library, et cetera, et cetera, and it builds the culture.

FRATES: But also that argument is, are they student athletes or are they athletes who masquerade as students? And that's a question: are they getting the kind of degrees that they can take out into the real world as to they flee sports and they've not made the pros?

Because the big business of sports -- I mean, I just saw it to my alma mater, Maryland. They jumped from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten, which they have nothing in common with, for a couple more bucks a year. And that's because this is big business and they need to be able to, you know, make sure that those students pay the bills. And are they students first or are they revenue generators?

HUNTSMAN: What about this culture, too? I mean, I'm sure you took class with some of the football players where they probably failed the test, but let's just give them a "C" or a "B" and let them get by, you know, because they do give us this money and, you know --

SKOLNIK: And they just want to push --

O'BRIEN: Our alma mater, Harvard, which is not in the Big Ten, I understand that --

(LAUGHTER)

HUNTSMAN: And we didn't make it there.

O'BRIEN: But I do -- I think that's a really interesting question about not just on the facility but focusing on the student, like what's the goal at the end of the day? That is why it's our "Tough Call." You're strangely silent, Mr. Sportsman over there.

BERMAN: It's an interesting discussion, but these schools aren't going to have -- it doesn't happen in a vacuum. This $100,000 per student wouldn't go to students if it wasn't going to athletes. It's only there because of the sports teams.

O'BRIEN: Interesting point, Mr. Berman.

All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a 5-year-old girl -- this story is so crazy. She was found safe after someone who pretended to be her mother abducted her, walked in, took her out of her kindergarten class, and walked out. We're going to talk to one man who works to help find missing kids saying using trackers for children is the step in the right direction.

And then, he's a hip-hop star trying to keep the arts alive in schools. Swizz Beatz is going to join us live straight ahead.

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