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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Car Stuck In Floodwaters; Alabama Hostage Standoff; Israeli Airstrike; Senate Showdown Over Hagel; Obama Admits Gun Control Difficulties; Prosecution Of Gun Crimes Down; Bill Gates: U.S. Losing Stem Jobs; All In the Family

Aired January 31, 2013 - 07:30   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: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at some live pictures this morning. Massive flooding, this is Brookeville, Maryland. You can see a car there stuck in some raging floodwaters.

Our reporters at our affiliate station there say they don't think anybody is inside that car, but it's the third car that's been trapped in water today. Much of the flooding is, of course, in areas surrounding Washington, D.C.

You can see the storm just passing through the top part of the east coast when you look at the radar. Continued weather updates throughout the morning obviously. Also a look at the aftermath as well as we track that too. John Berman has an update on some of the other stories making news.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Good morning, Soledad. An update now on day three of that tense hostage standoff in Alabama where a gunman is holding a 5-year-old boy captive inside an underground bunker.

Just minutes ago, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson held a news conference. He couldn't say much, but he did touch on the efforts of volunteers who are helping authorities at the scene. No sound there, but again that hostage situation going on now. It is day three there.

O'BRIEN: He thanked the volunteers that have been working. It's been very tough for them.

BERMAN: More news now, ratcheting up the tension in the Middle East for the direct hit on Syria. Syria claims two workers were killed in an air strike on a research facility near Damascus.

According to a senior U.S. official, Israeli jets struck a convoy believed to be transporting surface-to-air missile parts to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is not certain if the U.S. and Syrian accounts of an Israeli attack refer to the same or maybe separate incidents.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is denying allegations that he traveled to the Dominican Republic in a friend's private plane to have sex with prostitutes. He issued a statement from his office Wednesday saying that it was simply not true -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, lots of other things to talk about this morning as we focus on this showdown in the Senate. This is going to be very interesting, as this hearing for Chuck Hagel gets under way.

There was early resistance, obviously, and then after that there are many people who still predicted in spite of the noisy resistance it might go forward. I think they have been starting to back away from that. I think it will be tougher --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Senator McCain will be one of the toughest asking the questions but I think ultimately we'll see him get through.

O'BRIEN: Why do you say that? Do you think that's the case? In the beginning everyone was saying that. He's got issues on the left, issues on the right but ultimately he'll get through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no idea if he'll get through, we'll have to see how the hearings in confirmation goes, but it's very interesting that sort of dissolution of his friendship with John McCain. I read a story in the "Post" that had the headline Hagel and McCain used to be BFF.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But they do differ a lot when it comes to foreign policy. Those are some of the concerns that he's not going to be tough enough on Israel or Iran and those are concerns that McCain and others have on the Republican side of the Senate.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be very interesting. I think that especially will be an interesting prism to watch this all through. CNN's Dana Bash takes a look exactly at that issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a New Hampshire town hall meeting in 2000, a voter asked then GOP presidential candidate John McCain who he would put in his cabinet. Listen to his answer.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: As far as secretary of defense is concerned, there are a lot of people that could do that. One of them I think is Senator Chuck Hagel.

BASH: That's right, McCain volunteered that he would consider Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. The same man he now criticizes 13 years later for the same post in President Obama's administration.

MCCAIN: My biggest concern is his overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East.

BASH: What happened? To understand the depth of their fallout is to understand how close their friendship once was. Beginning in 1996 when McCain lent his star power to Hagel'S first Senate campaign. They shared a bond over their service in Vietnam. In McCain's 2000 presidential race, Hagel served as campaign co-chair and local surrogate.

SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Here's a man whose life has been committed to something larger than he is. He's a selfless person.

BASH: He was even chosen to introduce McCain at the Republican Convention that year. But their shared experience in the Vietnam War took them in very different directions during the Iraq war. McCain was a lead proponent of a military surge.

MCCAIN: We can give the Iraqis and their partners the best possible chance to succeed.

BASH: Hagel talked about the surge with scorn.

HAGEL: The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam if it's carried out.

BASH: A source close to McCain said the friends just drifted apart, as friends sometimes do. Not because of policy differences, but even McCain acknowledges the change.

MCCAIN: I've noticed over the years that our views on the United States of America and what we should be doing in the world has diverged rather dramatically.

BASH: By McCain's 2008 presidential run, Hagel was more in line with Barack Obama. The two traveled together on a Mideast trip Obama used to beef up his foreign policy chops and Hagel was never seen on McCain's straight talk express.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And McCain has been very careful to say he will not block Hagel's nomination to be the president's defense secretary, but he also says he's not sure if he will vote for him because of their deep differences now over big issues like Iran and Afghanistan.

Soledad, McCain's questioning of Hagel at this morning's hearing will be the most highly anticipated because of their differences on big issues, but because of the souring of what was a very close and deep friendship that we all saw, those of us covering the two of them in the Senate.

O'BRIEN: It is going to be fascinating to see, not just what he asks, Dana, but also the tone, sort of the back and forth. People will read everything into that body language so we can't wait.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: It would be very surprising if John McCain voted against him at the end of the day. I think he'll probably sail through and I think the white house has done an amazing job of getting support for Mr. Hagel.

BERMAN: The Republican senator from Mississippi has said he will support Hagel so it really does seem like the votes are there.

O'BRIEN: Dana Bash for us this morning. Thank you, Dana, appreciate it.

All right, we want to talk a little bit more about this fight over gun control that's happening in Washington, D.C., and actually to a large degree happening around the nation. The president has admitted it's going to be a very tough battle. Here's what he said in an interview he did with Univision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: My suspicion is we're seeing more bipartisan discussion on the immigration issue than on the gun issue. I'm actually optimistic that we can get both done. Both will end up generating some opposition and some strong opposition. There will be passions on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Those remarks came after what was a pretty tense hearing on gun violence in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The former Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, you remember she was nearly killed in that shooting back in 2011.

She told the committee that too many Americans are dying by being shot. Senator Richard Blumenthal was on the Senate committee holding that hearing. He is a Democrat from the state of Connecticut, which of senator from Connecticut.

It's very interesting to watch Gabby Giffords yesterday. Her read just is inherently very emotional as she tries to really say every single word. Here's a little bit of what she said to those at this hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, FORMER ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN: You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Just to hear her struggle to get the words out really I think just speaks volumes, if you will, about all that she's been through and all about this debate. And yet this hearing did not then go forward with everybody piling on and trying to work together. It became very divisive, kind of contentious. Do you think Gabrielle Giffords can help affect policy in this manner?

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Very, very definitely and profoundly. Her statement was one of the shortest but most powerful public statements before any congressional hearing I've ever heard. It was really so direct. Yes, she did struggle with those words, but there was no mistaking the passion and the depth of her commitment.

And when she said be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you, she also said that children are dying. Evoking the images of Newtown that I think will be also very power NFL creating a sense of urgency and momentum that can be sustained.

I think it will be a tough uphill battle, but I think particularly on background checks for both firearms and ammunition purchases there is an irrefutable case because it's simply enforcing the law that people who are dangerous.

People who are criminals, convicted felons, dangerous drug addicts or mentally ill or domestic abuse ought to be denied the opportunity to purchase guns or possess them.

O'BRIEN: And yet you know there has been opposition to that. Charles Blow, a guest on our panel a lot actually, had an op-ed. He said at this moment you have an outraged public against the gun profit ears and gutless politicians. I believe in the end the people will win.

Do you believe he's framing that correctly, the gutless politicians and gun profiteers and do you think that a ban on assault weapons is really never going to happen?

BLUMENTHAL: It will take some fortitude on the part of politicians to listen to the people, because 90 percent of the American people want background checks, 80 percent want them on ammunition purchases, 90 percent on all purchases of firearms. The majority of Americans want a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

We need stronger laws also on straw purchases and trafficking. The majority of American people are on the side of more sensible, rational measures of gun violence but there is still an energetic opposition.

O'BRIEN: A lot of it funded by the NRA and Wayne Lapierre said this yesterday, basically saying why not enforce the laws that are already in existence. Let me play a little bit of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VP/CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: It's a national disgrace. The fact is we could dramatically cut crime in this country with guns and save lives all over this country if we would start enforcing the 9,000 federal laws we have on the books. I'm talking about drug dealers with guns, gangs with guns and felons with guns. They're simply not being enforced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He has a point. Enforcement is an issue.

BLUMENTHAL: He has a definite point. There ought to be more rigorous and vigorous enforcement of existing laws. I've advocated that there be more resources to enforce those laws. But at the same time background checks are a means of enforcing laws.

Remember that already it is against the law for felons or fugitives, criminals, drug abusers and domestic abusers to buy firearms, but 40 percent involve no background checks so there's no way of knowing whether criminals are buying those weapons. Likewise on ammunition purchases there are no background checks at all so enforcing existing laws, yes. But the tools to do it, we need more of them and that's why the chief of police who was there yesterday, Chief Johnson of Baltimore, urged that these measures be adopted.

And I think our fight for more sensible, rational measures to prevent gun violence eventually will prevail because the American people are on our side.

O'BRIEN: Senator Blumenthal, thank you very much. Do you think that's true, guys? Are the American people on the side?

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: That's what all the polls show and that's what you hear. People want -- I think they agree they should ban assault weapons.

O'BRIEN: There is no rational person honestly in spite of what the senator is saying there. There are very few people who believe in assault weapons ban is going to take place.

SOCARIDES: Yes. It looks very unlikely.

O'BRIEN: So the polls say one thing, but what is going to happen in Congress is not going to be that.

SOCARIDES: You're probably going to get background checks and tougher enforcement, but very unlikely we'll see this assault weapon ban go through this year because there are people opposed to it and they represent districts and states where the polling is opposite.

HUNTSMAN: We're talking about mental health, but the gun shows as well, I think that they need to put a stop to letting just anyone walk in.

SOCARIDES: You might not even see that. Wayne Lapierre said yesterday --

BERMAN: If we do get background checks, and when you talk to police chiefs, they said the one thing they will take is background checks so that would be major policy.

KATHERINE ROSMAN, REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": It will be interesting to see what happens in two years. We're just out of the election cycle but we'll be back there soon when it comes time for the election people care about moms and soccer moms.

O'BRIEN: But they care about funding.

ROSMAN: They do. But a lot of attention gets put on mothers and parents at the time of elections. I'm a mom, I speak a lot to moms as part of my job and they are scared to drop their kids of at school and that's a very fundamental --

HUNTSMAN: And politics is local so they want to hear from people because you're ultimately voting them into office.

O'BRIEN: Or you will be voted out of office, I suppose.

I want to get right to Senator Chuck Grassley from the state of Iowa. I'm having a hard time speaking today. He's going to talk about violence and video games. This is what he thinks. He was saying that in his testimony yesterday, he thinks there's not enough focus --

HUNTSMAN: That's what Lapierre said as well.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to chat with him about that.

Also one on one with Bill Gates. We'll tell you why he wants immigration reform. Christine sat down and talked to him. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Bill Gates is weighing in on Washington's push for immigration reform. Christine had a chance to sit down with him. It's been interesting to get his perspective because there are a couple of debates about immigration in D.C. right now.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And high-tech workers. He explains why he wants Washington to fix immigration to allow more highly skilled workers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL GATES, CHAIRMAN OF MICROSOFT: Our immigration system makes it very hard for those people who come in, so, you know, somebody is being offered a job here for over $100,000 and there's other jobs created around that job, you don't want to discourage a company from having to put that job --

ROMANS: Do we discourage them now?

GATES: Absolutely. You can be a student at UC Berkeley, foreign born. Get this wonderful education. Microsoft offers you a job for over $100,000 a year and we have to say if the country will keep you. And most of those students are told they can't stay. Get out of the United States.

O'BRIEN: Get out of the United States. He wants to change that and he -- you know, he also is very passionate in his foundation, very passionate about education reform in the United States and measuring results in the U.S. and getting American kids up to snuff on science, technology, engineering, math.

He'd like to take the money people pay for the visa to work here, take that money, put it into science and math education in the U.S. so we're growing talent and importing talent at the same time. It's vital to the economy.

O'BRIEN: It will be very interesting to see where that goes and if you can do that. There are so many educational systems where math and science is failing or doesn't even exist for students. ROMANS: Another interesting thing he said, he said that this discussion about highly skilled workers has been held hostage by the illegal immigration debate. He wants to seep --

O'BRIEN: Interesting way to put it.

ROMANS: He said held hostage. He said fixing the highly skilled immigration part of the problem has been held hostage. He'd like to see both of them fixed.

SOCARIDES: His foundation would like to see both of them fixed.

ROMANS: He'd like to see both of them fixed, but he said it's the best chance in years for both parts of that to be fixed.

O'BRIEN: Held hostage. That's an interesting.

ROMANS: But the passion around the discussion of "amnesty" and illegal immigration sometimes people call immigration as one big -- it's much more complicated, it's what companies need, what workers need, what families need, what the government needs.

HUNTSMAN: What education needs. It's absolutely right on that he brings that into the conversation. He is the one to do it. He has the platform for it.

SOCARIDES: The president's speech, interesting enough, earlier this week.

O'BRIEN: Which is why there's consensus on immigration reform. On Sunday check out more with bill gates, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" will talk with him about global health, education and poverty. It's on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. eastern time.

Coming up next, Beyonce singing at the Super Bowl, after lip syncing at the inauguration, will she address the controversy in I'm going to go with no. We'll take you to New Orleans with the big game preps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we have to teach innovation. I just think you have to coax people out of their fear of trying to innovate. Everybody has creative abilities, but people just don't express them. I mean I see people come in here that are afraid to try anything.

You give them some classes and some encouragement and they have some success with their products and you see them just change, you see them light up, you see them say, wow, I really can do this. This is stunning. They're stunned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Super Bowl XLVII is just three days away and the brothers Harbaugh, the center of attention in New Orleans. John coaches the Ravens, Jim coaches the 49ers, and it was yesterday that their parents took center stage. CNN's Carlos Diaz has more on that from New Orleans this morning. Good morning.

CARLOS DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Soledad, it was less like a press conference and more like a Thanksgiving dinner where's the drumsticks? At one point, Jack Harbaugh the father of John and Jim Harbaugh actually said, am I talking too much when he was telling stories about the past.

You can tell these are proud parents first and football parents a close second and Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, married 51 years, they're living on top of the world right now.

BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK HARBAUGH, FATHER OF SUPER BOWLS COACHES: This is my hero right here, Jackie Sepidi Harbaugh. Another thing we like to say, you're going to ask us how we feel on this historic event, Jackie, who has it better than us? No-body!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAZ: That's the family saying, I asked Jack and Jackie about the potential of a rematch between their sons next year in the Super Bowl in the big apple and they said, one game at a time, and don't forget by the way, today, Soledad, Beyonce will have her press conference, possibly addressing whether she did or did not lip sync the national anthem at the inauguration.

I honestly think that's going to be the first or second question, she's got to talk about it, taken puts her at a disadvantage because she has to sing a little bit at the super bowl which I don't think she planned to do before the inauguration.

O'BRIEN: Interesting, we're going to be watching it. Thanks, Carlos.

Also ahead, we're talking about extreme weather causing death and destruction all around the south from those troubled storms blowing through the east, plus the latest on the hostage standoff taking place in Alabama. 5-year-old boy has been held hostage since Tuesday. Any end in sight to the situation? We'll update you in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Extreme weather hitting much of the country today, major flooding in the east with cars being stuck on the roadways, tornadoes, thunderstorms, all causing major damage in the south, and now another change, a drastic temperature drop.

Plus that Alabama hostage standoff is entering its third day. Little boy held by the man accused of killing his school bus driver, the disturbing details of what we're learning about that suspect this morning.

ROMANS: Wal-Mart changing its ammo policy, why the store is limiting how much you can buy.

BERMAN: Inside the mind of a serial killer a new documentary explores how Jeffrey Dahmer went from seemingly normal to a killer and cannibal. We have the first look.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this hour, we're talking to Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and documentary producer Chris James Thompson and Robby Novak will join us. He is so adorable.

It's Thursday, January 31st and STARTING POINT begins right now.