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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Boy Scouts Could Allow Gays; Truck Dangling off I-95 in South Florida; Powerful Earthquake Triggers Deadly Tsunami; Bombs Found in Alabama Bunker; USPS to Stop Saturday Deliveries; A More Compassionate Cantor

Aired February 6, 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: Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

A crucial decision later today. The Boy Scouts, in fact, a number of hours, they are expected to decide whether they will lift their national ban on openly gay members. Questions about whether the organization can withstand such a drastic change have been raised.

Plus, the little boy who was rescued from an Alabama bunker turns 6 today. This as police revealed they found two bombs inside the bunker and there could even be more.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Nine dollars for a loaf of bread, $1,200 bucks for a high-end dinner for four -- those are just some of the costs for living in an expensive city. We'll tell you where.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And you don't have to go to a galaxy far, far away to get more. "Star Wars" the franchise is getting not one but two spin-offs. Will the force be strong with that?

O'BRIEN: Ahead this hour, we're going to talk to Jennifer Tyrrell. You might remember, she's a former cub scout den mother who was dismissed for being a lesbian.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings will join us, along with Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell.

And Marcie Kaveney started a petition to keep Mike Tyson from appearing on "Law and Order: SVU." We'll talk about her petition, straight ahead.

It's Wednesday, Friday 6th -- STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Ryan Lizza is with us, and for the next couple of days, I believe, my lucky week, huh? Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow is back with us. Former Congressman Nan Hayworth is with us as well.

It's great to have you all.

Our STARTING POINT focuses on the Boy Scouts who are now considering a very major policy -- a change in their policy towards gays. In just a few hours, the board could vote to lift their national ban on gay scouts and gay leaders. And if, in fact, that does happen, local troops would then be able to decide on their own whether or not they'd accept gays.

Jennifer Tyrrell is a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio. She says the organization dismissed her for being a lesbian. On Monday she led a group to the Boy Scout's headquarters near Dallas. They dropped off a petition to end the ban on gays which they say had 1.4 million signatures on it.

Jennifer is with us this morning. It's nice to have you in person.

JENNIFER TYRRELL, SAYS BOY SCOUTS DISMISSED HER FOR BEING A LESBIAN: Nice to meet you.

O'BRIEN: So, what was the reception when you went to the headquarters and brought this massive list of signatures?

TYRRELL: Well, they were supposed to send someone out to meet with us. We kept waiting and waiting. The press was there and they were receptive.

So we had a little bit of time and we got to tell all of our stories, everyone has a good personal story and -- but the reception from the BSA headquarters wasn't that great. We tried to go in. They wouldn't let us in, just to deliver the petitions.

O'BRIEN: So you ended up giving the signatures, right?

TYRRELL: Right. They said they would let me in, me only, no media or anything. I tried to explain we are just here to show our support. We're here to say we want an end to this ban. We have 1.4 million people backing you on this and we want to let you know.

O'BRIEN: What do you think is going to happen? I mean, the vote today is today in a couple of hours. And I know that your guess is as good as anybody's guess at this point.

TYRRELL: Right.

O'BRIEN: But in your gut, what do you think is going to happen?

TYRRELL: I don't know. I don't trust my gut when it comes to BSA because I always think they're going to do the right thing and then they don't. So I'm really super nervous about it.

O'BRIEN: You seem very emotional about it.

TYRRELL: I am. It's really personal to me.

O'BRIEN: It is very personal because of course your son when he was 7, you were not allowed to remain as his Cub Scout leader. Tell me a little bit about that.

TYRRELL: Right., Well I didn't want to even join the Boy Scouts and he wanted to, he was so excited, it was so hard to tell him no, he doesn't understand that people are discriminatory. So I agreed to go and I spoke to the Cub Master and he said it will be fine. You won't have any problems.

And actually that same day, their leader canceled and said, "I can't do it". So they asked me to be leader knowing full well that I was gay. I never had a problem until they asked me to be treasurer. I found a lot of mistakes, I started asking a lot of questions and then that day that I was supposed to have a meeting to say where is this money, is the day that I received the phone call saying, oh by the way, you're gay, you can't be here anymore.

O'BRIEN: So, if the ban is lifted, what would happen is the decision would go to the local chapters. Would this change it for you? Your son is now 8. I mean, does he still want to be a Boy Scout?

TYRRELL: Well, he misses his friends. He still sees his friends at school but scouting -- it's special. We loved it. And I was the last person that expected to love it, to be completely honest.

But I saw a change in him. I saw him come out of his shell. I saw -- he just became a better person and so did I. If this ban is lifted, it will be a great first step but it's going to still lead to kids being rejected, families are still going to be turned away, and I've been contacted by so many families, gay scouts that are terrified that somebody's going to find out.

I'm talking about thousands of people, so I feel like 1.4 million people are standing behind us and the very least that I can do is keep fighting for them.

O'BRIEN: There are people who would say by opening the scouts up to gays that you're going to end up destroying the gays it shall -- destroying the Boy Scouts, that the population who are there already it's dropped by roughly 20 percent some odd since 2000, but that is the argument against, as you know.

TYRRELL: Well --

O'BRIEN: How do you answer that?

TYRRELL: I think that, to be completely honest it's a little bit -- first of all, I don't agree with that but I think it's sad they're worried about their numbers when we're talking about children and their feelings and the dangerous message they're sending is it's not OK for you to be who you are, it's not OK for their parents to be who they are. It's a dangerous message to be sending.

So, the fact that they're worried about numbers, when they've been dwindling for years with the ban, I think it will only thrive. Everything else has thrived. When there is equality, there is progress.

O'BRIEN: A lot of church groups, I think it's 69 percent of the scouts that, the troops, the individual troops are, you know, correlated to these church groups and the church groups --

TYRRELL: While that may be true actually the numbers are, the amount of churches is large but the number of scouts that are in the other ones are even larger. And so many churches are on board with this.

You know what I mean? The UCC, the Methodists are coming on, even Mormons have released statements saying we're ready for this change. We're inclusive, because that's how it should be.

I mean, all of the arguments that they're using against this policy are the same arguments they've used throughout history to deny others' rights. So, they didn't work before and they shouldn't be working now. I think -- why can't we learn from our mistakes? I mean, it was -- it used to be women that were discriminated against and African- Americans were discriminated against and now it's gay people. Why can't we just say that we're all people?

O'BRIEN: Interesting to see how the vote goes.

TYRRELL: I'm so nervous.

O'BRIEN: I bet you are.

Thanks for talking with us, Jennifer. It's nice to catch up with you over the last, really, a year now that you've been involved in the struggle. We appreciate your time.

TYRRELL: Thanks, guys.

O'BRIEN: There are other stories making news as well. John has got that for us.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

Happening right now, we have to check out this incredible and frightening scene on I-95 in south Florida, a truck dangling off an overpass following a crash. Police say two people were in the truck when it crashed. One was removed and taken in the hospital, the other was trapped inside and said to be unresponsive. We're going to bring you more information on the terrible crash as it comes in.

And take a look at this, you can -- well, try to look at this if you can. This is we think is Atlanta where the fog is so dense you can't really see anything. Right now, there are delays as you can imagine at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport because of the fog. So, you better check with your carrier before heading to the airport.

A developing story right now -- a powerful earthquake triggers a deadly tsunami overnight. The 8.0 quake hit the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. A local hospital says four elderly people and one child were killed by the tsunami wave that followed. It slammed into the eastern region of the islands. It also caused some damage and disruption at the local airport. Also in some nearby villages.

Two bombs have been discovered in the underground bunker in Alabama where a kidnapped 5-year-old was held captive for nearly a week. And this morning, explosives experts will be searching for even more devices. Officials also confirmed they used drones and sophisticated surveillance equipment to monitor suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes during this entire standoff.

Right now, little Ethan is with his family getting ready to celebrate his 6th birthday today. Happy birthday to him. The principal of the school says everyone is counting the hours until he returns to class.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP PARKER, PRINCIPAL, MIDLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: It's a shame this had to happen, but for any child that I will believe will bounce back better than any child that I know of would be Ethan. He's just -- he meets no strangers and I just feel confident he's going to bounce back and we hope to have him in school as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Also new this morning, the school bus Ethan was abducted from has been retired in honor of the driver, Charles Poland. He was killed by Dykes while trying to block him from the escaping children.

An outside consultant now being hired to investigate the cause of the Super Bowl blackout. And we're finding out there were serious concerns about the Super Dome's electrical wiring months before the game, leading to more than half a million dollars in emergency repairs. This engineering firm memo from October 10th of last year states the Superdome's main and only electrical feed is not sufficiently reliable to support the high-profile event schedule. Interesting.

We're also hearing now from Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn this morning after her horrific crash.

She's thanking doctors and fans, saying, quote, "First off, I want to say thank you to the amazing medical staff that cared for me. I plan on to returning to Vail as soon as I can to have the necessary surgeries. I'm also grateful to my fans for the outpouring of support, which has really helped me stay positive. I can assure you that I will work as hard as humanly possible to be ready and present -- to represent my country I next year in Sochi." That is the site of the Winter Olympic Games.

Yesterday, Vonn fell at the Alpine World Championships, hurting her knee. It's unclear if she will be able to compete in the 2014 Winter Games. She has come back from injury before those. So, we are pulling for her.

Meanwhile, Disney is going to the "Star Wars" well again, announcing plans for at least two standalone spin-off films. This is in addition to the new "Star Wars" trilogy episodes VII, VIII, IX that will pick up after "Return of the Jedi". Each of the spin-offs written around a specific character. Episode VII is expected to be released in the summer of 2015, with J.J. Abrams directing.

Lawrence Kasdan who was one of the screenwriters for the original "Star Wars" trilogy is going to be in charge of one of these spin-off films. The big chill is kind of incongruous there, but a big name connected to the film.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be awesome, I think to take my kids to go see "Star Wars". Think about how long that franchise has lasted.

BERMAN: Forget the kids, bring me.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: My other kid, John Berman.

NAN HAYWORTH (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I love the Yoda-ish in the way -- "Star Wars" spin-offs there will be.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: is the GOP getting a makeover? Dana Bash talked with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about his message for the Republican Party.

Then, lots of schools have a no tolerance policy. But does one school go too far when they suspended a second grader? We'll tell you what happened. That's ahead.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We start with some breaking news. The U.S. Postal Service announcing plans to stop their Saturday delivery of first class mail. It's going to begin on August 1st. The post office will deliver packages, express mail, mail order prescriptions, all those things on Saturday still.

The Postal Service lost $15.9 billion last year. Saturday's first class service, they say, costs $2.7 billion a year. So this is obviously an effort to try to recoup some of that money.

Re-branding Republicans after the GOP took a big bruising in the 2012 elections, we're seeing maybe a kinder, gentler, more compassionate House majority leader, Eric Cantor. Chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has more on the -- could you call it the extreme GOP makeover House edition?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You'll see how he responded to that, Soledad. But look, his speech that he gave yesterday was filled with feel-good buzz words like help, prosperity, happiness. It was all about leading Republicans towards a message that resonates better, he hopes, with the voters who abandoned the Republican candidate for the White House in November.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Why do the House Republicans need an extreme makeover?

REP. ERIC CANTOR, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: You know, I'm not agreeing with the statement in the extreme makeover. What I think is that there's a lot of lessons to be learned from the last election.

BASH (voice-over): One of those lessons, toning down harsh GOP language that alienated key voters, especially Latinos. Listen to cantor on immigration.

CANTOR: And I wouldn't be here if this country wasn't welcoming to my grandparents who fled religious persecution in Russia. So, there is that and the compassion for the families that are here who frankly many of whom have become part of the fabric of this country.

BASH: But when it comes to controversial policy changes, he won't go there.

Senator Rubio supports a path to citizenship as long as border security is addressed first. Do you support that?

CANTOR: Again, I want to see where the talks in the House and the Senate lead.

BASH: In fact, Cantor's new push turns out to be long on new compassionate rhetoric and short on new specific policy proposals, though, he did open the door a bit to strengthening background checks on guns.

CANTOR: I am for making sure that we increase the quality of information in the database that is in existence already.

BASH: Big picture, Cantor is trying to rebrand by reworking GOP rhetoric.

Has the language or the message of your party over the past couple of years in Al Candor turned some voters off?

CANTOR: Dana, I'm a father. I'm a husband. I have to deal with struggles just like a lot of parents have to, right?

BASH: Almost as if on cue, Cantor's phone rings.

CANTOR: It's all about -- that's my daughter. OK, sweetie --

BASH: Oh, she -- Facetiming.

(LAUGHTER)

CANTOR: That's Dana Bash on CNN. See, I got to go and turn the phone off. Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, bye, I love you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (on-camera): Now, Soledad, most Democrats reacted to Cantor's speech with snarky statements, but one senior Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer of New York, said if House Republicans can match their agenda to Cantor's words, he said, quote, "This Congress could surprise people with how productive it could be."

O'BRIEN: And it certainly, I think, needs to be done. Dana Bash for us. Thanks, Dana. You know, you look at, I mean you were there.

HAYWORTH: Well, you know, we do -- we have policies that will work for every American and that message does need to be conveyed more effectively and one of our challenges and, you know, I laud Eric for making the speech that he did with the people he brought into the speech because he had, you know, a student who was helped by an opportunity scholarship for a better school outside the D.C. system, and you know, young immigrant who wants to do better with her high degree.

You know, we do need to make sure that we cut through in the national media in ways that have been hard for us to put through.

O'BRIEN: It's not just spin, right? It's not just we have to work on the messaging. There are some serious policy issues that I think that certainly when you talk to Latino elected officials on the Democratic side would highlight some of the policy issues that are problematic. It's not just, you know, we need to put it in a prettier box and not --

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And this is the big debate right now in Republican Party. I was at the speech yesterday, the Cantor speech, and I talked to him before and after, and I think the thing that their wrestling with -- former leader is wrestling with his, how much of this is a messaging and a sort of micro initiative thing and how much fundamental policy changes the Republican Party have to make?.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Cantor is trying to balance that right now.

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think the policy part is bigger than the messaging part. Lot of what was happening on the messaging end was not really coming from the top of the party. I mean, it was really the grassroots and people or when the top of the party ran into the grassroots so that they would get into debates.

O'BRIEN: Arizona law. I disagree, Arizona law. That's a policy brings by everybody in the party. I think that's the issue.

BLOW: But I think, you know, when you get to the Atkins types and the people who are talking about --

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: These are not necessarily the leaders, but they're part of the problem and that's kind of the base, but I think on the larger front, you say that the Republicans have a lot of policies that will work. I think a lot of the policies that they've been advocating don't work and I think that don't work for the Americans who they want to attract. And that will be a problem.

HAYWORTH: But you know, Charles, they haven't been implemented. And also, if you look at the exit polling after the election, the presidential, the majority of those polled actually agreed with Romney on fiscal issues, but where they put their votes was with President Obama, because he could relate to them.

O'BRIEN: We have to leave it there. We got to continue -- we got to take a short break.

Still ahead, we're going to talk a little bit about all those beloved monopoly pieces and then how they're going to be changing. Some are going bye-bye. We'll tell you that you can help decide which one gets the axe ahead.

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O'BRIEN: Here's a look at what's trending this morning. The new Monopoly piece is a cat.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Hasbro, the maker of the iconic board game, announced the piece this morning. They let fans replace one of the tokens by weighing in online. Everybody online voted for a cat.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: The piece that's being ditched is the iron.

BERMAN: It has been a tough week for cats, that they are such vicious killers.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So, take a guess as who this is. It's soccer player and Olympic gold medalist, Alex Morgan, as Katy Perry. She and several other big name athletes posed as hit musicians for "ESPN" the magazine's first music issue. Interesting. Music issue for ESPN.

And, a lesson about when to leave things well enough alone. Web site BuzzFeed put up some pictures of Beyonce from the Super Bowl halftime show that aren't exactly flattering. So, her people sent a letter to the Web site saying take the pictures down. Instead, BuzzFeed created a gallery showing those very pictures.

First of all, there's no pictures where Beyonce looks bad. Not a single one.

LIZZA: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: She looks great. Give me a break. LIZZA: And clearly, the PR person did not understand BuzzFeed.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: You do not send that kind of letter to BuzzFeed and expect not to pay for it later.

HAYWORTH: Just daring them --

O'BRIEN: Exactly, but she still looks good.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, some news coming in on just who President Obama would like to have as his secretary of the interior. It's a woman who heads it by a huge outdoor sporting good store (ph). We'll have details on that.

And there's a new bipartisan bill that cracks down on gun trafficking. Does it stand a chance? Congressman Elijah Cummings and Scott Rigell are the sponsors, and they're going to join us up next.

And a couple of things you shouldn't do in court, well, one of them has flipped of the judge. Young lady did that. We'll tell you how she paid and she paid ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Congressman Elijah Cummings has a very personal story in the fight for gun control. Coming up we're going to talk to him and also Congressman Scott Rigell. He will tell us about a new bipartisan bill they're introducing. They want to make firearms trafficking a federal crime.

Then, Marcie Kaveney (ph) started a petition. She wants to keep Mike Tyson off of an upcoming episode of "Law and Order SVU." She says he is exactly the wrong choice to be on that show. She'll tell us why ahead.

John has got a look at some of the stories making news this morning for us. Good morning.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. So, this just in.

President Obama reportedly making his pick for interior secretary. "The Washington Post" is reporting he'll tap Sally Jewell, who's the head of outdoor equipment company, REI, for the job. Critics say, you know, she doesn't have much political experience, but obviously, as head of REI, she knows a lot about parks, recreation, and things like that, and obviously, a stellar record as a businessperson.

The man accused of shooting and wounding a security guard at the headquarters of the Family Research Council last summer is said to be negotiating a plea deal. Twenty-eight-year-old Floyd Corkins will be in court today and may plead guilty to some of the charges. Authorities say Corkins objected to the group's stances against gay marriage and abortion. Another potential black eye for baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers slugger, Ryan Braun, appears in the records of the Miami area clinic that allegedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to major league players. Now, Braun, you remember, flunked a drug test in 2011 but became the first major leaguer to have a suspension overturned on appeal.

The former MVP claims his attorneys hired the owner of the biogenesis clinic as a consultant during his appeal process and that's why his name appears in their books. Major League Baseball is investigating.