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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

An American Hero; Chris Christie's Battle of the Bulge; "Lincoln's" Historical Error; President Obama at National Prayer Breakfast

Aired February 7, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This is what's happening now. You're looking at the National Prayer Breakfast. The president is set to speak after a couple of speakers go before him. I believe you're looking at -- is that Ken Salazar up there doing the prayer for world leaders? We're going to bring you the president's remarks as soon as he starts to deliver them.

First, though, we want to bring in and welcome CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper. You've got a documentary that's airing about a man who you followed for many years. Tell us a little a bit about him.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I wrote a book about this, about this one outpost, combat outpost, Keating. it was built in 2006 and on the dawn of October 3rd, 2009, 53 U.S. troops at the bottom of three steep mountains woke up to an overwhelming attack by the Taliban, a very smart attack, up to 400 Taliban fighters, and it seemed impossible.

And I asked Clint Romesha, who's going to be awarded the Medal of Honor, on Monday, I asked him what is it like to face such impossible odds?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Throughout all of this, did you ever think, "This is it? I'm not going to get out of here."

SGT. CLINTON ROMESHA, FMR. U.S. ARMY STAFF SERGEANT: It's like a fighter going into the boxing ring, you know. If you think you're going to lose before you even step into the ring, you've already lost. You're there to win, you're there to fight, AND you're there to, you know -- your brothers to your left and right are depending on you, so you don't have that in you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: When you talk about an overwhelming force, describe to me what overwhelming is.

TAPPER: I mean, it's the kind of thing where every time they opened a door to run out to deliver ammunition, a sniper would pick one of them off. There were five guys trapped in a humvee for hours, three men trapped in the mortar pit for hours. The first guy killed was running to a machine gun in the corner of the camp to return fire -- killed. It was the deadliest day for the U.S. in Afghanistan that year.

O'BRIEN: Tell us about Clint Romesha. I think people often throw the word "hero" around, we use it all the time, but you have said he's sort of the real deal.

TAPPER: He is. We talk about athletes and actors being heroes. This is a guy who is so humble about what he did and so eager to give credit to the men who were under him and so eager to talk about the eight men who didn't come home, it really came across in the interview. And well, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Tell me why it's so important to you that the enemy not get their hands on a dead American soldier. Why does that thought bother you so much?

ROMESHA: Because they're ours. I mean -- to give closure to the family, you know, to have their son one more time. I mean, we're not going to leave someone behind, never going to do it.

TAPPER: Clint, you're so tough on yourself. You were braver that day than most of us can imagine being, and I can still hear it in your voice when you talk about talking to Sergeant Breeding (ph) or talking to Sergeant Gallegos, as if you failed that day. You didn't fail that day.

ROMESHA: Yes, but it's -- you know, I told them I'd be there. Like I said, my granddad used to teach me that you know when you tell someone you're going to do something, you do it. You know, your actions is what makes you, and I know I'm hard on myself, but you know it still hurts to tell the sergeant I was going to make it to him but I just couldn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Wow. Wow.

TAPPER: And that's just what comes across in the interview is just this sense of humility, the sense of brotherhood. I've known Clint now for more than two years and that's how he is in real life when the cameras aren't there, just a very, very humble guy. And the story is dramatic and moving and, for me, personally, what was so inspiring is this is who we have in our military -- these types of people: humble, willing to do everything for their brothers and sisters.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Jake, I'm allowed to say this: the book is simply phenomenal. It's an unbelievable read. And one of the things that's striking is that there are so many heroes involved that day.

So I guess my question is, for the other people at the unit, in the unit, what did they think of Staff Sergeant Romesha being awarded the Medal of Honor? TAPPER: Well, they're really proud and really excited and a bunch of them are coming in to Washington this weekend to be part of it, some of the Gold Star families whose sons and daddies and husbands didn't make it home alive. But they're happy. This is a team of guys who felt like nobody knew they existed, and they lost eight brothers and they still felt nobody knew they existed. And now one of their own is being awarded the highest honor one can bestow upon a member of the military.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, "HUFFPOST LIVE": I was going to ask what's symbolic about this medal? I mean, how many received it?

TAPPER: Very few. Clint will be on Monday the 80th living Medal of Honor recipient, and of the war in Afghanistan, and Iraq, those wars, six medals I believe have been given, but three of them have been given posthumously. Usually when people do what it takes to be given a Medal of Honor --

O'BRIEN: They don't survive.

TAPPER: -- running right into fire where people have died before, they don't make it back.

O'BRIEN: Incredible story. We should mention again that his story is also in your book, which you mentioned, "The Outpost: The Untold Story of American Valor". And the documentary will air tonight?

TAPPER: Tonight at 10:00 Eastern. It's called "AN AMERCIAN HERO: THE UNCOMMON VALOR OF CLINT ROMESHA". And he's a great man and I think people will be inspired to hear his story.

O'BRIEN: We're looking forward to it. Thanks, Jake. Nice to have you.

TAPPER: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, there are other stories making news. We're going to hang on before we get to those, John Berman, because I want to take everybody, again, for a moment to the Prayer Breakfast.

You're looking at Ben Carson speaking and cracking the audience up apparently. We're going to get -- I think he is the last speaker before we hear from President Obama and we are going to see what the president says. Just a moment ago, you were saying he has an opportunity in front of this audience to say things that the audience would be not receptive to, but you doubt that he's --

HUNTSMAN: Which, I don't think, Richard, he should take this time. You have to think about the time and place of where he's speaking and who he's speaking to.

O'BRIEN: Then why attend?

HUNTSMAN: It's a platform for him to speak about things he believes in, about equality. He doesn't have to necessarily mention gay marriage, which I think we all agree we don't think he's going to say, but I think it's a platform for him to (A), be under the same roof of those that disagree with him. I think that's a good thing, a good sign for the American people. But I don't know, I don't think it's the time and place to --

O'BRIEN: While we're waiting for the president -- because in a moment we'll be able to look at exactly what he does say -- I want to take a moment to update some stories we're following for everybody this morning. John?

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

The manhunt is on right now for a former police officer who may be armed and dangerous. Authorities in California say is he the prime suspect in the double murder of a Cal State Fullerton basketball coach and her fiance over the weekend. The suspect is Christopher Dorner; he was fired five years ago for falsely accusing a female sergeant of kicking a man in a hotel. It's believed Dorner may have committed the murders out of revenge for the firing.

The Senate Armed Services Committee postponed a vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Defense Secretary. The reason? Republicans want more of Hagel's financial information, including details about compensation for speeches the former Republican Senator gave after leaving office. Right now, Hagel really does appear to have just enough support in the Senate to break a possible filibuster and ultimately be confirmed. But, again, it has been delayed for now.

Chris Christie, he is furious after a former White House physician publicly stated that she's concerned the New Jersey governor's weight problem might cause him to die in office. Christie's response to the doctor? "Shut up," he says.

Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta joins us live now from Washington. The governor, quite blunt, didn't really appreciate it when the doctor was equally blunt, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I think, John, the governor would like a second opinion after all of this. Chris Christie responded to a former White House doctor's warnings about the New Jersey governor's health by calling the doctor, as you mentioned, John, "a hack" and telling her to shut up.

It all started earlier this week when the potential presidential contender appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman", joked about his weight, and took a bite from a doughnut. That concerned former White House physician Connie Mariano, who told me earlier this week that Christie could die in office, described his health as "a ticking time bomb".

Well, at a news conference in New Jersey yesterday, he took issue with the doctor's diagnosis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: She must be a genius. She should probably be the Surgeon-General of the United States, I suspect, because she must be a genius. I think this is - listen, this is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV, and it's completely irresponsible, completely irresponsible.

My children saw that last night. If she wants to get on a plane and come here to New Jersey and ask me if she wants to examine me and review my medical history, I'll have a conversation with her about that. Until that time, she should shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTA: Now Christie was so upset, Dr. Mariano says the governor called her yesterday to complain about her comments. John.

BERMAN: Must have been some call. Any sense of how it went?

ACOST: Well, Dr. Mariano says the governor was clearly venting his frustrations but she says she has no regrets. And here's what she told Anderson Cooper last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CONNIE MARIANO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: Well, it was rather shocking to hear those things. I was in clinic, so I did not hear his broadcast, but he used some pretty strong words there. Out of deference to him, I'm not going to comment on that, but I can only share with you that that phone conversation, when I think of it, the words "gracious" and "appreciative" do not come to mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOST: Now you heard Chris Christie say that Dr. Mariano is welcome to look at his health. Well, the doctor, she offered basically the same deal. She said the governor is welcome to come out to her practice in Arizona for a full physical, but based on their conversation, she said it's unlikely the governor is going to make that appointment.

But John, I had a chance to have a conversation with Dr. Mariano about all of this yesterday, and she went back to her time advising President Clinton. She was the White House physician for Bill Clinton when he was President of the United States and his own battle with the bulge. He was overweight, loved those Big Macs, as people liked to point out back in the '90s, and she said she used that same kind of blunt language with him that she used in our interview earlier this week. And she says that she didn't mean any ill will towards the governor from New Jersey. She just meant to offer that same kind of constructive advice to him in that same vein, and she hopes that that will help him.

BERMAN: Soledad is weighing in here.

O'BRIEN: I'm just saying the difference is that she was Clinton's doctor. I have to say and, you know, I think Chris Christie is wrong on a lot of stuff and right on a lot of stuff but on this one, I feel his pain.

BERMAN: Do you think that --

O'BRIEN: If a doctor --

BERMAN: A former White House physician is a hack, as Chris Christie says?

O'BRIEN: I do not. I don't think she's a hack.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: You don't think that goes too far?

O'BRIEN: Of course. I think they both --

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A hack who should shut up?

O'BRIEN: I think that does go too far on his part, but I understand him saying someone who has never examined me, who is not my doctor, who goes public in saying, when my kids can hear, that I'm going to die in office when --

BERMAN: She said she was worried he could die in office.

O'BRIEN: I think he has a point in that and if you take a moment and say that someone looking at you while you're covering a story, and says, "Wow, John Berman, I'm worried he's going to drop dead while he's covering the story," while your twin boys, who are 5-year-old, are watching, that would make you mad.

HUNTSMAN: But they're both to blame. I think your twin boys are also hearing him say shut up to someone else. I mean, is that being diplomatic? I don't think that is either?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Oh don't think he's ever been accused of being diplomatic.

HUNTSMAN: Right, exactly right.

LIZZA: I'm seeing some disease from afar. She's saying if you are X weight, the research shows if you are morbidly obese, you have a higher chance of dying. I mean, she's being pretty factual.

O'BRIEN: I -- I agree she's being factual. I think it is inappropriate for a doctor who has not examined a patient to say that I'm worried he's going to drop dead in office.

SOCARIDES: But she is -- but Soledad - Soledad, this woman is the former, this woman is, though, has a former public health official.

O'BRIEN: I don't think she's -- I'm sure she's very qualified.

SOCARIDES: She is a former public health official.

LIZZA: You don't need to know too many more pieces of information except his weight and age to know he's at a higher risk.

O'BRIEN: I think it's --

SOCARIDES: You're wrong, Soledad, you're wrong. You're wrong on this one, yes, you are. You're wrong.

O'BRIEN: I think but -- but listen I'm not wrong.

SOCARIDES: Soledad, you're wrong. You're outvoted.

O'BRIEN: What she claims -- right and wrong is not a matter of votes, I think we all know that. She claims that this is the kind of tough love, the tough talk that worked with President Clinton. He was her patient. I agree.

BERMAN: Well she went on the cable news show and asked what she thought about the weight. It's not like she ran to the nearest camera to say that she was worried that Chris Christie is going to die.

O'BRIEN: She said, "I'm worried he's going to die in office."

BERMAN: When asked about it.

O'BRIEN: Right.

LIZZA: Purely from a political perspective look, Chris Christie's whole persona, the tough guy, telling people to shut up that's kind of his shtick, right.

O'BRIEN: Right of course.

LIZZA: But I think in some of this moments --

O'BRIEN: I never said he was a nice man I didn't say that.

LIZZA: No, no I'm just say when he tells a female physician who worked at the White House to shut up and she's a hack.

O'BRIEN: He's wrong, yes I agree he's not one, he's mean about it and he's not, certainly not diplomatic, et cetera, et cetera. My point, I agree he's wrong but she also -- I agree she also should not diagnose and say something like that from -- from a distance. And not couch it as in patients who I have seen who are morbidly obese, x, y, z happens.

SOCARIDES: Maybe something good could come of this, what good could come of this? Maybe he could lose a little weight?

O'BRIEN: Listen let me just tell you something --

LIZZA: He's going to have a heart attack if he gets that excited about someone yelling at him.

O'BRIEN: I had many people weigh in on various things in my life, right? How you're raising your kids, or you know, you travel a lot. I bet your kids are -- and I sit there and say you do not know me -- you do not know me at all. You have no right to just weight in --

LIZZA: But that's not the same thing.

O'BRIEN: It completely is. You don't know my life and he's saying you don't know my numbers, you don't know how healthy or not healthy I am. So refrain from saying things that have an implication.

John Berman is just sitting here.

LIZZA: She needs some information, she needs his age and weight to know that he is at a higher risk for certain --

O'BRIEN: She did not say that. She said, "I worry he's going to die in office."

HUNTSMAN: It's the way she said it.

LIZZA: Because she knows how big he is and she knows how old he is, that's all you need to know as a doctor, this isn't like, this isn't brain surgery.

O'BRIEN: I disagree. I cannot believe that I'm defending Chris Christie in any way, shape or form this morning but you know, I understand his -- his anger. I really do.

HUNTSMAN: It's how she said -- it's how she said it, she came across a little bit disrespectful and so did he at the end of the day.

O'BRIEN: I agree. I agree, yes.

HUNTSMAN: So we can all agree on that.

SOCARIDES: So they're both wrong. They are both wrong.

O'BRIEN: I agree.

SOCARIDES: There we all agree.

O'BRIEN: We continue to watch the prayer breakfast. You have other stories you want to update us on?

BERMAN: I do. I am no hack, sticking by that. Other news right now.

A state lawmaker from Connecticut's Newtown district is calling for a sin tax on violent video games in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre. Republican Debra Lee Hovey is proposing a bill that calls for a 10 percent tax on games rated "M" for mature with the proceeds funding mental health education about the dangers of violent games.

So he came to praise Lincoln, but a Connecticut Congressman says Steven Spielberg got it wrong when he had two members of the Connecticut House delegation voting against the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE COURTNEY (D), CONNECTICUT: It's just that you know something's wrong here. This just cannot possibly be correct. That's a source of information that a lot of people may never get any other source in terms of the history of the civil war or the 13th amendment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Courtney says he had written a letter to Spielberg and he's asking that part of the movie be corrected before "Lincoln" is released on DVD and Blu-Ray later this month.

So recognize that supermodel? Why, that's Soledad O'Brien walking down the runway at the Red Dress Collection fashion show last night in New York.

O'BRIEN: Guess what I'm thinking, oh lord, please do not let me fall. Oh please do not let me trip.

HUNTSMAN: You look gorgeous.

BERMAN: That is a stunning cherry red off-the-shoulder dress. The event promotes heart truth, it inspires women to get and stay healthy. Soledad, how high were your heels?

O'BRIEN: About five inches, impossible to walk in.

SOCARIDES: Now how do you --

BERMAN: They keep growing, actually, they're retelling the story.

O'BRIEN: No, they're about five inches.

LIZZA: How do you reconcile your heart health work with defending Chris Christie?

O'BRIEN: There you go and that's a very good point. My heart health is - actually, probably, considering my numbers the fact that I'm a diabetic, the fact that I have thyroid disease are all issues that actually affect your health and affect your heart health. So you could look at me and say --

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: I was just going to say that. Looking at you, and you look beautiful and healthy and so skinny and healthy in that dress.

O'BRIEN: So you don't necessarily know somebody's health factors or health risks by looking at them. That would be exactly my point.

SOCARIDES: Unless they're morbidly obese.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: But it was a great cause and you know women -- women are at high risk for heart disease and other heart ailments.

BERMAN: And you look very, I think we can all agree you look healthy.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: We can all agree on that.

O'BRIEN: And I did not fall which is really all I was aiming for.

LIZZA: Was this fun? Did you have fun?

O'BRIEN: Once I was off the runway. I had a lot of fun.

LIZZA: But was it terrifying?

O'BRIEN: It was completely terrifying, really high heels. It's very scary.

HUNTSMAN: So you appreciate models now.

O'BRIEN: I totally appreciate them, they can really move. Yes, he said that out loud.

All right, here -- we're still waiting to hear from President Obama. He was supposed to speak almost now an hour ago, 45 minutes ago at the National Prayer Breakfast.

LIZZA: It's a National Prayer Brunch.

O'BRIEN: Yes exactly, it's moving into national prayer brunch.

We're going to bring you the comments from the President. Ben Carson is at the podium now and he is the last speaker before we hear from the President. As soon as we hear the President's remarks we'll bring that to you live.

BEN CARSON: -- But we also put in reading rooms. These are fascinating faces that no little kid --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Some breaking news. We start with this morning a developing story on a manhunt that's going on right now for a former police officer who could be armed and dangerous. Authorities in California say he is the prime suspect in a double murder of a Cal State Fullerton basketball coach and her fiance. Those attacks happening over the weekend.

The suspect's name is Christopher Dorner. He was fired from the force five years ago after he falsely accused a female sergeant of kicking a man at a hotel. It's believed he may have committed the murders out of revenge for his firing.

Going to get you back to the National Prayer Breakfast now. It's happening right now in Washington, D.C., you're looking at Ben Carson. He's at the podium. But we're expecting to hear from the President who was supposed to speak at roughly 8:05 a.m. Eastern time, and obviously that deadline has passed by a little bit.

Brianna Keilar is monitoring this for us from the White House this morning. Brianna, good morning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

We do expect that we will be hearing him rather soon, I will say that. And as you have been noting, this is the first prayer breakfast, the National Prayer Breakfast, that the President has attended since changing his position on same-sex marriage, a view that's very much in contrast to what the group, the Fellowship Foundation that puts on this breakfast, that they believe in.

That's obviously an undertone that's going on here. We don't know if President Obama will address this. We expect he wouldn't overtly, but perhaps he'll talk about equality or he'll talk about inclusivity.

And I just also want to note, Soledad, remember, this is not the first time that he's sort of had this issue where he's having to kind of step around this sort of controversy. It was a couple weeks ago for his inauguration, the person who was supposed to give the benediction for his inauguration, Louie Giglio of the Passion Movement out of Atlanta, he was uncovered had given an anti-gay sermon I think it was 10 or 15 years before. There was this controversy that surrounded that and he ended up pulling out of what is really an honor for a religious leader, and instead it was a local Episcopal minister from St. John's Episcopal Church, just across Lafayette Park here from the White House, who ended up giving the benediction.

So it's sort of fascinating as you see these controversies that pop up at these moments where sort of politics and religion sort of come in close proximity to each other.

O'BRIEN: So what do we expect then to hear from the President? Our last couple of minutes as we wait for him to come to the podium, we're going to see him when Ben Carson wraps up his remarks. Many presidents have come to give their remarks since Eisenhower forward. What do they use the platform for? What's the point?

KEILAR: You know what, it depends.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Brianna.

KEILAR: I was going to say, it does depend. And the President is speaking his fifth year in a row. Last year, it seemed very obvious that he was courting some evangelical voters as he has done over the year and certainly that was an area Mitt Romney could have been troubled by because there were a lot of evangelicals who were skeptical of him. And no doubt President Obama was trying to win some of them over as he talked about his personal spiritual practice of praying and spending time with scripture each morning.

Other years, in 2010, he actually confronted directly his opposition to an anti-homosexuality measure in Uganda that some had accused this group, the Fellowship Foundation, of ultimately supporting. The Foundation took some issue with that.

It's really been a different chance each year, a different opportunity, a different goal. But the overarching theme, I think, Soledad, is that it's a chance for President Obama to kind of try to reach out to Americans. Religion and politics is this unifying common language sometimes and I think that's what we've seen President Obama do consistently over the years as other presidents have done.

O'BRIEN: Plus, we continue to monitor pictures of Ben Carson at this prayer breakfast and we come to the end of our program. We just have a couple minutes.

So if you could draft the president's remarks today -- I'm not going to start with you, Richard, because I know where you're going to go, but I will start with you, Mr. Lizza.

LIZZA: Look, given the (INAUDIBLE) that he has actually in previous remarks before this group has mentioned some of the controversies. Look, it's his second term. We've already seen that Obama is free to speak his mind in a way that presidents are able to do when they're never going to face the voters again. And yes, he'll talk about unity, which has been a lifelong theme for Obama, but I think he would be remiss if he didn't actually mention something about the controversy surrounding this group, even if it's in a subtle way.

O'BRIEN: Do you expect that to happen, Abby?

HUNTSMAN: I think it will be -- just as we saw at the inauguration, as he kind of hit Paul Ryan on some of his statements, I think he'll do that in a similar way. But I think he'll use this platform to first talk about what unites us as Americans, what unites us through religious leaders -- they're all under the same roof believing in something bigger than themselves. And I think that he'll focus on equality and probably stay away from making them totally angry at him by the end.

O'BRIEN: That would be the headline coming out of the prayer breakfast if you want to do that.

HUNTSMAN: I don't think he wants to do that.

O'BRIEN: In our last remaining seconds, Mr. Socarides, what do you think?

SOCARIDES: Well, I would say that it is fine and good to talk about common ground, especially on the occasion of the National Prayer Breakfast, but I think it's also important to talk about how the fact that, in this country, we're for equality. That's what our Founding Fathers were all about. That's one of our founding principles, and why everybody in the country has to be treated equally.

O'BRIEN: It's taken us a while to get to some of that, as you know, from our Founding Fathers, but that's a topic for another day.

We're out of time this morning and, again, we're watching the National Prayer Breakfast, expecting to hear from President Obama. That's going to be happening any moment now.

I want to get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. It begins right now.