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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Pope Announces Retirement; North Korea Announces Third Nuclear Test; President Prepares for State of the Union Address

Aired February 12, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning: new overnight international threat. North Korea announces a powerful nuclear test in response to, quote, "hostile activity" from the United States, and now, a new warning that stronger action could be on the horizon. We'll have the very latest.

Challenge comes on the same day as the State of the Union address. Will it change the president's message or will jobs still be the centerpiece? We'll break down those expectations for tonight.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And the world wondering who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI? This morning, developments on when we'll know the name of the next Pope.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The president made a lot of promises in his State of the Union address last year about jobs. Did he keep them? We're reviewing the past year and doing a fact check and reality check on job creation.

O'BRIEN: This morning, we're talking to Gordon Chang, he's the author of "Nuclear Showdown." Gene Sperling joins us. He's the director of the National Economic Council. Washington Senator Ron Johnson is our guest. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is with us. CNN's chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper joins us. And Cardinal Donal Wuerl, the archbishop of Wasghinton, will be with us as well.

It's Tuesday, February 12th, a special edition of STARTING POINT, live in Washington, D.C., begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, overnight North Korea performing a third successful nuclear test. Moments ago the country's minister said it's a defensive measure against, quote, "hostile activity from the United States," and that in fact more drastic measures could be on the horizon. The U.N. security council calling an emergency meeting in less than two hours. We begin with Jill Dougherty live at the state department for us. Jill, good morning. What are we hearing from the White House about this?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, obviously President Obama is condemning this, calling it highly provocative. He issued a statement and said North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. And he continued "The U.S. remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region."

Now obviously there is grave concern because the North Koreans are saying they have a different type of weapon, more sophisticated, more powerful. So what is happening right now is that the U.S. and international organizations are monitoring what they -- what they can from this test. They are sending the United States, sending planes aloft and what they do, they have sensors on them, and they try to sniff the air in a way and figure out exactly what kind of explosion that was. Because there are a couple of different types of explosions, and depending on that, we could find out how much they can do of testing in the future and perhaps create a bomb. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Jill Dougherty for us this morning, thank you, Jill. Ahead, we'll talk to Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown." we'll discuss that straight ahead.

And Iran announcing its converting about 20 percent of enriched uranium to reactor fuel. It's significant, because once converted, uranium can no number longer be used to make weapons. That will be 80 percent. That still leaves a massive number, but still according to some it's a move in the right direction.

Now here in Washington D.C. don't expect any olive branches from the president tonight when he delivers his fourth State of the Union address. Insider say the president will point a partisan finger at Congressional Republicans as he lays out him agenda for immigration reform, for climate change, for gun control. If he needed any evidence of just how divided the nation is, take a look at who is going to be in attendance tonight, victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre along rocker and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent. CNN's Brianna Keilar joins us with more on what we can expect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How times have changed. When he addressed Congress one year ago, President Obama faced sagging poll numbers and a tough road to reelection. The result -- a State of the Union address that contained few new proposals and largely fell flat. Not like this will year.

WILL GALSTON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: His party gained seats in both the Senate and the house. The American people broadly speaking are with him. And so he can deliver a speech without the kinds of political constraints that he faced just 12 months ago.

KEILAR: White House officials tell CNN that tonight's address will bookend the president's inaugural speech last month, when he laid out aggressive themes on issues of gun control and immigration and mentioned some unexpected subjects.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: None may deny the overwhelming judgment of science but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought, more powerful storms. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.

KEILAR: While President Obama is expected to lay out more specifics, White House official say the overall focus of tonight's speech will be the economy and adding jobs for the middle class. That topic got surprisingly little attention in the inaugural address.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He hasn't given us an idea of whether there is a significant agenda that he wants to pursue designed to try to accelerate economic growth and economic recovery. That's been the big missing piece all the way through the past year, and we'll see whether it's filled in the State of the Union.

KEILAR: To that end, President Obama will frame much of his agenda under the umbrella of economic growth as he talks about tax reform and government spending and his proposals on education, climate change, and immigration. But while the wind is at his back, observers say President Obama can't appear too bullheaded at the start of the second term.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: This really is a rare chance for President Obama to talk directly to the American people in a very long form way. And, Soledad, from aides I've spoken with, we are expecting to hear themes are familiar. He'll talk a lot about the middle class, and he'll talk about tackling deficit reduction in, quote, "a balanced way," so that means not just the spending cuts that Republicans are primarily pushing as a way to offset these major across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in next month, but also with tax increases.

O'BRIEN: Brianna Keilar for this morning, thank you.

A little bit later this hour, we'll talk with Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson about what we can expect from the president's speech tonight. Of course you can watch the State of the Union address tonight right here on CNN. Our complete coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

State of the union, of course, a hot ticket in Washington, D.C. Here's a look at who made the short list to get a chance to sit in the first lady's box. Clint Romesha, he's the army staff sergeant that received the Medal of Honor for bravery on the battlefield. We'll talk more about him in just a little bit.

Also the CEO of apple, Tim Cook. Before the State of the Union, cook will address the Apple investors' conference in San Francisco. The first lady will also host the parents of Hadiya Pendleton. She was the 15-year old girl gunned down in Chicago. Mrs. Obama attended her funeral just the past weekend. She was gunned days after she performed for the president's inauguration. Chicago police have two suspects in custody. One 18-year-old Michael Ward. The other is 20- year-old Kenneth Williams. Both say they're gang members. They told police the shooting of revenge for a gang attack last summer and that the Chicago honors student was not the intended target. CNN's Ted Rowlands is live for us in Chicago with more on this story. Ted, Good morning.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Superintendent Gary McCarthy here in Chicago said he called the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, who are in Washington preparing to watch President Obama's State of the Union address and said the parents were relieved to find out that there has been an arrest and people in Chicago and across the country who have been following that were relieved as well. What is really heartbreaking about this case is that this was a clear case of mistaken identity and Hadiya Pendleton had nothing to do with these two gang members who thought they were on a revenge mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARRY MCCARTHY, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Michael Ward has confessed and indicated that Hadiya was not the intended target. In fact, the offenders had it all wrong. They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang. Instead, a group of upstanding, determined kids who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang lifestyle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: Police say they were able to solve this by canvassing the neighborhood and getting tips from people in the neighborhood. However, no witnesses came forward, a disappointment according to Chicago police. There was a $40,000 reward on the table. And this was a case that was broadcast every day for the last two weeks. They were hoping somebody would step up to be a key witness. That didn't happen. They are pleased that they were able to make these arrests and got a partial conversion.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ted.

John's got a look at some of the other stories making news this morning.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

This morning, new information about why Pope Benedict XVI decided it was time to step down. At a news conference minutes ago, the Vatican saying the Pope is not suffering from any specific disease. He just doesn't feel he has the strength to continue. And apparently the Pope has been thinking about resignation for a year. Lots of being names mentioned as possibilities to replace him. Today, we have an idea of when the new Pope will replace him.

We're joined now by senior European correspondent Jim Bitterman who is following developments live from Vatican City this morning. Jim, what have we learned in this news conference?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. In fact, Father Frederico Lombardi is holding the news conference and providing a few details. Not a whole lot new, but a few bits of information that are helping us to figure out what is going to happen here in the next few days. One of the things he said is that as you mentioned that there was no specific illness involved in the Pope's decision to resign. He did say that the Pope had had his pacemaker battery replaced recently but it was a normal operation, no problems. Some of the Italian press speculating that perhaps there was a problem with that operation.

And another thing that they talked about was the idea that the Pope's last general audience will be Wednesday, the 27th of February, and that will be the last big public audience before he resigned on the 28th, and I'm willing to bet -- this is just speculation on my part, but I'm willing to bet that most of the college of cardinals will want to be here for that. That's a chance to have a sendoff for the Pope, a very public sendoff for the Pope.

And then after the 28th, he will go first to the papal summer residence and then new details about the monastery within the Vatican where the pope will take up residence after the summer home. It is a monastery inside where a number of religious figures in the past have retired inside the Vatican. It has been remodeled slightly and has a chapel in it.

O'BRIEN: Jim Bitterman, live at Vatican City. So many steps of history-making activity going on at Vatican City over the next month and a half. Next hour we'll talk with the archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl who has been named as a possibility on the list of cardinals who could become the next Pope.

So the Catholic world may be in shock, but you have to check out this picture, a lightning bolt struck the dome of St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican just hours after the Pope's announcement. Is that a sign?

Right now claims of filthy conditions and a low supply of food on the Carnival cruise ship that has been stranded at sea since the fire broke out. That ship now expected back in the United States on Thursday. The first of two tugboats reached the ship last night and will begin towing the cruise liner and more than 4,200 people to a port in Mobile, Alabama.

He is the definition of American hero. Army Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony yesterday, Romesha received the nation's highest military honor for defending his outpost in Afghanistan against all odds during a Taliban attack. He says it's a high honor and a heavy burden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAFF SERGEANT CLINTON ROMESHA, U.S. ARMY, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: I stand here with mixed emotions of both joy and sadness. The joy comes from recognition for us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields. But it's countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Somber man. It was a somber and serious ceremony. But Romesha's just adorable son really stole the show with his antics, playing hide and seek with the press the whole time, so incredibly cute.

Dogs for days, primped pooches strutting to win over judges at the Westminster Dog Show in New York. "Best in Show" will be crowned tonight. Judges picked winners in four categories, best of sporting, working, and terrier groups coming up today. The terriers hope to continue their unfounded dominance at the dog show.

O'BRIEN: It's so great. I have never gone in person.

BERMAN: I have, a lot of times. One of the stories they make you cover again and again and again.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we'll continue to talk about North Korea, they say their overnight nuclear test in response to U.S. hostility and that stronger actions could be on the horizon. The question is, what is the threat to national security? Up next, we'll talk to North Korean expert Gordon Chang.

Then the Navy Seal who says he killed Usama bin Laden says the military has turned its back on him. Has he been abandoned? We'll take a look at that, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. New overnight. North Korea confirming a third successful nuclear test. Says it's a defensive measure against the United States for, quote, "hostile activity against their country." The U.N. Security council calling an emergency meeting, it will take place less than two hours from now.

Want to begin with Gordon Chang this morning. He's the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World." It's nice to have you back with us.

So, what has been done is something that is 11 times more powerful than what was detonated back in 2009. What does that clearly reveal to you about North Korea's access and where they might be going?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD: It reveals they have crossed a critical technical threshold. They've now got a powerful device, it may be miniature. Remember, in December, they crossed another threshold, which was a successful launch of a three-stage missile. You put these two elements together, and you can see why North Korea is making itself a real threat. And we've got to remember, North Korea has run by a militant, unstable regime. So, this is going to be a problem, not just for North Korea's neighbors, but the United States as well.

O'BRIEN: As we've mentioned, the U.N. security council called a meeting that will take place in less than two hours. What happens in the meeting? What should happen?

CHANG: I think what should happen should be crippling sanctions on North Korea, which the security council has not been willing to do because of China. We can -- people say North Korea's been sanctioned out, nothing more we can do. That's not true. In 2005 the United States put on these financial sanctions which hut North Korea. But unfortunately we took them off in 2007, at the behest of Beijing, so there is a lot more than we can do.

O'BRIEN: Are you seeing changes in China (ph)? China is usually yery supportive. But here is the -- an article, an editorial that ran in the China state-run newspaper "Global Times." It goes like this: "If North Korea insists on a third nuclear test despite attempts to dissuade it, it must pay a heavy price. The assistance it will be able to receive from China should be reduced. We are not advocating giving up the Sino-North Korean friendship. But Pyongyang shouldn't misread China. China won't put its relations with Pyongyang above other strategic interests." That's fairly harshly worded considering some of the Chinese positions of the past.

CHANG: It is, and it's a good rhetorical shift. But what we really need to see is China to go for tough sanctions in the security counsel, but also enforce those sanctions. Right now, China has been letting the North Koreans sell a lot of missile technology to the Iranians, crossing over Chinese territory. April 15th last year, in the big military parade in Pyongyang, we saw six Chinese mobile missile launchers that Beijing sold to North Korea. This increases their ability to fight a nuclear war, and so we need to have some important conversations with China, that we've not been willing to do that in the past.

O'BRIEN: You mentioned Iran. Quickly, let's talk about that. Iran clearly getting access to the opportunities that North Korea is creating and being successful with. What happens there?

CHANG: In 2006/2009, Iranians were on site in North Korea for the two previous nuclear tests. I'm sure that they're going to be there as well. North Korea sells everything it develops to the Iranians, long- range ballistic missiles, nuclear reactors, processed uranium, you name it. This is a joint missile and nuclear weapons development program in Tehran and Pyongyang. We need to stop those sales.

O'BRIEN: Gordon Chang joining us this morning, nice to have you back. We appreciate it.

CHANG: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

The president, you might recall, mentioned the word jobs 42 times in the State of the Union speech last year. Did he keep the promises he made? Christine Romans will join us to take a look at whether the president was true to his word or not, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody, you're watching STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from Washington, D.C., where tonight the president will give his State of the Union speech. Our team this morning, Congressman Randy Forbes is with us from Virginia. Congressman Joaquin Castro joins us from the great state of Texas, Ron Brownstein Congressman -- wait a minute. Not yet.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us. John Berman sticks around with us. The state of our union around this table. Very strong today. The central theme for the president in his State of the Union address, in fact, al of them, has been jobs, and the job market. And jobs is exactly what we are expecting that we'll hear about tonight. And the past year, the labor market has improved. But 12 million people are still out of work. We want to begin with Christine Romans who breaks down the president's previous jobs promises. Good morning.

ROMANS: And good morning. The president last year in the same address, Soledad, issued the word "jobs," uttered it, 42 times. I ran the text of that speech through the word cloud. This word cloud, it shows the weight of all the words in that speech last year. Look at how jobs prevails. More weight than anything else except the word "America." So how has he done over the past year? Two million jobs added. And the unemployment rate has drifted down to 7.9 percent. And the White House spokesman Jay Carney, he takes a longer view of success. This is a press briefing yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The economy is poised to continue to grow, to continue to build on the progress we've made. To continue to build on the job creation we've achieved, over 6.1 million jobs created by our businesses, over the past 35 or 36 months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. Fact check on those numbers. True, Soledad. The private sector has been creating jobs for 35 months, adding 6.1 million jobs. But here is the reality check to the fact check. We're still down more than 3 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. We're still in the hole. And the jobs are not the same quality as those that are lost. I want you to look at this study by Rutgers University. It found 54 percent of people who found work, unemployed people who found work, had to do so by settling for lower pay. How much lower pay? Thirty-four percent took a pay cut up to 10 percent. Twenty-six percent took a pay cut of 50 percent. The president needs to assure Americans that the economy can strengthen, but that people can retain the status they had before the recession. That's the trick.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, it's what everybody is saying. It will have to be about jobs, jobs, jobs, exactly what he will say and the spin is what he says is what people will be looking forward to. Christine, thank you.

We'll continue our conversation about the State of the Union, coming up with Gene Sperling. He's the director of the National Economic Counsel. Also Washington -- Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson is going to be our guest. He will kill me because I said that.

What does it take to be a "Sports Illustrated: swim suit model? What does it take, gentlemen?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's see, a couple words come to mind. This is Kate Upton, she's on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" swim suit issue. She tells David Letterman just how tough it was. Talk about that, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome everybody. Developing news is what we start with this morning. Overnight, North Korea performed a third successful nuclear test. Just moments ago, the country's minister said it was a defensive measure regarding hostile activity from the United States and that more drastic measures could be on the way. The U.N. Security council calling an emergency meeting. It's going to take place in about 90 minutes. Want to start with CNN's Anna Coren, she's in Seoul Korea for us this morning. What can you tell us about the test?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, would you have to assume that North Korea is one step closer to developing a nuclear arsenal and becoming a nuclear state.