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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

North Korea Nuclear Test; State of the Union Address Tonight; Interview with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell; Catholic Church's Next Steps; New Pepsi Drink to "Kickstart" Your Day

Aired February 12, 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. Our STARTING POINT this morning: a new danger overnight. North Korea launching a third nuclear test and says it's because the U.S. is hostile. We know now just how big that test was. But there were some threats of even stronger action ahead.

In just about 13 hours, the president's going to speak to the nation. It's his State of the Union address. He's going to focus on jobs, of course. But will we hear anything new?

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

And two men in custody this morning in the shooting of the teenaged girl who attended the president's inauguration. New information on the death. Was it a tragic mistake?

O'BRIEN: Packed show for you this morning. I'm going to talk with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper will join us, and His Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, will join us.

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

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Congressman Randy Forbes from the state of Virginia is with us. Roland Martin is a CNN contributor, host of "Washington Watch." And Ron -- nice to have you. Ron Brownstein is the editorial director at "National Journal" with us as well. John Berman is sticking around, too.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is North Korea, though, putting the world on edge to a large degree after performing a third successful nuclear test. We know just how big it was. U.S. intelligence estimating the blast was several kilotons in size, caused a 5.1 earthquake in the region. The country's minister says the test was a defensive measure against what he calls hostile activity from the United States and that more drastic measures could be on the horizon.

The U.N. Security Council has called an emergency meeting that will take place in just about an hour.

Let's get right to Jill Dougherty. She's live for us at the State Department.

What's the U.S. response, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, first of all, you know, they're trying to find out obviously the explosion took place but they want to know what kind of explosion, what kind of material did they use, uranium or plutonium, and really how big it is, because the indications are now this morning that it was bigger than was expected last night.

But President Obama, no question, condemning it, that it was a very provocative and he did issue a statement in which he 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 then he went on, "The U.S. remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region."

And you can bet, Soledad, that there is a lot of concern among those allies in the region.

And as I said, they're trying to analyze what it is and also the political significance because after all this evening in the State of the Union address, President Obama was expected to talk about arms control and how he approaches that issue will be very interesting to watch, how he phrases that.

O'BRIEN: No question about that. I think that's what everyone is going to be watching.

Jill Dougherty for us this morning -- thank you, Jill.

And, in fact, here in Washington, D.C., we're roughly 13 hours away from the president's fourth State of the Union address. Insiders are telling us that the president's prepared to strike a more partisan tone lately about his agenda before a somewhat gridlock Congress and a pretty divided nation.

Brianna Keilar has a look for us this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How times have changed. When he addressed Congress one year ago, President Obama faced sagging poll numbers and a tough road to re-election. The result: a State of the Union address that contained few new proposals and largely fell flat, not likely this year. WILLIAM 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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought, and 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 offer more specifics on some of these issues, White House officials 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 SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He hasn't given us an idea 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 last 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 his second term.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And to that point, Soledad, there had been a question how aggressive President Obama would be on the topic of climate change and it appears he won't be as aggressive as he could be. He will not -- I am told by a senior administration official -- be announcing but regulations on carbon emissions for existing power plants. They're a major polluter and this is something environmentalists are not going to look too kindly upon, Soledad. I think, quite frankly, some of them will be disappointed that the president doesn't go that far.

O'BRIEN: Brianna Keilar for us this morning -- thanks, Brianna.

Now, seated in the House chamber tonight will be rock-star-turned-gun- rights-activist Ted Nugent. He's attending the State of the Union as a guest of the conservative Texas Congressman Steve Stockman. He says he's excited to have a patriot like Nugent joins him. Stockman expects that Nugent will have plenty in response to say to the president on gun control.

I want to get to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address in 2010.

It's nice to see you, Governor. Thank you for being with us.

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: Thanks, Soledad. Hey, you're really upping your game this morning with Congressman Forbes with Virginia. Good job.

O'BRIEN: I know. He's right. He's right here next to me.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm sure the governor meant everybody.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We'll remember that, Governor.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. Why -- there's going to be two responses to the presidential -- the president's speech. So why do the Republicans need two, I guess you would say Tea Party responses?

MCDONNELL: Well, I bet there'll be thousands of responses, but there's a formal one that Marco Rubio will give. I got to give it a couple years ago. It's a tough speech to give, by the way, because the president goes to the well of the U.S. Congress, with the national audience and all the fanfare to one guy looking at a camera. It's a tough speech to give.

But Marco Rubio has got a great story. I think he'll do it well. And distinguishing conservative ideas from liberal ideas and why they work. I think that's going to be the key response.

O'BRIEN: Right. But there's another one that Rand Paul is giving, right? So, why a second one? Because while it's not the official official, it's the kind of official official.

MCDONNELL: Well, there will probably be a Tea Party response and a progressive party response and a LaRouche party response. Look, everybody is free to say what they want to say about the president's -- about the president's remarks. So I think everybody's entitled to say what they want to say.

But the official response, obviously, is Marco Rubio and he'll lay out the Republican contrast and vision for America.

O'BRIEN: So, hang on one second, Governor, for me. And I do want to ask you about what it was like when you did have to give the response, because you did it kind of interesting way.

But, first, Ron, is that true everybody has a response? Because this seems unusual.

BROWNSTEIN: This is a new tradition that emerged with the kind of this Tea Party response. I'm really interested the governor talked about the Republican contrast. I would be interested in his thought. I mean, clearly, the debate in Washington is primarily about debt, deficits and sequester.

The polling tells us the debate in the country is still primarily on jobs and economic growth. And I'm wondering, apart from the contrast, does he see any areas where this president and Democratic Senate and his Republican House are going to be able to work together to try to get the economy moving faster?

O'BRIEN: Any silver lining in that, sir?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, any place where they overlap and want they want to do?

MCDONNELL: You know, that's really the fundamental question for America today and, you know, I pray to God the answer to that is yes, because we are a divided nation, Soledad, as you said earlier. I think these polls showed it the last election.

But overwhelmingly people want to hear how is the president going to lay out a vision and plan to work with a Republican House to arrest this immoral $17 trillion and growing national debt, and to do something about a nearly 8 percent unemployment rate that's been that way for three or four years now. And so, that is the fundamental question.

I think Senator Rubio's going to speak a lot about that, the aspirational goals of job and growth and opportunity, the American dream, and why Republican policies do a better job. But I certainly hope the president will find that common ground and lay out the need for a budget in the U.S. Senate and get us back on a road to prosperity.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask but the response. You were talking about it can be tough to talk into a camera. You did it with a live audience, which I guess, did it make it easier?

MCDONNELL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I mean, no one remembers your response as being terrible which is saying something. You know, there have been some really --

MCDONNELL: That's a real high bar.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I say that with tremendous respect, sir. But you know what I mean.

MCDONNELL: I do.

O'BRIEN: So, you know, would you recommend that? Is that how Marco Rubio should do it, live audience, warm things up a little bit?

MCDONNELL: You know, everybody's got to see what works for them. I thought, you know, looking at that little camera after the president walks out of the Congress to thunderous applause that's not a good contrast. So we got a great capitol designed by Mr. Jeffers (ph), so I thought delivering it there with a live audience would give me more energy and it would be a much better contrast.

But ultimately it's the message, not the ambience that's going to make a difference and why conservative ideas will work and why, overall, these progressive ideas on the economy haven't worked for American for the last three years. To me, that's the contrast for Marco Rubio tonight.

O'BRIEN: All right. Governor thanks for being with us. We certainly appreciate it. Governor Bob McDonnell joining us from the state of Virginia. Appreciate your time this morning.

MCDONNELL: OK. Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

For the best political coverage, keep it here on CNN. Our live coverage of the State of the Union address will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Other stories making news that we've got to get to. John has got that.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

Two alleged gang members will be in a Chicago courtroom this morning after police arrested them for killing 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton. Eighteen-year-old Michael Ward and 20-year-old Kenneth Williams are charged with murder and attempted murder. They say the teenagers' death was a tragic mistake.

(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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Just days before her death, Hadiya Pendleton was in Washington, performing at President Obama's inauguration.

And tomorrow on STARTING POINT, we'll be talking to Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Pendleton. She'll be a guest of the first lady at the State of the Union address tonight.

A change of heart for President Obama on raising the eligibility age for Medicare. The White House says the president now opposes a plan to increase the age from 65 to 67. Now, he was willing to consider such a move in the summer of 2011, but we're told no longer he is willing to consider that. But he is still willing to consider lowering Medicare cost of living adjustments if Republicans will compromise on new tax revenues. That will be controversial with Democrats.

A soggy start to fat Tuesday celebrations in New Orleans. This is a live look at a very wet Bourbon Street. The National Weather Service says morning parade goers will get light rain, stronger thunderstorms should hold off until the afternoon. All of southeast Louisiana is still under a flood watch.

So, it happens every time of year I'm told. "Sports Illustrated" is out with its swimsuit issues. Last night, the girls showed up on Letterman to deliver the top question on the application to become a "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit model.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST: Number three, Genevieve Morton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you willing to visit the elderly at his late night talk show?

LETTERMAN: All right. All right. Me, they're talking about me. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot.

Number two, Katherine Webb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How would Brent Musburger describe you?

LETTERMAN: Exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I'm not sure whether Letterman heard a word there.

MARTIN: I was trying to understand the controversy over the cover. The purpose of the issue is to sell sex. That's kind of the point.

O'BRIEN: I do understand people later, right I've got two girls at home. Do you really need to flog the whole girl breasts cover "Sports Illustrated"? I know it happens every year and we have the same conversation every year about it.

John Berman is like I've got nothing to say.

BROWNSTEIN: Does this mean like Maker's Mark that Bourbon Street itself is also being watered down?

BERMAN: That is a fantastic comment.

O'BRIEN: And thank God it is because I was on Bourbon Street over the weekend and it was really dirty and really required some watering down.

BROWNSTEIN: The watering down of Bourbon is sort of happening across the board now.

O'BRIEN: Then just drink a little more. All right. Lots of speculation talk about this morning about who's going to replace Pope Benedict XVI after his resignation. Coming up next, His Eminence, the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, he's on the list, the short list, of potential replacements to be the new pope.

We'll talk to him about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New information this morning about why Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign. At a news conference earlier, the Vatican said the Pope doesn't feel he has the strength to continue, and there's now already speculation over just who's going to replace him.

These are just some of the cardinals who've been named as potential options, one of the men on the list is his imminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl. He's the archbishop of Washington, and he's a voting member of the impending conclave which will elect a new Pope. It's nice to have you with us, sir.

CARDINAL DONALD WUERL, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So, if you're on the short list of successors, what do you think is the reality that you could, in fact, be elected Pope?

WUERL: Well, I think at this point, we're talking about fantasy --

(LAUGHTER)

WUERL: -- more than reality. The future I believe as the conclave comes to be the future is going to be directed to who will be a Pope who will continue to focus on the spiritual mission of the church. That's at the heart of who we are, and Pope Benedict has done that, I think, with great success, to try to keep the focus on the gospel, the mission of the gospel.

O'BRIEN: To some degree, the spiritual mission of the church seems to also involve a lot of travel and bringing that spiritual message around the globe, which to me would say OK, younger, somebody who maybe is in an area where the church is already very revitalized, so, more like Latin-American, maybe African, is that who you would be predicting, a person that you would predict who would be a very good selection for Pope?

WUERL: Well, I think our holy father said that one of the reasons he's resigning is he doesn't have the physical energy any longer to do that. And when you realize, this world, this age demands presence. It's a ministry of presence, and that means traveling, as you just pointed out. It also means being able to engage, relive in a world of instant communication. We live in a world --

O'BRIEN: Pope's on Twitter.

WUERL: Yes. And so, he has to be able to do all of that and have the physical energy to take that on every day.

MARTIN: Cardinal, when Thurgood Marshall retired as a Supreme Court justice, I remember the news conference, and he was asked the question and he said I'm old, I'm tired, I'm falling apart. A lifetime appointment. Shouldn't this Pope be praised for saying look, I shouldn't have to die in the office.

We should have a transition. It should be a matter of the next generation and if I don't have the strength, get somebody who can do it.

WUERL: Thank you for saying it, because that's exactly what I think is the background of this. This Holy Father showed a humility and an honesty and a courage. It takes a great deal to be able to say I can't do this anymore, especially when the whole world is looking at you and saying, but you have to and he's saying, no, no, I think the courageous thing here is to say I'm worn out.

O'BRIEN: What do you think is the focus and the direction of the church? The Pope has been absolutely, you know, strong in the doctrine and I'm curious to know -- there's been a lot of pressure in the other direction, certainly. Do you think that things changed?

WUERL: I think where we are and where the church always is, is to take the received teaching. This is what Jesus said to us, and that's what we keep repeating, but we have to find ways of saying it so we catch the attention of people today. I deal with an awful lot of young people, young adults, and they just don't know the message.

So, I think the next Pope is going to have to focus on. This is what we believe. We always believed this. This is the message, love one another, be good to one another, build a world of peace and justice and kindness, but to say it in a way that we catch people's attention and their hearts.

SAMBOLIN: And we'll see the strength of the Catholic Church in the United States. I know Latinos, obviously, are very important to the growth of the Catholic Church here in America.

WUERL: We're seeing two things. We're seeing not only a growth from those that are coming from outside the country, but there's a renewal going on inside. Right now, we have a huge number of young people who are finding that they never really heard what the Catholic Church teaches.

They're the ones now who are a new source of energy and life in the church. In the archdiocese of Washington, we had to open a new seminary. We have so many young men saying I would like to study for priesthood.

O'BRIEN: It would be interesting to see what the impact of the new Pope is on those very people, because of course, I think people identify with the Pope as their coming of age who is elected Pope at that time.

WUERL: This is one of the things that I think we're seeing with so many young adults today. The reason there's a growth in the church coming from within as well as that from without is there are so many people who see, who saw in Benedict and certainly in Blessed John Paul II, a voice that really resonates, a challenge, you can live this gospel.

It's possible to bring love and truth and peace into the world, and we call it the kingdom of God. The rest of society calls it a better world. They're the same thing, to bring into this world peace, justice, truth, kindness, compassion, care, and that's what the Pope keeps saying over and over and over again.

I think the exciting thing is, we have loads of young people who are saying, you know, that's right, I'd like to be a part of that.

O'BRIEN: Cardinal Wuerl, it's so nice to have you. If you are, in fact, elected Pope, we would like to have you back, come and join us here on the set of the show.

MARTIN: Well, actually, if you're elected Pope, we're going to go talk --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We'll talk to you there.

WUERL: Don't count --

MARTIN: Road trip, road trip.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Trending this morning, I want to tell you story about -- for folks who maybe don't want coffee in the morning, there's a new kind of Mountain Dew soda, a thing like a drink. We'll tell you why it's already controversial. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Here's what trending this morning. Madonna is joining Instagram. Well, this is a big day, State of the Union, and Madonna joins Instagram. Here's one of her first picture. There's one where she holds a martini glass. That one right there shows a little cleavage as she makes a toast to her followers. Everybody, if you're interested to knowing what Madonna is up to, you can now follow her on Instagram.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK, Madonna, Instagram, shocking.

O'BRIEN: Again, it's trending this morning --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: -- very low bar for stories that are trending. Work with me here.

BROWNSTEIN: -- Pope, Madonna.

O'BRIEN: State of the Union, North Korea, we've to all get it in.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: If coffee is not cutting it for you this morning, Pepsi Co. is unveiling a new caffeinated breakfast drink called Kickstart. It has Mountain Dew, five percent juice, a little caffeine. They're going to sell starting at the end of the month. They say it's not an energy drink like Red Bull, but I guess, it's got a little kick start.

BROWNSTEIN: Basically, it's got all the food groups, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: I don't get it, just wake up.

O'BRIEN: They should --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I would be happy to transition off of coffee. Send me some of that, I'll try it.

(CROSSTALK)

REP. RANDY FORBES, (R) VIRGINIA: I drink coffee. I like that.

O'BRIEN: This could be good, though.

FORBES: My wife is a Dr. Pepper person in the morning.

O'BRIEN: That's what she has.

FORBES: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That's tough.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight. What does he have to say that will make both sides of the aisle happy? Is there anything to say? CNN's chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and anchor and chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, are going to join us to talk a little bit about that.

And then, this Valentine's Day, instead of chocolate and flowers, how about a free divorce? Wow. It just seems so much harsher than the chocolate and flowers. We'll explain that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)