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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

White House v. GOP on Immigration Plan; Rihanna Compared to Princess Di; New Ad Takes on Controversy Head On; Homeless Man Returns Diamond Ring

Aired February 18, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A passenger has been charged with trying to board an airplane with a loaded gun. This happened at Newark International Airport Sunday morning. Port authority police arrested the 59-year-old Pennsylvania man shortly after 6:00 a.m. inside Terminal C. Officials say Robert Kellerman told them he forgot the .22 caliber gun was even inside his handbag. He was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.

So the man behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 is asking for a break in prison. Ramzi Yousef is serving a life sentence at a federal lockup in Colorado. His ability to communicate with the outside world is restricted. But now his lawyer claims that Yousef should no longer be considered a threat to national security, and it is time for some of those restrictions to be lifted. We'll see how that goes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wait, what? He's serving a lifetime -

BERMAN: He wants the ability to communicate more in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, OK, we'll take your word for it.

BERMAN: His lawyer's got a tough job ahead, I would suggest.

O'BRIEN: Yes, good luck with that.

BERMAN: All right, some science news here. Mapping the human brain. "The New York Times" reporting the Obama administration is reporting a decade long scientific effort to unlock the mysteries of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity. This will do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics. The White House could launch the brain activity map project as early as next month.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: An attempt to map the Republican brain.

BERMAN: Richard Socarides, exactly. Rebuttal.

(LAUGHTER)

MARY BONO MACK (R-CA), FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: We're trying to map the Republican brain. I'm sorry.

CONNIE MACK (R-FL), FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: They're trying to map their own brain.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to map some more news here.

Two of the most outspoken Republican critics of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel now say they will no longer hold up his Senate confirmation. Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina both saying they will back off. Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming insisting that holding up the vote wasn't a political ploy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: I have grave reservations. I think he's been wrong about Iran, wrong with Israel, wrong in Iraq, wrong with nuclear weapons. Absolutely, I plan to vote against him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Another vote is set for a week from tomorrow. Hagel, at the end of all this, is expected to win confirmation.

All right, we keep showing this because it's just that awesome. Nothing but net. The head basketball coach at Canada's Brandon University, Gil Cheung, sank this half-court shot. And because of it, one lucky student got a semester's free tuition. The student contestant was allowed to choose anyone to take the shot for him. He chose wisely. Rather than pick a player, he picked the coach, and now he gets a semester free. So good for all of them.

O'BRIEN: And I love what he does -- the run around, hugged by the team.

Let's talk politics. "Politics to the Max" this morning: undocumented immigrants could get an eight-year pathway to citizenship under a plan the president is reportedly drafting. The details were linked to "USA Today". Senator Marco Rubio immediately said the plan would be dead on arrival, and his fellow Republicans weren't all that impressed either. Here's what some said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Leaking this out does set things in the wrong direction.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: This is the president torpedoing his own plan and shows me he's not serious.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Does the president want a result? Or does he want another cudgel to beat up Republicans?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So let's get right to "Politics to the Macks": former Florida Congressman Connie Mack, his wife, former California Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, joining us. Nice to have you both with us. MARY BONO MACK: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Why is it such a big deal that Plan B, as they're calling this leaked document, is out there with the attacks that we've seen from the right on this?

CONNIE MACK: I think it plays into the fears, I would say, that Republicans have that there's been a lot of good movement on this bipartisan group coming out of the Senate, and there's a feeling that, on the right, that the president wants to keep this issue around long enough to continue to use it to continue to beat up Republicans. And I think that's what all of the people you had on the interview there talked to.

O'BRIEN: But consistently everybody says the president doesn't show leadership and he's got to do something and we want to hear from the president on this issue and a bunch of other issues too. So when finally this leak -- which I don't think was a leak, but some kind of an e-mailed document --

CONNIE MACK: Faucet.

O'BRIEN: Yes, faucet.

CONNIE MACK: I think it's good that -- we should see what the president's ideas are on this. We have been saying as Republicans, where's your plan on a whole host of things.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

CONNIE MACK: So I'm all for a robust debate on this.

O'BRIEN: Mary?

MARY BONO MACK: But, look, bipartisanship takes trust from both sides. There is no trust in Washington, D.C., any longer from either side. I have a theory the heads of both political parties, the DCCC, the NRCC, shouldn't be seating members of Congress, but there's no trust. And I think this plays right into that. And if ever there was an issue that everybody should come together -- too bad the president was out there playing golf with Marco Rubio and Tiger.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me ask you, if you're drafting a bipartisan compromise, trying to find the center, why isn't it to your advantage, if you're Marco Rubio or John McCain, to have President Obama staking out a position to your left so that when you come along and say there should be conditionality to granting people a pathway to citizenship, you can say you have forced the president move from where he was. Why doesn't this help them?

CONNIE MACK: I agree. I think it is helpful. Look, you can't get to a solution if you don't put everything out on the table. So the president has a plan. Instead of floating it or having this leak, he should have just came to the American people.

O'BRIEN: Right, it shouldn't need to be leaked. CONNIE MACK: He should have came to the American people and done a press conference and talked about it.

BERMAN: Does the level of outrage meet the level of infraction, or did it exceed it? It seemed they were awfully mad and I couldn't figure out why.

CONNIE MACK: Well, look, a little bit of this is show from everyone, including the president's side. Let's get away from all of that. Let's go back to the idea that the president has a plan now that he has put out there. A bipartisan group in the Senate has a plan they put out there. That's a good place to be.

SOCARIDES: The Republicans played right into the president's hands on this one. I mean, he put this plan out there obviously to let the base know that he was thinking about them and about these issues, and then the Republicans were outraged. I mean, the Republicans want to seem in this like they're more reasonable, that they're conciliatory, that they can make a deal. But yesterday they seemed the opposite of what they want to seem.

CONNIE MACK: Well, on this side of the table, we're not shocked.

SOCARIDES: Well, you guys are great.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: We can make a deal with you guys any day.

BROWNSTEIN: You were in a classic district whose demography was changing, that's one of the reasons why the Democrat won the seat. But to what extent are other Republicans in the House, most of whom are not in districts like that, most of whom -- 80 percent of Republicans are in districts that are more white than the national average. Are they -- do they have the incentive to get this off the table for the party?

O'BRIEN: What do they really gain? I mean, this is the question that we asked this morning when we were talking to the Congressman from Texas. He's like, we may not get anything out of doing a deal.

BROWNSTEIN: He did not seem like he was real enthusiastic about going down this road.

MARY BONO MACK: Again, it depends on leadership out of the White House and leadership out of people, even like Marco Rubio. How willing are they to come forward and work together? Again, this trust thing -- really, I think the American people would be astonished if they knew how little trust existed between the two parties when we have to work together like this.

BROWNSTEIN: Do you think John Boehner wants a bill that gets this off the table before 2016?

MARY BONO MACK: I think John Boehner actually wants a bill that does good. Call me silly and altruistic, but I actually think John Boehner --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: And does that include a pathway to citizenship?

MARY BONO MACK: Yes, it could. Absolutely. It depends -- it's amazing how language really matters in these bills and what is said. But starting off the way the president did with this leak doesn't help. And, yes, Connie is a classic. This is the way Connie -- he loves the theater of politics, and you're right, this is a good way to move a bill. You know, come out farther to the left, make the room on the right. But in this case, start with that trust. And I said it jokingly, but the president should be out there playing golf with Marco Rubio and having a conversation and show the intent.

O'BRIEN: If it's not resolved by 2016, what are the implications of that?

CONNIE MACK: I would say this: it needs to be resolved. And not, yes, it needs to be resolved because of politics, but it needs to be resolved because we have some important issues around immigration. We need to secure our borders, north and south, and we have to do something about the people who are here illegally. It's a national security issue.

O'BRIEN: But often these things are resolved because of politics as much as anything else.

(CROSSTALK)

CONNIE MACK: Of course it's politics, but these are important issues we have to solve. So solve it now. There's nothing new on the table, right? The president didn't come up with anything new.

O'BRIEN: Right, 2007.

CONNIE MACK: The Republicans and the Democrats in the Senate didn't come up with anything new. There's no new information coming out. Put a package together. Put it on the floor. Allow a vote.

BROWNSTEIN: The conventional wisdom on Republicans, not necessarily big gains politically from doing it, but allowing it to still be there in 2016 could mean big losses.

MARY BONO MACK: You have to remember, it's not - it's also H1-B Vs (ph) is high-tech workers. It's a larger package than just this. So there are some big Republicans (ph) out there.

SOCARIDES: The Republican Party is never going to win another presidential election unless they can demonstrate that they're more sympathetic to people who are concerned about immigration. This is your --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Possibly true. MARY BONO MACK: I don't know that's true.

SOCARIDES: It's absolutely true.

O'BRIEN: I think that possibly is true. All right, still ahead, here's a question for you. Is Rihanna just like Princess Di? What? One Sunday magazine is comparing the reigning princess of pop to the beloved royal.

And she lost her engagement ring while she was giving some change to a homeless man. We'll tell you the story of how she got it back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

Rihanna compared to Princess Di. That's the hook of a new article in the "Sunday Times Magazine" by feminist author Camille Paglia. The author says that Rihanna's love affair with the camera and the way she manipulates her self-image along with her isolation and defiant behavior seem to draw parallels with the princess.

Here's a quote from Paglia's article: "Rihanna is in love with the camera and the camera is in love with her. Not since Diana rocketed from a shy kindergarten aide to a lean, mean fashion machine has there been such a ravishingly seductive flirtation with the world press."

SOCARIDES: Well, I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I just don't get it.

BROWNSTEIN: Camille Paglia, she's good at creating big sweeping, controversial cultural assertions. It seems a little bit of a reach.

O'BRIEN: A little bit? I think it seems like a huge reach. I didn't really see the connection between the two.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: It's not even computing in my head. I don't really understand.

MARY BONO MACK: Maybe the life through photographs showing her moods and emotions and all that jazz. There's nothing there that was Princess Diana, which was the goodness in Princess Diana, the charitable work she had done. I mean everything that she truly brought -- women grow up and dream of being a princess, and then she was, and it was such a tragic life.

BROWNSTEIN: Kind of the implications of celebrity is using the same currency, no matter what you're famous for. I mean, that's kind of the implication of the article.

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Right, the whole manipulating of her relationship -

BROWNSTEIN: -- and it doesn't matter what's underneath, right? That's the argument.

MARY BONO MACK: But she is beautiful.

SOCARIDES: She is beautiful. It's hard to know what the point was trying to be made.

O'BRIEN: They're both beautiful. All right, we all agree on that.

BROWNSTEIN: I think the point is all fame is the same. Doesn't matter what you're famous for.

MARY BONO MACK: I would love to see Ron Brownstein talk about pop culture.

BROWNSTEIN: I did live in L.A. for seven for years, so I got a little marination.

SOCARIDES: You know there's very little that Ron Brownstein doesn't know a lot about.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, amazing case of paying it forward. A woman loses her engagement ring. She actually accidentally handed it off as she was giving change to a homeless guy. But she was able to find him and get her ring back. She'll join us to talk about that story straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone.

Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has just released his first congressional campaign ad, and in it he addresses the controversy that really derailed his marriage and reputation back in 2009. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: Recently I have experienced how none of us goes through life without mistakes but in their wake we can learn about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Sanford made headlines, if you remember, for admitting he was involved in an extramarital affair with a woman from Argentina. He and his wife did divorce a year later.

SOCARIDES: He married that woman, yes? BERMAN: I know they were engaged. I don't know if they've actually they been married yet. But I know there were plans maybe at that point.

BROWNSTEIN: Are you on the list?

BERMAN: No I'm not.

SOCARIDES: I'm hoping I'm invited, because it's going to be one hell of a wedding.

BERMAN: We'll find out where they registered.

A leather Air Force One bomber jacket worn by President John F. Kennedy has sold at auction for $570,000. This jacket is part of a huge lot of Kennedy memorabilia that belonged to the late David Powers, a close personal friend and former aide and special assistant to JFK. The identity of the winning bidder has not been revealed -- intrigue.

BROWNSTEIN: Wear it or --

BERMAN: I would not touch that. Frame that.

BROWNSTEIN: Frame it.

MARY BONO MACK: Absolutely not.

BERMAN: So this is the chat, this is a great story, Ron. And you'll be an expert on this.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, yes.

BERMAN: Denver International Airport is trying to cope with the attack of the bunny rabbits. Hundreds and hundreds of rabbits doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to parked cars at the airport. Apparently they like to hide under warm engines. Soledad is nodding her head. She knows about this. And they love to chew on ignition cables.

O'BRIEN: Yes, in my Prius. Yes, they ate through my Prius.

BERMAN: Officials are hoping that granulated coyote urine will help drive the rabbits out. Right, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Where did it happen to you?

O'BRIEN: You know upstate where you have a car, the warm engine, all the little animals would like to come and huddle in there, and then they eat their way through the wiring in the car.

BROWNSTEIN: And then after that, did you start carrying coyote urine in your car?

O'BRIEN: I had no idea that was an option, and I'm going to get some of that right away. I don't know where that comes from, but I'm going to find one.

BERMAN: I know where.

O'BRIEN: All right, I want to tell you this story of a woman in Kansas City. She was heading home from work and stopped to give a homeless man some money. In the process, though, she accidentally dropped her engagement ring in his donation cup.

Her name is Sarah Darling and she didn't realize her mistake until the next day. 48 hours later she was able to track down the man, Billy Harris and he still had the ring. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH DARLING, HOMELESS MAN RETURNED ENGAGEMENT RING TO HER: I'm so grateful.

BILLY HARRIS, HOMELESS: I could tell exactly how much it meant to you the moment I held it up like that.

DARLING: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Sarah Darling is in Kansas City this morning for more. Hi, Sarah. Congratulations. What great news for you. Walk me through how you -- how you handed off your engagement ring and it ended up in his donation cup.

DARLING: Yes, actually -- it's ironic because I never really take my rings off, but because of that, I ended up with a little rash, a wedding ring rash. And I was at work that day, and I took off my rings and put them in my coin purse and zipped them up. I felt like they would be safe there because it was zipped up.

But then I just have a lot going on. I have two jobs and a baby, and I just was a little flustered, and I saw him on the plaza, and I just emptied out my -- my change into his cup, and I forgot that my rings are in there, and I didn't actually realize it.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: When did you realize that - yes, I was going to say when did you realized that in fact, in that change purse part was your ring? And what did your husband say?

DARLING: Oh my gosh. Yes, we were headed out of town the next day, actually. We were headed to Arkansas to visit some friends and I realized it when we were about an hour on the way -- an hour on the way out of town and I said, oh we need to turn around. I realized that my band was in there, but the engagement ring was gone. And about 30 seconds later I -- it occurred to me what happened.

So we turned right back around and went there. But unfortunately, he wasn't there. And so --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. You must have freaked out. So what did you do?

DARLING: It was horrible. It was such a feeling of loss because this ring was so special to me because my husband had picked it out for me and proposed to me, and it was all a surprise and it meant so much to me beyond just the financial value. And unfortunately, it wasn't insured.

So I was -- I was really struggling that -- that evening. But I kept a little shred of hope that I'd be able to find him. And sure enough, I went back the next day, it Sunday afternoon, almost 48 hours after I had initially given him the ring, and sure enough, he was there.

O'BRIEN: Did he recognize you right away and say I have your ring?

DARLING: Well, I asked him, I was like, I don't know if you remember me, but I think I gave you something that's very precious to me.

DARLING: And he says, was it a ring? Yes, I have it. I kept it for you. But he didn't actually have it on him. He had it -- he said, it's in my other jacket, and he asked me if I wanted to take him to where it was, go for a drive. So I knew I could trust him. I could just tell. However, I knew it was against my better judgment to get in the car with a stranger.

So I first went home and got my husband and went back down and got him. We drove him to where the ring was. It was stashed under a bridge here off a Brush Creek down in our city, and it was stashed there in what he said was his emergency spot.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness, where he keeps all of his belongings.

DARLING: And he gave it right back.

O'BRIEN: Oh wow. So tell me a little bit about Billy Ray Harris. What happens? You know, the ring is valuable. He didn't -- he didn't sell it. He didn't lose it. Well, I know you're trying to help him out. What are you doing for him?

DARLING: Yes. You and I really hope at the end of the day that my snafu just helps this person, maybe start a new life for him. And -- and you know he was -- it's really amazing because he had it for 48 hours. And I feel like people who -- even people who were in a lesser need situation may not have given it back. He may have sold it. He was actually offered like thousands of dollars on the spot for it, and he turned that down. And it's so amazing to me.

And so I really just hope that that my -- my kind of flightiness in that moment leads to something really good for him. And so my husband actually started a give forward site for him. It's GiveForward/BillyRay and yesterday we raised almost $4,000 for him already for that. And -- and I just feel like --

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Wow, that's great. I want to give everybody the URL about that first, Sarah. Let me just interrupt you for one second. So it's GiveForward.com/BillyRay. One word. If anybody who wants to donate to his cause and help him out for doing such a great thing for you can be part of it.

You seem very anxious still. Has it just not sunk in? Like the ring is back. It's OK.

DARLING: Actually, I -- I -- I don't know why. It seems like that's probably because I'm on TV. But I just feel so -- I just feel so lucky. And I actually feel like I'm -- I'm especially lucky to have this ring now. I loved it before. I loved it so much. But I love it so much more now. I feel like it has such great karma. And I -- I feel so lucky to have it on my ring -- on my finger.

O'BRIEN: It really does. It really does good for you. Congratulations.

BROWNSTEIN: Where it will probably stay.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And don't take it off. Rash or not, keep that finger on your ring.

DARLING: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Sarah Darling, thanks for talking with us this morning. We encourage everybody to go check out the Web site, giveforward.com/billyray if you want to help out after hearing Sarah's story. Thanks, Sarah.

We've got to take a short break. End Point's up next. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point". why don't you start for us, Congresswoman?

MARY BONO MACK: I am just so excited for Danica Patrick. I can't believe it's going to be a great day. I'm not a huge NASCAR fan, but I will be now.

O'BRIEN: I know. I'm so excited too. I'm excited to watch it with my daughters, you know, because I think that's just a great message for them.

MACK: She's 5'2", and she has just a dynamite, incredibly strong man woman. It's a great story.

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

SOCARIDES: And she looked great doing it. She did. She's beautiful.

O'BRIEN: When have you ever said that about any guy at NASCAR ever? Come on. BROWNSTEIN: Other than what I've learned about coyote urine this morning.

O'BRIEN: Granulated.

BROWNSTEIN: I would say that we're discussing immigration. That ad on gun control, what a difference a reelection makes. These are issues we have not talked about for years, and now they're front and center in our national debate. Big change.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but the question -- front and center, but what happens down the road, you know? Looking a year or two years out, do we actually resolve something?

BROWNSTEIN: But you know what, when you're out of the discussion, you know what's going to happen, nothing. Now they're in discussion, you at least you have the possibility of something that will.

O'BRIEN: All right, Mr. Silver Lining. OK, I'll buy that. I'll buy that.

All right everybody. We're going to see you back here tomorrow morning for STARTING POINT. I think you for being with us today.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.