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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Pope Benedict Steps Down; Fat Letters for Kids?; Justices Question Voting Rights Act; McKayla Maroney's Life after the Olympics

Aired February 28, 2013 - 08:30   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 back, everybody. Some brand-new information this hour from the Vatican on just who will be picking the next pope. We've learned that 115 cardinals are eligible to vote. There were 144 in attendance this morning. You have to be under 80 years old by today to take part in the conclave. The Vatican also says that two cardinals might be too sick to attend the conclave so arrangements might be made to let them vote.

Want to get to Rome and Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who's a director of media relations for the U.S. conference of catholic bishops. Nice to have you with us. You've written an article which I find fascinating and you talked really about the legacy and a legacy of mistakes. What do you mean?

SISTER MARY ANN WALSH, DIR. MEDIA RELATIONS, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: Well, not a legacy of mistakes, as much as a legacy of humanity. The Holy Father approached everything in a humble a very humble manner, and there were a few times when things seemed to go wrong. One was the famous meeting in Reagansburg with the Muslims when he began with a quote that people found offensive. It was a teacher trick, you know, put out something a little provocative and let the discussion begin. And it wound up being much ill received I would say. Second one was in his efforts to bring back the society of St. Pius X, he lifted the excommunication from four of their leaders, one of who was a Holocaust-denier, and the pope immediately on boat occasions, you know, apologized, admitted mistakes had been made, he had been misinterpreted, and then acted to make up for those mistakes. Very humble response.

O'BRIEN: It's what you called a human moment, a mistake, an apology and then an atonement, so I guess I should say a legacy of mistakes and then working to correct them. What do you think happened --

WALSH: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- now, though, when you talk about what many people are often angry about the Catholic Church and maybe even particularly the pope, which is the scandal involving -- that we've seen unfold in various dioceses across the United States, the scandal involving, you know, I guess it would be young children who have been molested or, you know -- who have been alleged to have been molested by priests? and that's an allegation that has gone straight up the ranks all the way to Rome. WALSH: It certainly is a grave concern of our church. But I think you have to remember when people are angry when they read about that in the newspaper, most of their experience is based on what's in the parish and that's what affects the most, that they find a pastor who's caring, who visits their mother when they're sick, who tends to their needs and is nice to their children, people are very much satisfied. You're talking about the scandals are horrific, and unfortunately huge amounts of damage were done by a few people.

O'BRIEN: Let me turn to monsignor. You know, when you look at the pope's legacy, right, I think we have sort of two trends running here, one is how did he do, and the other is where will the church go. How do you answer the question of how did pope Benedict XVI do?

MONSIGNOR RICK HILGARTNER, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: Well, we had the challenge of following after the legacy of pope John Paul II.

O'BRIEN: The most popular pope in recent memory.

HILGARTNER: Absolutely. With the charisma and the ability to relate to a broad spectrum of people and really touch people's hearts, and Pope Benedict approaches it as scholar and an academician. His writings are actually quite beautiful, his writings on hope, on charity, on justice and the economy and the rumored fourth document that he was working on, on faith which was really inviting people to a personal relationship with Jesus.

Part of his legacy is going to be his ability as a pastor, but we have to really mine his writings for that and I think another piece of his legacy that a number of people have observed this morning is the legacy of the resignation as a final act of humility, that he admitted he did not have the stamina and the strength to do the challenging things, to face the issues that the church is facing. He didn't name those issues, but he recognized that it's time to pass the leadership on and he said yesterday in his audience that this was about the church and not about him.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see which direction they do go which, of course, is what we'll be looking at ahead in the next days and weeks certainly. Sister Mary Ann Walsh joins us this morning, thank you for being with us.

WALSH: Happy to be with you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This just in to CNN, earlier we told you that veteran journalist Bob Woodward said he was threatened by someone from the White House over his reporting on the looming spending cuts, he was told he would regret it. A Democrat close to the situation tells CNN that the White House official was Gene Sperling, the director of the national economic council. We're also told the two have known each other for decades.

Also new this morning, the U.S. will provide the Syrian opposition with an additional $16 million in aid. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the details a short time ago in Rome when he met with opposition leaders. He said the funds are a result of the Syrian egime's continued brutality against its own people.

Emotional testimony from a very heartbroken father who's son was one of the 20 first-graders killed in the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Neil Heslin brought his plea to an assault weapons ban to a Washington hearing held by Senator Dianne Feinstein. He said he was there on behalf of his late son.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL HESLIN, SON KILLED IN NEWTOWN SHOOTING: He was the love of my life. He was the only family I had left. It's hard for me to be here today. To talk about my deceased son. I have to. I'm his voice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Despite Wednesday's emotional hearing, a new assault weapons bans a little chance of passing due to strong opposition, you have the opposition from the National Rifle Association and congressional Republicans and some Democrats as well.

An army private that gave classified information to Wikileaks is in court to explain why he did it, Bradley Manning said he wanted to, quote, "spark a domestic debate on the role of our military and our foreign policy in general." This will only be the second time he testified in open court since his arrest. Among the charges aiding the enemy. Manning could face a life sentence.

Schools in North Andover (ph), Massachusetts, are doing their part to raise obesity but how they're doing it is making some parents rather angry. One fourth-grader who received a so-called "fat letter" says he isn't phased.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAM WATSON, STUDENT: I know I'm not obese, so I didn't really care about the letter. I just crumpled it up.

MATT WATSON, FATHER: No one wants to get a letter being told they're obese, that's a very strong, uncomfortable word and, you know, we just didn't see it fitting with our son who is very active. He's very strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: His mother, a Selectwoman in North Andover is working with state representatives to stop the so-called fat letters.

O'BRIEN: I would think as a parent of four kids that that would not be helpful.

BERMAN: They do the tests in the school including, you know, body mass index, you know, height, weight, and they extend the result home. Which is what they do, and the parents read it as a fat letter.

O'BRIEN: No, I get it. But if you're some little boy who's going to shoot up about two feet in the next two years, I don't think that's helpful. If the goal is to make kids thinner or more healthy, that is a bad strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It depends on the wording of the letter. Just having the information about someone's body mass index should matter.

BERMAN: Right and if the school is taking tests on my kids, I would like to know the results of the tests.

O'BRIEN: Yes. In a way that's helpful. It's not enough to know that you failed math, you have to figure out where your weaknesses are. it's not enough to know your BMI is 92, you need to figure out --

BERMAN: What do you do otherwise?

O'BRIEN: What are you going to do with the information?

BERMAN: It's up to you as a parent.

O'BRIEN: Are you arguing parenting with me? That's it! Got to take a break.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, if you love that free unlimited music on Pandora, I have some news for you. The streaming service is making some big changes. We'll tell you what's happening there.

And Olympic gymnast and international sensation McKayla Maroney is going to join us. She'll tell us about her future coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN:

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. Some stories we're following at this hou: the late General Norman Schwarzkopf, Stormin' Norman, he will be laid to rest today at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, his alma mater. He became a household name after the first Gulf War. Schwarzkopf died December, 27 from pneumonia complications. He was 78 years old.

How about a honeymoon on Mars? Multimillionaire space tourist Dennis Tito wants to send a couple, preferably a married U.S. couple, to Mars and back in 2018.

O'BRIEN: I could do that.

BERMAN: That seems awfully soon. Tito is the first space tourist visiting the International Spacestation aboard a Russian rocket in 2001 at a reported cost of $20 million.

O'BRIEN: Would you do that?

BERMAN: No. What are you asking?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I've been fighting with him all morning. I don't want to marry him.

BERMAN: That would be weird.

O'BRIEN: No, I meant my husband. Would you take your wife?

BERMAN: I would not take your husband. This is all very confusing. I don't think I want to go to Mars anyway, but I have one more story here.

Pandora is going to limit how much free music you can listen to, capping free listening to 40 hours per month.

O'BRIEN: Wow.

BERMAN: Once you hit that limit you can pay 99 cents for unlimited music for the rest of the month. Pandora says it's because of rising royalty costs. It's not much money but I do suspect that anyone who listens to Pandora will have to pay the 99 cents. Forty hours is not that much.

O'BRIEN: Right. Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A buck a month.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to Mars, but not with you.

The vice president says that he cannot believe the country is reliving a civil rights battle from the 1960s. That's what's happening before the Supreme Court. Conservative justices suggest that a key piece of legislation that was born out of the struggle might be unnecessary and unfair today. Here's CNN's justice correspondent Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: While supporters of the Voting Rights Act rallied outside, conservatives on the court were picking the law apart led by Justice Antonin Scalia, he produced audible gasps when he suggested the law's repeated renewal since 1965 might be the perpetuation of racial entitlement. He called it not the type of question you can leave to Congress. Scalia's turn to of phrase galled civil rights advocates. But is it a racial entitlement?

DEBO ADEBGILE, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE: It is a racial entitlement, it is an American entitlement, it's a birthright to cast your right to vote.

JOHNS: The court is hearing a challenge to the portion of the law that gives the federal government the power to pre-approve any voting changes in nine southern states and parts of seven others. A power some see as a violation of states' rights.

BERT REIN, ATTORNEY FOR SHELBU COUNTY ALABAMA: If it wasn't a direct infringement on the sovereign states, that might be an argument. But here we're in a very different situation.

JOHNS: Conservatives on the court also ask why the law allows the federal government to treat states in the south differently from the rest of the country. Chief justice John Roberts asked the Obama administration, "is the government submission that the citizens in the south are more racist than the citizens in the north?" Liberals pushed back. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asking the lawyer for Shelby County, Alabama, which brought the case, why the court might rule in a favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of the law to start with. The county argues things have changed in the south.

FRANK ELLIS, SHELBY COUNTY ATTORNEY: We've made great strides over the years. We have minority participation at record levels. We have minority candidates elected by 90 percent white populations.

JOHNS: Many at the proceeding were already bracing for the very real possibility that part of the law could be ruled unconstitutional.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: We stand challenged in this court to do the right thing. I hope it does. But if it does not, we will not go back. We've come too far. Marched too much, bled too profusely. We will not go back.

JOHNS (on camera): Among the civil rights leaders at the court on Wednesday Congressman John Lewis who was beaten in Selma, Alabama in 1965 in a march for voting rights.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next, she landed a vault that will go down in Olympic history, helped her team win the gold, U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney is here, find out just how impressed she is with her new job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney became an Internet sensation after her not impressed face went viral. And that face photographed on the medal podium giving a brief look of disappointment after she won a silver medal in the vaults. But her real claim to fame is helping the women's gymnastics team win the gold at last summer Olympic games.

Now Maroney is catapulting into a new field acting. She appears in the CW TV show called "Heart of Dixie" and here's how she does.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looks like you two are going steady. Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No Rose, I do not even want to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it's Rose's fault you're on a date with her man?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look if I break his heart now, we might lose. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're smart you went to college for like ever, if you want to end it, you could figure out how.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Burn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go, Tanya, I lost my appetite.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: FYI, Cougar is not a good look on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Ooh. Ow. Cougar is not --

MCKAYLA MARONEY, U.S. WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS OLYMPIC TEAM: Do you like the accent?

O'BRIEN: I like the country accent. It's very convincing.

MARONEY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Cougar is not a good look on you. Tell me how you got into acting originally. Have you always been interested?

MARONEY: As a young child I always wanted to do it, I did plays when I was younger and I've taken a couple of acting classes and I -- it's the same feeling I get when I do gymnastics. I just love it and it's something that I've always wanted to start doing.

O'BRIEN: You had some injuries, in the Olympics you had injuries.

MARONEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And then after that. Tell me a little bit about that.

MARONEY: I've had three surgeries and I never had, you know, a crazy injury like that and so it was definitely a big shock but I'm healing up now and I feel so much better and I'm already back in the gym and I'm shooting for the next Olympics.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Because you fractured your tibia I read after the --

MARONEY: Yes I fractured my tibia and fibula (ph) and got a couple screws in there but they're out now so.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Wow so were you able to do some acting while you were recovering from your injury?

MARONEY: Yes that's what I did and when I couldn't do any gymnastics.

O'BRIEN: She doesn't just lay in bed.

MARONEY: Got to work.

O'BRIEN: Wow so tell me a little bit about what you -- what your goals are and your plans. You were telling us earlier in the commercial break that you have kind of set out this bucket list of stuff that you wanted to do and really pretty much have ticked through it all at age 17?

MARONEY: Yes I mean, my whole life I wanted to go to the Olympics that was my one and only dream that I've worked for since I was two years old to accomplish that. And I'm living a dream right now, to be here and doing so many fun things it's awesome. And now I'm actually working with 7up 10 on their new 10 calorie soda.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: With that hold up at test level there we go.

MARONEY: Yes so 7up, everybody it's so good, it's help -- like a better choice you know for its ten calories. I'm a gymnast trying to get back into shape, so my coach approves.

O'BRIEN: So tell me a little bit about what your goals are acting wise, I mean, you know do you look the Oscars were just done, do you look at someone like Jennifer Lawrence.

MARONEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And say I want to be in a dress like that.

MARONEY: I love her. Well, you know I fell at the Olympics, so she can fall at the Oscars. I think she's such a special girl and I love her personality she's so real. And I really do look up to her and I -- I just want to win an Oscar one day so --

O'BRIEN: Oh you're so refreshing. Most people just say they are happy to be nominated but I like a girl who says like forget that, I want to win.

MARONEY: I guess it's the Olympic mindset.

O'BRIEN: It's a good mindset. It's a good mindset.

RYAN LIZZA: So your character on the show seems to stem from the facial expression that you're famous for.

MARONEY: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: So do you feel like that's going to be the only character that you ever get to play?

MARONEY: Definitely not. I hope not. But I mean, I'm pretty good at playing it, I guess.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Can I ask you, you know, you've committed to going to another Olympics.

MARONEY: Yes.

BERMAN: That's unusual at this point for some gymnasts, usually it's a one and done. It's seem like an awful lot of work for you to get back.

MARONEY: Yes I mean, just from not doing it for a little while, I missed it a lot and it's something that I love. And I'm only 17 and I'm -- why not go again, why not go try to go get another gold medal and help my country do that. So it was the most amazing time for -- for me ever to work so hard for something and to accomplish it. And I didn't get the gold medal on vault, so that's going to be my next thing that I want.

MATT MILLER: Do you go to school as part of all this, too, and --

MARONEY: I went to school all through eighth grade and now I have a tutor, so she follows me around that's awesome so --

O'BRIEN: So what ends up happening in terms of the stuff that you've done since the Olympics, in addition to acting, you've had some great experiences? I remember the day you guys came, all five of you, the fierce five came in.

MARONEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Remember they were -- you were in fact, everybody was exhausted because they had done the Empire State building.

MARONEY: We were just running around.

O'BRIEN: So what's -- so what's been the best experiences that you've had outside of, like, winning the gold medal and the silver medal, too?

MARONEY: Yes. Well, immediately after the Olympics we didn't stop and we had a three-month tour, so that was amazing to be able to have, like, a show for our fans because that's when I got inspired to, you know, I was, like, wow, this is amazing, I'm watching Olympians right in front of me. So I knew it was a very special moment for me as a kid so I was very excited to do that.

We got to go to the VMA and we just did the Holly game awards.

O'BRIEN: You did the Miss America. You were a judge.

MARONEY: Yes, a judge at Miss America, that was definitely different.

O'BRIEN: God, she's 17. She's ticked off everything. That's awesome.

BERMAN: Pace yourself.

MARONEY: I got to slow down. It was so much fun because I'm not used to being -- I'm used to being judged and not judging. It was different and it was a lot of fun. Those girls I love, you know, how passionate they are about what they want to do and they just want to make a difference in the world so I love that.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Well, it is so great to hang out and talk to you. Congratulations on the acting. MARONEY: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: And of course, we'll be rooting for you again in the Olympics next time around. McKayla Maroney.

MARONEY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a short break. "End Point" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point". Let's let Ryan Lizza begin today.

LIZZA: Well, now that we know who this -- the person is who wrote the e-mail to Bob Woodward I think it adds some clarity to the whole issue.

O'BRIEN: Who is it? And what is --

LIZZA: Gene Sperling who is the top economic advisor to the President. Look, Gene Sperling has been in the Obama Administration since the first day. He was in the Clinton Administration, I believe, for almost all eight years. He's known Bob Woodward for a really, really long time.

O'BRIEN: Like two decades.

LIZZA: So these are two people at the top of their professions battling it out over a public issue. Frankly I don't see the e-mail as anything that we should all be shocked or super-concerned about it. I mean, every one of us can produce an e-mail from a White House, it doesn't matter of which party, that is far more ominous than what Woodward got.

O'BRIEN: What do you think about it.?

MILLER: I think the bigger picture is not just -- the Woodward thing is fun to talk about for a couple of days but we're on the verge of what I think of as this permanently -- the kind of a perfectly dysfunctional political equilibrium with the sequester that may perpetuate itself indefinitely.

We've got this happening now. We've got the budget stuff at the end of March where the government may run out of funding. You've got the debt limit again coming back in May or June. So, this is going to stretch on for months in this kind of dysfunction that's insane.

O'BRIEN: And, of course, we've been talking about the Pope. We have ten seconds before we get to our next show.

MSGR. RICK HILGARTNER, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: I hope the papal conclave doesn't last that long but with Senator Kerry there meeting with Syrian opposition in Rome, it really seems like all roads lead to Rome today.

O'BRIEN: We're watching it. Watching it.

All right. Thanks guys. I appreciate it.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.