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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Dinner And A Motive; A Dinner Conversation; Lunch With Representatives Van Hollen And Ryan; Strong Storm Slams Northeast; Hit And Run Suspect Arrested; Christian Mingle Rape Suspect; Giffords Returns To Shooting Scene; "Battle Axes, Machetes" Should Be OK; Sharks Storm Florida Coastline; Teacher Sinks Half Court Shot

Aired March 7, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The menu included some serious talk about spending and taxes and the White House is hoping that it could lead to better bipartisan cooperation.

Let's get right to CNN's Dan Lothian. He is at the White House for us this morning. You know, I think this is the kind of thing that has the potential to be a train wreck. But most accounts seem to say that it was productive.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think there was a real positive tone coming out of that dinner. The president, according to White House officials, enjoyed the dinner, said that there was a good exchange of ideas.

They touched on a number of issues from the debt and deficit to entitlement and tax reform so again, an optimistic tone. According to some of those senators talking to CNN, they said that the conversation was very real. While everyone was respectful, nobody was holding back punches.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): It was a dinner date with Republicans, and President Obama picked up the tab. Blocks from the White House at the Swanky Jefferson Hotel, food and fiscal challenges, and an effort to find compromise less than a week after across-the-board cuts kicked in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did the meeting go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just fine.

LOTHIAN: Twelve Republican senators invited by the president broke bread for more than two hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the tone in there like?

SENATOR JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Very positive, encouraging, candid, focused on how do we come together? Compromise is necessary and it's possible. The issue is how do we get there?

LOTHIAN: President Obama has stepped up his outreach to Republicans in recent days. A series of phone calls, this dinner and planned trips to Capitol Hill next week, engaging in a way his critics say he failed to do in his first term.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Ultimately the way we're going to get stuff done, personal relationships are important and obviously I can always do a better job.

LOTHIAN: The dinner didn't result in any major agreements, but it was viewed as a positive step in the right direction.

HOEVEN: That's why these kinds of dialogues are so important and there needs to be more of them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, CNN has confirmed that President Obama has invited Representative Paul Ryan, of course, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, here to the White House for lunch today along with a top Democrat. This is yet another sign of a significant shift by this White House in strategy as the president reaches out to Republicans in a bigger way -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian joining us this morning. Thank you, Dan, for the update. Let's get right to Republican senator from Indiana, Dan Coats. He was at that dinner last night. It's nice to have you with us, sir. So how did that dinner go?

SENATOR DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: It was a cordial dinner, but it was a serious dinner. We talked about the subjects we should talk about, the debt and deficit and plunged into more and more debt through out of control government spending. I was glad the president took the opportunity to talk to us personally.

I've been talking to him a lot from the Senate floor. I'm not sure he's listening on CNN and C-Span. It was nice to be across the table from him and be able to express exactly my deep concerns about how we fix this fiscal mess.

O'BRIEN: So then if you're talking debt and deficit, fiscal mess, that sounds like it could be a very uncomfortable kind of dinner. How would you describe the back and forth with the president? Was he accepting of some of the proposals? Was it that specific? I mean, did it get contentious?

COATS: It did not get contentious, but it was serious and we had, I think, a very adult discussion. Instead of being on the campaign trail, the president trying to make his point, we were working together and talking together about the real essence of our problem and how we can get this thing turned from this never-ending short-term fix fiscal cliff stuff into a long-term solution to our fiscal problem. I was pleased that it was that substantive.

O'BRIEN: Senator, hold on one second. I want to turn to my panel for a moment. I'm trying to decide if I like this idea of the negotiation and progress. As the senator described, right, listen, I've been talking to him from the Senate floor meaning the president, and that doesn't seem to be particularly effective. So is it better that you have these sorts of small dinners or should Congress actually work in Congress where they belong?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: I think that this is exactly the way Washington should work. You know, this is the way it used to work in the old days. I mean -- the old days like even 20 years ago. No, no, no. I mean, even when President Clinton would do this. President Clinton would have members of the opposition party over for dinner.

You know, President Obama has admitted that this is something he's actually not that good at, but I mean, it's like this person-to-person thing. The president is still the most important person of the world, the leader of the free world. When you invite members of Congress over, they're charmed.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question of how useful this is depends on how much back and forth there was. The accusation of Republicans has been that when the president addresses the house caucus or whatever situation of Republicans it comes across as lecturing. Informing them about his ideas so hutch listening was done.

O'BRIEN: So do you think that's a fair criticism? Would you say that the president did a lot of listening? Because it's true, I think a criticism of him is that he does a lot of the talking part and not much of the listening part.

COATS: This was just the opposite of what we've seen. Us on our platform trying to get a message to him and him on his platform a lot of times campaigning outside of Washington. This was very substantive. He did listen. It was a very serious discussion and I hope that it leads to action. You know, talk is one thing.

O'BRIEN: Please tell me about it, I know. That's all we do. We talk about the talk. Senator, you don't even need to finish that sentence, sir, I know where you're going. Next up is lunch, Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen will be coming together. I was trying to read into it like lunch, does not mean that's more important or less important?

CAIN: Well, obviously less. You do the lunch date when you're not so serious.

O'BRIEN: I used to pick lunch when I didn't want to spend a lot of time with people. Senator, in all seriousness, what do you think happens in those conversations when you have Chris Van Hollen and Paul Ryan at the table face to face? Where do you see that going?

COATS: Well, those are two key figures that are going to have to bring back to their caucuses details of where we need to go. But I think the president's reaching out now, maybe it's a consequence of "The Sequester," all the over hype about this is going to be doom's day for America has not worked.

And I think getting back now to the individual, let's talk about this. Let's get serious and let's do it in a way that we can -- obviously we have to come together in the end to produce something, as the president said.

But his reaching out, I think we ought to accept it for what it was and we ought to be thankful that we've had this opportunity and that the president is doing this. As I said, it's got to lead to action. It can't just be talk because the situation we're dealing with is very serious.

O'BRIEN: Well, I'm not a politician but I'm a voter, so God, yes, please, let's get it altogether. Thank you, Senator Coats. It's always nice to have you with us. We appreciate your time this morning. How many times have you said, yes, let's do lunch.

BERMAN: I'm trying to figure out if we ever had lunch.

O'BRIEN: Trust me, if we're having lunch it's because I don't want to have dinner with you. Wait, let me get to an update on the top stories. What you got, John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That winter storm we're talking about, that monster storm that's dumped heavy wet snow and created serious problems on the roads and in the air is still hovering over the east coast and may stay here a while.

There's a state of emergency declared in Virginia where some parts saw 20 inches of snow. Mass power outages were reported, 1,600 flights canceled. Now there are coastal flood warnings in effect for parts of New England as well as areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.

Karen Maginnis is live at the Weather Center for what is in store today. A lot more, correct, Karen?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it is. We've got coastal flooding. As a matter of fact, yesterday we had an attorney from Long Island Beach, he sent us this is I-Report. Take a look at what he saw. Now this is before the big waves have occurred. We're looking at high tide this morning. Some have already occurred.

Some this afternoon and they could be even higher coming up for tomorrow. This is from our I-Reporter Ben Von Klemper. He said that even during this nor'easter, they can be as bad, and sometimes worse than some of the hurricanes. This beach was closed during Superstorm Sandy for weeks.

But still some snow for New York, 2 to 4 inches possible over the next 24 hours and then for Boston, wind gusts maybe as high as 50 miles per hour. Here are some of the wind gusts being reported right now. There's been some discussion about whether this was in fact a nor'easter.

It was kind of a hybrid, maybe an atypical nor'easter because it didn't really hug the coast. It's kind of moved out, but none the least those winds coming out of the northeast gusting, so wave generated heights could produce some beach erosion -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Karen Maginnis, our thanks to you. It's 38 minutes after the hour. The man wanted in New York City for a deadly hit and run crash has turned himself in. He is due in court this morning. The accident claimed the lives of a Brooklyn couple and their newborn son.

The 44-year-old Julio Acevedo surrendered to authorities in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Wednesday. This week, Acevedo told reporters he was trying to escape from someone who was shooting at him moments before the fatal crash.

Bail is now set at $1 million for the California man accused of sexually assaulting women that he met on the dating web sites Christian mingle and match.com. A third woman has come forth saying suspect, Shawn Patrick Banks, was in contact with her on Christian Mingle.

She claims that Banks made threatening calls after he was arrested, warning her not to talk to police. Banks remains behind bars this morning.

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords makes her first public appearance at the site in Tucson where she was shot back in 2011. The former Arizona congresswoman repeating a call for universal background checks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, FORMER ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN: Be bold, be courageous, please support background checks. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Giffords, along with husband Mark Kelly, survivors and victims' families gathered outside the Tucson Safeway where Jared Lee Loughner opened fire killing six people and wounding 13 others. Loughner is sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The former head of the Transportation Security Agency, Kip Holly, saying he supports a new policy allowing small knives on planes, but says it actually doesn't go far enough. He says, quote, "They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy."

He says, battle axes, machetes, bring anything that you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It's as simple as that.

Holly insists the search for knives at security checkpoints actually slows down the search for objects that can cause major harm like explosives.

O'BRIEN: Yes, people are mad about that.

BERMAN: Well, I don't know that I want machetes on airplanes.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I feel like the machete thing is a good line. BERMAN: Battle axes also.

O'BRIEN: Yes, even small knives. You have to take off your shoes --

SOCARIDES: Why don't they change that rule?

O'BRIEN: I don't know.

SOCARIDES: There's no explanation.

O'BRIEN: No, none.

SOCARIDES: Sometimes there's just no explanation of the news. Why is that, John Berman?

O'BRIEN: I cannot answer all your questions for you. Sometimes there is just no answer to what happens in the world. I'm sorry, Richard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're a really useful panel today.

SOCARIDES: We've raised such interesting questions this morning.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be a long hour and 20 minutes left in the show.

All right, I want to show you a picture. This is pretty stunning video. An enormous migration of sharks spotted off the coast of Florida. We'll bring Jeff Corwin back to explain what's going on. They made some real progress here. That's in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Take a look at this video. It's amazing aerial footage from off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida. There are literally thousands of sharks there. They're making their yearly migration. The animals have forced a slew of local beaches to close temporarily as the sharks pass through.

Experts say no need to worry, though. Also this week, scientists from the non-profit "O-Search" made history. They tagged the first great white shark on record off the coast of Florida and now they are tracking the 14-foot Lydia.

Wildlife expert, Jeff Corwin is back with us. His brand new interactive e-book is called "Sharks." It's nice to have you back. We certainly appreciate it. So the first-ever great white tagged locally off the coast of Florida.

There's obviously a bigger goal than just the tagging of the shark. They've described it as now we can start working on the puzzle. What's the puzzle you're trying to solve?

JEFF CORWIN, HOST, "OCEAN MYSTERIES" ON ABC: Well, basically trying to unravel the mysteries of these incredible predatory sharks, these amazing great whites. To find out why they would stray and wander into waters that really aren't typical when it comes to the habitat where these sharks live.

Typically when we think of great white sharks we think of colder places like South Africa or California, and it's not typical or usual to see them in places like Florida.

O'BRIEN: So then should people look at these pictures of thousands of sharks in the water and be concerned about their safety?

CORWIN: Well, I don't think so. What's kind of -- I don't know if this -- if you're going to find this comforting or rather unnerving, but when you're in the water in Florida, you're usually never more than 20 to 60 feet away from a shark.

BERMAN: Option B.

CORWIN: Sharks are around us all the time. Feeling a little unnerved there?

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, a lot unnerved actually.

CORWIN: Yes. Well, these animals have occupied our oceans for nearly 400 million years. They're beautifully designed creatures. In fact, when they are functioning as predators, they rarely target people. There's a lot of things that we can do in our own lives to minimize the opportunity for a shark attack. So these animals are moving by the thousands and they are not having any conflict with people.

O'BRIEN: So is the goal then protect the sharks from the people or protect the people from the sharks?

CORWIN: I think a little bit of both. There are things you can do, for example. You don't want to be swimming at night. You don't want to be swimming in adverse weather conditions. You certainly don't want to be in the water when you have tens of thousands of sharks moving from point A to point B.

But the truth is that sharks are in a lot more trouble from us than we are from them. Just this year alone at the wrap-up of 2012, we killed more than 100 million sharks. Today 90 percent of all shark species are in trouble because of the industrialized shark finning industry.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Corwin is the author of "Jeff's Explorer Series on Sharks." Nice to have you, Jeff. Appreciate it.

CORWIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, a follow-up on a story we told you about yesterday. A mother of seven kids has been diagnosed with cancer. The medical bills keep piling up. Remember this shot? We mentioned that they won $20,000 because of this shot. That could ease their burden. We'll join the guy who made the shot and his lovely wife coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Sinking a halftime shot from half court never an easy feat, but Heath Kufahl, a high school boys basketball's coach in Dell City, Oklahoma, did that, took home $20,000 in prize money. It happened during the Thunders/Lakers game, which was on Tuesday night.

We showed this shot yesterday. It turns out there's lots more to the story. They did the cut away, you see his wife who was cheering him on, turns out that his wife, Jenny, has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and since then medical bills have been piling up for the couple.

They have seven kids. So Heath and Jenny join us from Oklahoma City. It's nice to have you both with us because yesterday we were showing the highlight of the shot. I was really interested in knowing more about your family so thank you for talking with us. Seven kids, holy cow, I have four, I thought that was a lot. Seven kids, what's the age range for your family?

JENNI KUFAHL, HUSBAND MADE NBA HALF COURT SHOT FOR $20,000: It's 13 to 3.

O'BRIEN: My gosh, wow, so walk me through -- that's just exhausting thinking about that. Wow, look at that picture. So how did you get tapped to be the guy who would try to make the shot in halftime?

HEATH KUFAHL, MADE NBA HALF-COURT SHOT FOR $20,000: It's pretty random, there's someone at the arena who picks people to do the promotions so I had gone to the game earlier, was late trying to sign up. This time we got a little bit there earlier and were able to get signed up and found out it was couples night, which my wife wasn't too happy about, but that's how we got chosen.

O'BRIEN: So they pick you, you go to center court. The pressure's on, you have to make the shot. You play basketball, you're a coach. Did you feel super confident like I got this nailed or did you feel like maybe there was a lot of pressure?

KUFAHL: You know, we had to do the free-throw thing first and then we got to the half court shot. And you know, I was just really enjoying it. There wasn't a lot of pressure. I did tell the mascot before I shot that I felt like I was going to make it. It was just enjoyable.

O'BRIEN: My favorite moment is watching Jenny's face as watching you make that shot. The cutaway to jenny is hilarious and of course, boom, it's good. Jenny is about to pass out. You guys could use the money, you made $20,000 because you made that shot successfully.

And as we mentioned you've struggled with your health, you're in the middle of your chemo treatments for a rare form of cancer, that $20,000 will come in handy I would imagine. How much did you owe in medical bills?

JENNI KUFAHL: We really don't have an exact number. The Lord has been good in people being generous and helping us with our insurance. For us it's really not even about the money, the money is a blessing, but seeing the Lord work through this whole situation and be faithful to us. And you know he's the one that's getting us through this. O'BRIEN: Congratulations on a great shot, congratulations. I hear that you've had some good news about your health, you've got five more chemo treatments, but the tumors have shrunk a little bit. So you're waiting to hear good news at the end of all that so we're certainly rooting for you and clearly God was on your side on that shot.

HEATH KUFAHL: That's right.

JENNI KUFAHL: That's right. So true.

O'BRIEN: Good luck to you both. We have to take a short break.

Ahead, we'll tell you about Senator Rand Paul. Did you see his 12 plus hour filibuster? It was interesting, it wasn't, sometimes in the filibusters they fill it with gobbledygook, but he was talking specifically about the drone program.

We'll tell you what he had to say, interesting cast of characters on both sides of the aisle that support him on this.

The search for answers after a lion mauls a young woman to death at a big cat sanctuary. Can you work with wild animals safely? Animal expert Jack Hanna will join us at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning the northeast bracing for a big storm. Coastal areas are getting slammed. Look at these pictures, high winds, flooding on the ground with what this major storm is expected to bring today.