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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Republican Senator Rob Portman Favors of Gay Marriage; Another Carnival Cruise Ship Malfunctions; Interview with Jack Hickey;

Aired March 15, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Happy Friday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Soledad is off today.

BERMAN: Hello, there.

BALDWIN: Hello!

BERMAN: Our STARTING POINT today is a CNN exclusive. Conservative Ohio senator, Rob Portman makes a stunning reversal on gay marriage, and he's talking to only our Dana Bash.

BALDWIN: And then, not just one, but two Carnival cruise ships in trouble this morning. Folks, this is the fourth time the company has had problems in a month. This morning, we're asking, are the ships safe?

Also, a developing story, a suspect in that deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi from last September, this morning, behind bars. Could we finally learn more about what sparked the violence that killed four Americans?

BERMAN: And a disturbing video of a four-year-old attacked by a dog in a terrifying moment all caught on camera.

ROMANS: Plus, it's now a 10-day winning streak for the Dow. It's not just markets seeing a boost, it's turning more Americans into millionaires.

BERMAN: It is Friday, March 15th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

And our STARTING POINT this morning is a CNN exclusive. The gay marriage movement getting an unexpected lift from a most unlikely backer, one of the leading conservative voices on Capitol Hill. Republican senator, Rob Portman of Ohio, is reversing his position on the issue after his son revealed that he is gay.

BALDWIN: CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash landing this exclusive TV interview with the senator. She joins us live from Washington this morning. Dana bash, a lot of questions for you. Dana Bash, let's just begin with the fact that this wasn't easy for the senator, I imagine. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was not. I can tell you that for sure it was not easy. But this kind of thing happens all over America all the time. Even in conservative homes. Sons and daughters come to their parents and reveal that they're gay. The difference here, of course, is that this father is a U.S. senator with a megaphone and a vote to try to give his gay son more rights. He invited us into his office yesterday to tell us this dramatic news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: You probably recognize Ohio Senator Rob Portman from his tireless campaigning for Mitt Romney. Even on Romney's short list for vice president. He's been a leading Republican voice on the economy for four decades.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) OHIO: We need to spur economic growth and create more jobs.

BASH: Now the prominent conservative from Ohio will be known for something else, changing his hardline position against gay marriage, which he revealed to CNN, and the very personal reason behind his reversal.

PORTMAN: I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about. And it has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and the stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son who is gay.

BASH: That unexpected revelation came from Portman's 21-year-old son Will two years ago.

PORTMAN: My son came to Jane, my wife and I, told us that he was gay. And that it was not a choice. And that, you know, he -- that's just part of who he is and he's been that way ever since he could remember.

BASH: What was your reaction when he told you?

PORTMAN: Love. Support, you know, 110 percent.

BASH: Surprised?

PORTMAN: Surprise, yes.

BASH: You had no idea?

PORTMAN: No idea. Yes. And, you know, again that launched a process of rethinking the issue.

BASH: Until now, all this was secret to most, but not everyone. You were vetted to be a vice presidential candidate. Did you tell Mitt Romney that your son was gay?

PORTMAN: Yes, of course. BASH: And how did he react?

PORTMAN: I told Mitt Romney everything. That process is intrusive, would be one way to put it. But no, yes, I told him everything.

BASH: You think that was a deal breaker?

PORTMAN: No. No. I really don't.

BASH: How can you be sure?

PORTMAN: Well, because, you know, they told me.

BASH: Portman was never outspoken on gay marriage, but he consistently voted against it, supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act, and a bill prohibiting gay couples in Washington, D.C. from adopting children.

What do you say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says I'm so glad that he changed his position but why did it take him learning that he has a gay son? Why didn't he as my representative care about my rights before that?

PORTMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, I've had a change of heart based on a personal experience. That's certainly true. I'm on the budget committee, the finance committee for reasons. Those have always been my primary issues and my focus. So, now it's different. You know, I hadn't expected to be in this position. But I do think, you know, having spent a lot of time thinking about it, and working through this issue personally, that, you know, this is where I am for reasons that are consistent with my political philosophy, including family values, including being a conservative who believes the family is a building block of society. I'm comfortable there.

BASH: You know, a cynic might look at this and say, he's a politician. Why is he doing this now, when he found out two years ago?

PORTMAN: Well, two things. One is I'm comfortable with the position. And it took me awhile to, you know, to rethink things and to get to this decision.

BASH: The second reason, the Supreme Court. Which will soon hear a pair of gay marriage cases, and Portman expected that to generate some questions about his position.

PORTMAN: And I thought it was the right time to let folks know where I stand so there was no confusion so I would be clear about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: I asked senator Portman whether he is going to go beyond this public announcement and actually become an activist lobbying his Republican colleagues to support gay marriage, too. He said probably not. He'll probably stick with the economic issues that drove him into public office. But, Brooke and John, he also said that he may not have to say much more than he has. At least to make his conservative colleagues think twice about their opposition to gay marriage.

BERMAN: This was so interesting. Rob Portman is a senator, really one of the best on his feet in the entire Congress. But he looked a little uncomfortable there, even nervous talking about it, and I understand he has spoken to many people over the last two years, sort of helping him through this evolution, including Dick Cheney?

BASH: He did. Dick Cheney, of course, famously has a gay daughter. He was the highest ranking Republican ever to have a gay child. And, the two of them have been friends for a long time. And I asked him about that. He said not only did they speak he went to go see Dick Cheney, talk to him, ask him for advice, and Cheney's advice was follow your heart. He said that's exactly what he's doing.

BALDWIN: We talked a lot recently about the evolution of different members of Congress, and also recently Bill Clinton on a different, you know, when do you ever have a former president asking the Supreme Court to overturn something you signed being DOMA, and he cited the interview how Chelsea Clinton and her gay friends helped him evolve in his stance. And here you have Senator Portman with his son who you mention two years ago came out so this is really personal for a lot of these politicians.

BASH: It is. It just is a reminder that politicians are people, too. But also the fact that, you know, that society obviously is evolving. And frankly, in the past couple of years, it sort of happened in warp speed, obviously people in the gay community think that they have a lot of work to do, still. But the fact that you have somebody like rob Portman, who you mentioned he's a little uncomfortable. He was. He -- not with talking about how proud he is of his son but just talking about such a personal issue. He is a Midwestern guy with Midwestern sensibilities, and the idea of talking about anybody's sexuality, never mind his son's, in public, was something that was very odd for him and you could tell. He's very press savvy and he was -- he was nervous, understandably so.

BALDWIN: Dana Bash, great interview. We thank you so much. We'll talk a little bit more about it at the top of the next hour.

BERMAN: Great interview.

Seven minutes after the hour. Our other top story this morning, not one, but two Carnival cruise ships having trouble this morning. Can you believe it? At this hour the carnival Legend is experiencing propulsion problems in the Caribbean and cannot operate at full speed.

BALDWIN: And the carnival Dream is stranded at port, this is in St. Maarten, with generator problems there. Those passengers are waiting to be flown home. Cristina Puig live in Miami with the developments there. Cristina, good morning.

CHRISTINA PUIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brooke. That's right. Delta chartered flights are scheduled to begin flying out of St. Maarten with 4,300 of those passengers on an hourly basis. One of the first flights scheduled to land in Orlando around 10:00 a.m. And, as you might imagine, many of those passengers are just anxious to get home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PUIG: For some passengers, it was a cruise that didn't live up to their dream. And to some of us their plants sounded a note of deja vu clogged toilets, interruptions to elevator service, power outages. It was the same cruise line, Carnival, but a different ship than the one that left passengers at tea for several days with no air conditioning, and unsanitary living conditions. But the problems on the cruise liner Dream were nowhere near as nightmarish as those aboard the Triumph just a month ago.

KRIS ANDERSON, CARNIVAL DREAM PASSENGER: Our toilets weren't working and the water rose up, like you would at home, if the toilet was clogged. The water would start to rise up to the top of the bowl.

PUIG: The carnival says the Dream got stuck in port in St. Maarten's when the backup emergency generator malfunctioned during a routine inspection. The company issued a statement saying at no time did the ship lose power and the ship's propulsion systems and primary power source was not impacted. The statement also said all guests are safe and comfortable with only periodic interruptions to elevators and rest room services for a few hours.

ANDERSON: They thought it was something minor, ended up being something more complicated, which is why we're still here. As far as the power outages go, I mean, I didn't notice at first.

PUIG: The latest aborted voyage comes on the heels of the debacle involving carnival's Triumph cruise liner that spent five days adrift at sea. Attracting worldwide attention as passengers posted picture after picture of the unsanitary and altogether unpleasant conditions on the ship.

CHRISTOPHER MULLER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: This is a management problem. They're doing something wrong with preventive maintenance. Carnival has so many working ships that to say that the fleet is in distress is maybe a little bit broad. But clearly something is not working right.

PUIG: Ironically, just one day before Dream's problems, carnival had announced it was conducting a comprehensive review of its entire fleet. The cruise line was quick to offer its Dream guests a refund for the three days the cruise was cut short, and 50 percent off a future cruise.

Now this makes four ships altogether that have had problems in the last month. As we mentioned the Legend and the Dream on Wednesday, and on Saturday, Elation apparently had some steering problems. And of course we all remember the Triumph watching it be towed back into mobile, Alabama, after those passengers were stranded at sea for five days.

Now Carnival's CEO Gary Cahill said yesterday that they do have comprehensive programs in place to inspect all of their flights, which consist of 23 ships. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Christina Puig, thank you. As you point out, at least it's stuck in St. Maarten.

BERMAN: I guess it's not the worst place to be stuck in. But four ships, that sure seems like a lot in a month. The question is, what is going on with these Carnival vessels? We're going to be joined by maritime lawyer Jack Hickey for his perspective on all these cases.

BALDWIN: Now a Jumbo-tron collapses at a popular festival? Christine Romans has that and the rest of the top stories. What?

ROMANS: This happened during preparations for the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Two people in critical condition this morning after that Jumbo-tron fell on top of workers trying to hoist it. In all four people were hurt. The festival is still scheduled to go on this afternoon. But part of the park will be closed as investigators look into exactly what went wrong there.

Developing this morning, sources tell CNN a man suspected of being involved in the September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi is now being held in Libya. The FBI has reportedly interviewed the suspect in the presence of Libyan authorities. We're told the suspect's name is Faraj al Shibli. He was detained within the past two days and had recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.

President Obama says Iran is more than a year away from developing a nuclear weapon but that doesn't mean he's going to let it happen. In an interview with Israeli television the president downplayed differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran's nuclear program. Obama will meet with Netanyahu next week during his first visit to Israel since becoming president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're going to be doing is continue to engage internationally with Iran, understanding that we've set up the toughest sanctions ever. It's having a significant effect. If we can resolve it diplomatically, that's a more lasting solution. But if not, I continue to keep all options on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Meantime the Pentagon says an Iranian fighter jet targeted an unarmed U.S. predator drone over the Persian Gulf this week.

All right, intense moments in a Senate debate on a possible assault weapons ban. California Senator Dianne Feinstein taking on Texas Republican Ted Cruz after he lectures her about the constitution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: It seems to me that all of you should begin as our foundational document with the constitution. SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: I'm not a sixth grader. Senator I've been on this committee for 20 years. If you want to lecture me on the constitution, I appreciate it. Just know I've been here for a long time. I come from a different place than you do. I respect your views. I ask you to respect my views.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Senator Feinstein later appeared on "THE SITUATION ROOM " to discuss the situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINSTEIN: Well, I just felt patronized. I felt he was somewhat arrogant about it. And you know, when you've come from where I've come from and what you've seen, and when you found a dead body and your put your finger in bullet holes you really impact the realize of weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A reputation for feisty behavior in committee hearings says no one doubts Senator Feinstein's sincerity or her passion.

You're looking live inside the Vatican where Pope Francis is meeting with the full College of Cardinals including those who were too old to take part in the conclave. The Pope offered a message of encouragement to his spiritual brothers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE FRANCIS: In these days we have noticed the effect and solidarity of the universal church, and also the interests of so many people who may not share our faith. Nonetheless, they respect it and admire the church and the Holy See.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The event included a misstep, literally. Pope Francis stumbled as he walked down steps to thank the dean of the college of cardinals, cardinal Angelo Sodano. The pontiff quickly recovered though.

BALDWIN: That was a great --

BERMAN: I've done that like 10 billion times.

ROMANS: Last night the papal apartment was unsealed after Francis celebrated a mass at the Sistine chapel. There you go.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Every step, every step is being watched these days as he begins his first days as pope.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you. Ahead on STARTING POINT, the Triumph and the Dream, Carnival Cruise facing a nightmare. So how liable is the company for all the growing troubles on these ships?

BALDWIN: We're going to talk about that. Also a tenth record day for the Dow with the blue chip index soaring today. Should you start buying or selling? We'll ask. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Back to one of our top stories now. Two Carnival Cruise ships having technical problems this morning.

BALDWIN: Let's be clear, this is nothing like the troubles the Carnival Triumph suffered last month after it lost power and had to be towed back to port with passengers enduring nightmarish conditions. With me from Miami, maritime lawyer Jack Hickey who specializes in cruise lines' liability.

Jack, my goodness, neither of these are quite as worse as you know that ship that sort of limped into port right, I was down in Mobile, it was pretty tough talking to those passengers. But bottom line, what does this do to Carnival's image? Can they recover?

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME LAWYER: Well, you know, those are really two different questions. I think, can they recover in regard to the Dream. I think the answer is no. I said something different in regard to the Carnival Triumph, because you have to have two things under the ticket. You have to have negligence. Plus you have to have either physical injury, or an exposure to actual physical injury. So we don't really, with regard to the Dream, it's really not the exposure to the actual physical injury like we saw on the Triumph. The Triumph, the people were exposed to days and days of raw sewage in the hallways, et cetera. Here we have horrible conditions. Here we do have the suction toilets backing up, once again, but apparently not over the entire ship.

BERMAN: This has got to be getting pretty expensive for Carnival, though. Flying all the people home from St. Maarten.

BALDWIN: Compensation packages.

BERMAN: They're canceling the next cruise on this vessel, they've got to reimburse all those people. At what point does it become a real dollars and cents problem?

HUCKEY: Right. Now that's a very interesting thing. What's happening here is because this contrast this with the Triumph. Isn't this what they should have done with regard to the Triumph? They could have gotten everybody off from the Triumph, they could have gotten everybody off in Cozumel or Progreso, Mexico and flown them back. But they took a risk and said we'll have everybody stay on, save some money flying them back. We'll have everybody stay on and then they realized, whoa, everybody's covering this. I mean, frankly, I think that's what happens. And so, yes, I think you have to contrast this whole situation. Because it really is comparable, isn't it? I mean, you have -- you have generator failure here, and industry insiders have told me that so much of it has to do with poor maintenance procedures. BALDWIN: But, Jack, despite the pictures, despite the stories, you talk to people who are cruisers and they cruise no matter what's happening. It seems like, the industry is pretty resilient.

HICKEY: The industry is pretty resilient. I'm not -- you know, I'm not here to say it's a bad product. It can be a very good product. And it could be -- and it can be a good value. You know, for the money. But it's just that there's such a lack of transparency here throughout the industry in regard to, okay, what's really wrong. I mean, really, Carnival has not come out and said much about the Triumph, have they? Vut you're right that the industry is pretty resilient. I think people are still going to cruise. Although, we are getting a lot of inquiries and we're seeing on the internet a lot of people saying, look, you know, I wanted to cancel my next Carnival cruise and they won't give me back my money, et cetera. So there is some, at least, immediate fallout with regard to Carnival.

BERMAN: All right, Jack Hickey a maritime lawyer. Suddenly a very busy, busy man. Our thanks to you.

BALDWIN: Thanks, Jack.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the Dow on a roll. Not only setting records, it is turning people, as John Berman wishes himself, into millionaires. Christine Romans explains next, 22 minutes past the hour on a Friday, you're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning, again, I'm Christine Romans, watching your money. On Wall Street this morning, history in the making. The Dow at a record high. Today could be maybe the 11th straight win. That's quite a stretch of wins. Futures indicate a lower open but only by about two points so it remains to be seen. A gain today will mark the Dow's best rally in 21 years. That's right. 21 years. It isn't just the Dow.

The S&P 500 is within two points of its record high. That rally so good right now that new millionaires are being minted every single day. Spectrum group, it's a wealth research firm, it says there are now 8.9 million households with net worth over 1 million in this country. That's pretty close to a record high.

So what's the secret? They buy stock, they stayed in the market during the recession, when less wealthy investors bailed or people quite frankly who couldn't afford to be in the market. Also housing is recovering and that helps the wealthy because they tend to own more property.

A scathing Senate report blaming JPMorgan Chase for ignoring signs that led to a nearly $6 billion trading loss. The Senate conducted a nine-month investigation of the so-called London whale. That's a bad trade that led to huge losses for JPMorgan. Report said JPMorgan ignored limits on risk taking, dodged oversight and misinformed the public. Lawmakers also blame regulators for missing warning signs. As for JPMorgan, it says its senior management acted in good faith. JPMorgan says it never had any intent to mislead anyone.

One thing so interesting about this whole story is after what happened during the financial crisis many people were saying how could you have a $6 billion loss at a bank? At a smaller bank or a different kind of loss, maybe that could have really been a problem for a big bank. It wasn't for JPMorgan, they absorbed the loss. But it could happen again is what made so many people very, very unhappy. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon by many is considered the smartest banker in America.

BERMAN: JPMorgan executives are going to be up on Capitol Hill. They will get an earful from politicians. 28 minutes after the hour.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, 18 days on the stand. Jodi Arias finally is done testifying. We're going to be joined by famed attorney Jose Baez. The criminal defense attorney who worked for Casey Anthony. He will join us and tell us what happens next.

BALDWIN: Also ahead a terrifying moment caught on camera. This little girl attacked by a dog, those details coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: The event included a misstep, literally. Pope Francis stumbled as he walked down steps to thank the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The pontiff quickly recovered.