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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Portman Reserves Position on Gay Marriage; Carnival Conundrum; Interview With Newt Gingrich

Aired March 15, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know. We'll talk with the show creator, Rob Thomas live this morning about this record-breaking -- I'm talking millions -- in terms of the kick starter campaign to get this film made.

It is Friday, March 15th -- I'm just joshing with you -- and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is great to see you. We have a great team here. We'll talk about all things.

Ron Meyer, conservative analyst, former spokesperson for Young America's Foundation. He's also exploring a 2014 congressional run. He is here.

As is Richard Socarides, former senior adviser to President Clinton and now a writer for NewYorker.com.

Our STARTING POINT today is really a shocking new ally for the gay marriage. It is a CNN exclusive. Ohio's Republican Senator Rob Portman, leading conservative voices in America, is reversing his position on same-sex marriage after learning that his own son is gay.

BALDWIN: What an interview.

CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, landing this exclusive with Senator Portman, joins us live this morning from Washington.

Dana, you know, excellent back and forth. Tell us about it.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it was very hard for him it was very clear. He admitted that, especially hard for Midwestern guy, brought up not to talk about this kind of thing to do so. You've even noticed at one point, Brooke, that his hands were trembling a little bit.

But he wanted to invite into his office, he said, to make announcement for his son and now for his constituents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: -- Unite States, Governor Mitt Romney! BASH (voice-over): 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.

PORTMAN: 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 hard-line 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 that has to do about. It has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. You know, I've come to the conclusion 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, and told us that he was gay. And that it was not a choice, and that, you know, that's just part of who he is. He's been that way ever since he can remember.

BASH (on camera): What was your reaction when he told you?

PORTMAN: Love, support. You know, 110 percent.

BASH: Surprise?

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 (voice-over): Until now, all of this was secret to most, but not everyone.

(on camera): You were vetted to be a vice presidential candidate. Did you tell Mitt Romney your son was gay?

PORTMAN: Yes, of course.

BASH: And how did he react?

PORTMAN: I told Mitt Romney everything. That process is intrusive is one way to put it. But, no, 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, he told me.

BASH (voice-over): 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.

(on camera): What do you say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says I'm so glad he's changed his position, but why did it take him learning he 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 a reason. Those have always been my primary issues and my focus.

So, now, it's different. You know, I -- 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 the issue personally, that, you know, this is -- 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.

So, I'm comfortable there now.

BASH: You know, the 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: Two things. One I'm comfortable with the position, and took me a while to, you know, rethink things, when we get to this position.

BASH (voice-over): The second reason? The Supreme Court, which will soon hear a case of gay marriage cases, and Portman suggested that to generate questions about his position.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And Senator Portman penned an op-ed in this morning's hometown paper, his hometown paper, "The Columbus Dispatch", to explain his reversal to his constituents, many of whom elected him as a traditional Christian conservative. They're not going to be happy that he supports gay marriage.

Here's what he said on that topic. He says, "I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible's overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God." And, Brooke and John, Portman told me that he spent a lot time with his pastors. He even went back and re-read the passage of Leviticus in the Old Testament, which, of course, is what many Christians cite as a source of their opposition to homosexuality. He said that after he did that, a lot of soul-searching. He decided that he just thought it was most important to support the institution of marriage for everyone. He said that was paramount.

BALDWIN: What about his son, Will, Dana? He is reacting to this public acknowledgment this morning, isn't he?

BASH: He is. He sent a tweet, a very simple tweet, "Especially proud of my dad today."

And actually, the two of them are going to go -- it's Will Portman's spring break, and the two of them are going to go on an annual trip of whitewater rafting this week. So, he said, as the senator said, it was perfect timing for them to be able to bond after this very public discussion about his son's very personal life.

BERMAN: Yes, hang on for a second. I want to bring in our panel, Ron Meyer and Richard Socarides.

Richard, you've been working on gay rights issues a long time. I could see people in the gay rights movement look at this decision by Rob Portman and say, you know, this is what we've been saying all along. It's a personal issue. It's issues for people who in their families, they want to make these decisions based on themselves. We've been telling you this all along.

Is it frustrating that it takes something like this for them to come around?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, NEWYORKER.COM: Well, I'm not frustrated at this point. I think this is a beautiful story and I think it's beautifully reported. I think Dana did a terrific job with it. I mean, it's story of a family coming to terms with something that is important, obviously, to one of their kids. I think he handled it beautifully.

So, I think everybody is entitled to their own journey on this issue in particular. I mean, nobody starts out supporting gay marriage. It's not something that we've historically done. So, I think everybody has got to come to it. I think that he's come to it in a very classy way and through a personal experience.

I mean, I think that question he answered when Dana asked him. You know, he said, well, I've changed my views based upon a personal experience I've had. I think it's very honest and really quite courageous -- courageous of the whole family.

BERMAN: And, Ron?

BALDWIN: Ron, what do you think?

RON MEYER, CONSERVATIVE ANALYST: Well, I think that -- there's a huge debate in the conservative movement even on this issue. I think it's a very complex issue. It's one of those things -- I think, personally, that marriage is too important and too divisive as an issue left to the federal government. The federal government should be focused on getting people back to work.

We should be having this discussion at a local level. All change starts locally, and it's a deep discussion we need to have. And I think it's a touching story and I think it's something that really opens the minds of a lot of conservatives.

And I think it's a really tough issue. And it's something that I think that a lot of people have strong religious feelings. Those people shouldn't be ignored. People have strong views in favor of gay marriage, those shouldn't be ignored either.

And having the federal government come in and say you are right, you are wrong, probably isn't the best choice.

BERMAN: That is a conservative argument in favor of gay marriage. That is the one that Rob Portman right now in many cases.

MEYER: Well, it depends on the state level where you stand.

BALDWIN: Yes. Thank you. Stick around.

Dana Bash, thank you.

I want to get to another big story we are following for you this morning -- another day, another Carnival cruise ship in trouble at sea. At this hour, the Carnival Legend is having serious propulsion problems, stuck in the Caribbean. It can't operate at full speed. So, it is cancelling the scheduled stop over in Grand Cayman and limping straight home to Tampa instead.

On Wednesday, generator problems stranded the Carnival Dream at a port in St. Maarten. Passengers on this ship, they were stuck four hours. They're now being flown directly home and Cristina Puig has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CRISTINA PUIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For some passengers, it was a cruise that didn't live up to their dreams. And to some of us, their complaints 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 sea 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, DREAM PASSENGER (via telephone): Our toilets weren't working and when I pressed it, the water rose up. Like you would at home, if your toilet was clogged, the water would start to rise up to the top of the bowl. PUIG: The Carnival says the Dream, with 4,300 passengers, got stuck in port at the Caribbean resort island of St. Maarten, 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 it personally.

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PUIG: Now, Brooke, Carnival has made arrangements with Delta chartered flights will transport those 4,300 stranded passengers beginning this morning on hourly flights, first scheduled flight is supposed to arrive in Orlando around 10:00 a.m. and they'll continue to do so throughout the day tomorrow, Saturday, until everybody is home. As you might imagine, everyone is anxious to get home.

Now, with this latest Legend casualty, that makes four ships this month alone, the Legend, the Dream, the Elation, which on Saturday had steering problems, and, of course, we all remember, the Triumph, that had to be towed back to Mobile, Alabama, last month.

Carnival CEO Jerry Cahill has issued a statement saying they have comprehensive programs in place to inspect the entire fleet, which consists of 23 ships -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Cristina Puig in Miami for us this morning -- Cristina, thank you.

I wanted to get to the story at the top of the hour here. This wild police chase in Detroit.

Christine Romans has that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know, and let me show you the video guys.

Moments ago, a dramatic ending to an erratic police chase winding through the streets of Detroit this morning. These pictures are from our affiliate WDIV. After a dangerous pursuit, three police vehicles barricaded the driver of the sedan, slamming into the car. Several other responders immediately followed and, you know what? Police arrested the driver arrested ultimately.

It's unclear right now why he was running, but running he was, and a dramatic ending there.

Sonar equipment has been brought in to help find missing teacher Terrilynn Monette who disappeared almost two weeks ago in New Orleans. Workers from Equusearch have recovered more than one vehicle submerged in the lagoons and waterways of New Orleans City Park. That's where the search is focused. Unfortunately, none of them is the teacher's missing Honda Accord.

Monette was last seen at a bar on March 2nd, where she was celebrating her nomination as teacher of the year. She's missing two weeks now.

On Wall Street, history in the making. The Dow at a record high. Today, could it be? The 11th straight win? Quite a winning streak.

It could be close, though. Futures down a couple points. Any gains today will mark the Dow's best rally in 21 years.

It isn't just the Dow. The S&P 500 -- and many mutual funds, track the S&P 500. It's 500 different companies. It's within two points of its record highs.

Analyst Sam Stovall at S&P says this is like water torture for both bulls and bears. Bulls worried momentum could slow, bears are spooked by the rally.

More amazing video to show you this morning. A man under arrest after going on a parking lot rampage outside a Home Depot store outside Riverdale, Utah.

BERMAN: He can't do that.

ROMANS: Well, he sure did.

Police say the suspects made obscene gesture at officers before running down the row of storage sheds, just ran it down. They arrested this guy, Dave Arvey (ph). They found two handguns, three rifles, all loaded inside his truck.

That's not all. Before the camera started rolling, he allegedly struck a stop sign and then a light pole. It was a very, scary, busy day allegedly for Dave.

BALDWIN: Just to cap it off. BERMAN: Just to cap it off.

ROMANS: And too bad for the storage sheds.

BERMAN: A lot of aggression on storage sheds.

ROMANS: I would say so, yes.

BERMAN: A lot of aggression driving this morning.

ROMANS: You're right. It's Friday.

BALDWIN: What's going on?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Beware, they say, I'm told.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, conservatives gathering for the annual CPAC conference. Already, there's been controversy over who set to speak and who's not. Next, we'll have former House Speaker Newt Gingrich here live. We're going to talk with him and get his reaction to the story we've been talking about all morning. Senator Rob Portman's gay marriage reversal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. This morning, in Maryland, one of the first previews of the 2016 election is in full swing. And you know, many people thought we just had an election.

BALDWIN: Because we did.

BERMAN: Because we did. The conservative political action conference, CPAC, is a proving ground of sorts for conservatives. Yesterday, two rising GOP stars, Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul gave speeches that really sounded a lot like a preview to an election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Just because we believe that life, all life, all human life, is worthy of protection at every stage of its development does not make you a chauvinist.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: I will stand for our prosperity and our freedom and I ask everyone who values liberty to stand with me.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Mitt Romney and Donald Trump highlight today's CPAC session. And our next guest will be speaking tomorrow morning. He has just couple of speeches there under his belt. He is Newt Gingrich, former Republican presidential candidate and former speaker of the House. Mr. Speaker, good morning.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good to be with you.

BALDWIN: Let me just begin with this story, this exclusive interview that our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, nabbed with very conservative Midwestern senator, Rob Portman, and his changing stance on gay marriage. Your stance has evolved as recently as, what, December? What's your reaction?

GINGRICH: Well, my stance doesn't evolved (ph). I observed in December that we're faced with realities that are different than my personal beliefs. I believe as the bible teaches that marriage is between a man and woman. And I actually think marriage is between a man and a woman no matter what politicians decide.

I don't think they have the power to change what is a religiously inspired definition. But, it's an objective fact that a number of states have now legalized relationships between same-sex couples and that that's going to create an American society, a great deal of complexity, and I think that whether you're for traditional marriage or you're for somehow changing it, we have to understand how complicated the next few years are going to be as we sort out just the practical legalities which is different than what we think the moral principles are.

BALDWIN: Complicated, yes, but specifically, I just wanted you to react to Senator Portman's -- he now supports -- fully supports gay marriage. He has a son, Will, came out two years ago to him. What do you make of that change?

GINGRICH: I'm not going to second guess Rob Portman. He's an old personal friend. I think when have you somebody in your immediate family who comes in, you have three choices. You can you say, I believe my principles so much, I'm kicking you out. You can say, I still believe in my principles, but I love you.

Or you can say, gee, I love you so much I'm changing my principles. Rob picked the third path. That's his prerogative. I'm not going to second guessing, but I also just say that, I think, historically in the long run, marriage will be between a man and a woman. That's been its definition for thousands of years. And I don't think politicians will change that.

BERMAN: Mr. Speaker, let's change to CPAC now, the Conservative Political Conference that's going on right now.

GINGRICH: Sure.

BERMAN: You will be speaking there. You have been invited. Others not so much. Chris Christie, of course, Bob McDonnell's kind of being shut it off to the sidelines here.

You know, a lot of people are talking about the relevance of CPAC, and you being quoted saying, quote, "I don't know what CPAC is today." I mean, it's huge. It draws lots and lots of people, particularly, students. It gets a fair amount of attention in the media, but I don't know how to define who gets to come in and who doesn't get to come, in my sense.

That the board is not very open, not very clear on what it's thinking and you go on and on. You know, how concerned are you about the message that CPAC --

GINGRICH: First of all, I'm not particularly concerned. We have 23 people on the presidential poll ballot. I think that's very healthy. It's an openness, and including, by the way, Governor Christie and Governor McDonnell. I think they should have invited both governors to speak. They're both remarkable reformers. They both have great records.

But I was there yesterday talking and doing some things on radio row, you see 2,500 students signed up, you see thousands of people coming, some of whom have been coming since it was started 40 years ago, you look at the diversity of speakers. You know, Governor Perry, I'm told, he gave a great speech yesterday.

As you pointed out, Senator Rubio and Senator Rand gave good speeches yesterday. This is sort of like a giant county fair of conservative ideas, and I think that would be useful.

BERMAN: Chris Christie wasn't welcome. It's a giant county fair where some people aren't invited.

GINGRICH: And I said bluntly, I thought that was a mistake. You know? But, all I'm suggesting here is on balance. So, they get 95 percent, they don't get 100. But it is the largest political ideas gathering in the country and if you look at the total number of speeches given, the workshops, et cetera, you know, Callista and I'll be there tomorrow morning.

We're both speaking, and we're also introducing one of our movies that we've made with Citizens United. It's a terrific venue if you believe in activism and ideas.

BALDWIN: Mr. Speaker, you mentioned Senator Rand Paul's speech. Let's just -- let me just play one clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL: I don't think we need to name many names, do we?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Stale and moss covered. He was on my show a couple months ago where he said he was fearful that the party will become a dinosaur. What do you think? Is that a fear of yours?

GINGRICH: Personally, I said this is a fear of mine. I just wrote a newsletter urging every conservative in the country to read "Citizenville," which is a book by Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco and the lieutenant governor of California. Now, it's the best book I ever read on how the information age will allow us to go back to a (ph) citizen based society and get away from bureaucracies.

You know, when you end up with a liberal Democrat writing the best book on how to dismantle democracy, you can tell that there's something missing in the Republican dialog. But frankly, you get a Marco Rubio, you get a Mike Lee, you have a Ted Cruz, you just mentioned Rand Paul, and then, you look around the country at a whole new generation of governors who are doing very innovative things.

I'll be following Scott Walker tomorrow morning. Nikki Haley, Suzanna Martinez, John Kasich. I think we're going to be fine in the long run, but I do think the old guard of the party, sometimes, gets a little too crusty and a little too anti-ideas, and I think that's unfortunate.

BERMAN: Stale, moss covered, and now, crusty.

BALDWIN: Crusty.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Mr. Speaker, our thanks to you. Thank you for joining us this morning.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

BERMAN: We really appreciate it.

BALDWIN: And Ron Meyer is nodding his head yes.

RON MEYER, CONSERVATIVE ANALYST: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, I think that what Rand Paul says is exactly right on. We're seeing refreshing of the Republican Party, and we need it. I mean, really, what's happened is that we sort of forgotten our principles for the last 20 years, which is basically what Rand said and also what Rubio said. It was also echoed by even someone more establishment.

I think that we have to look at a party that's going to make a moral case for what we believe in, say this is right, and talk about how balanced budget is the right thing to do and how policies that are going to bring more jobs and more economic freedom are actually good for communities like Detroit, like Portland, Oregon, by the way, which we're talking about on the show earlier that can actually bring those people, give people the right to rise out of poverty, to not just be relying on the government and get people stop focusing on just surviving and to saying what am I going to tell my kids in 20 years that I accomplished.

And if we tell people that and inspire people, I think we'll bring a lot more folks in the movement.

BLITZER All right -- RICHARD SOCARIDES, DEMOCRATIC ANALYST: Well, I mean, I do think the most interesting thing that Speaker Gingrich said, of course, was -- he said he was not going to criticize Senator Portman, but then when he described it, he said that Sen. Portman has abandoned his principles because a family member was gay. So, it doesn't sound like all conservatives are going to be as accepting as Sen. Portman as some.

BERMAN: Finding your ground. Finding his way on issue sounds a little bit (ph).

Twenty-five minutes after the hour right now. Ahead on STARTING POINT, a lot of women love the duchess of Cambridge, but there is one thing they really, really like about her, and apparently, want. This is what is trending. I am dying to find out what this is. We'll tell you all about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Much, much more ahead on STARTING POINT, including mothers taking on mac and cheese. Why some moms are telling Kraft to change their recipe?

BALDWIN: As in fans of "Veronica Mars" taking action. We're going to talk with the show creator, Rob Thomas, about this record-breaking campaign that green light it. Now, a "Veronica Mars" movie. He will be here live.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)