Return to Transcripts main page


Explosive Devices Found On Campus; President Travels To Mideast Tomorrow; Key Arias Witness Could Return To Stand; Threats From North Korea Intensify; Bridge Blast Knocks Out Phone Service; Republican "Autopsy" Report; Let The Madness Begin; Heat Win Streak Second Longest Ever

Aired March 18, 2013 - 07:30   ET


GRANT HESTON, ASSOCIATE VP FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC AFFIARS AT UCF (via telephone): -- found a subject dead of an apparent self- inflicted gunshot wound. And when they were working the scene they discovered, in addition to the handgun, they discovered assault weapons, and then improvised explosive devices.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: So, what we do know is that the victim of that self-inflicted gunshot wound is a male, unclear, though, if it's a student or not a student.

We do understand that the body was found in one of the bedrooms in a dorm. Classes have been canceled until noon. We're going to stay on top of this story and bring it to you as we get the very latest on it.

Also joining us this morning, our team, nice to have you guys back, Connie Mack, former Florida congressman, Mary Bono Mack, former California congresswoman, Richard Blaze is with us today.

He is a celebrity chef, author and winner of top chef all-stars. He also wrote the book "Try This At Home," which by the way, my daughter who is 12 and who is a fantastic little chef herself loves the book.


O'BRIEN: Yes, she tried it at home, just as you advised in the title of the book. It's an important week for President Obama. Tomorrow, he's going to board Air Force One for his first trip overseas, the second trip of his second term -- first trip of his second term.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: His first international trip of the second term.

O'BRIEN: First international trip of the second term and first trip to Israel.


O'BRIEN: Ever.

BERMAN: As president.

O'BRIEN: That's what I was trying to say. Thank you for helping me. His destination, of course, this is why it's important. It's the Middle East. He's going to Israel.

One of his primary topics is the discussion with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They're going to focus, of course, on how to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Let's get right to Athena Jones this morning. She's live at the White House for us. Hi, Athena. Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. The White House says that the president has spent more time one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu than with any other leader. But that hasn't changed the perception that their relationship is strained as they try to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.


JONES (voice-over): Five years after he visited Israel as a candidate, President Obama is going there to reassure skeptical Israelis about where he stands on Iran.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon that, that is a red line for us. It's something that would not only be dangerous for Israel, but would be dangerous for the world.

JONES: While he says all options are on the table to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the president also wants to convince Israeli leaders to allow more time for diplomacy.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What we're going to be doing is continue to engage internationally with Iran, understanding that we set up the toughest sanctions ever. It's having a significant effect.

JONES: A tough sell, analysts say, when Israel believes Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the U.S. does. And the tense relationship between the country's leaders doesn't help.

HAIM MALKA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a strained relationship for the last four years. It's difficult to see that this visit is going to change the underlying dynamic in that relationship.


JONES: Analysts say this trip is really going to be about managing Middle East problems rather than solving them. And the White House is already trying to lower expectations for any big announcements or deals. Still they say this is an important opportunity for the president to reaffirm the partnership with Israel and our support for the Palestinian Authority -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Which absolutely sounds like they're lowering expectations right there. Athena Jones for us. Thanks, Athena. Appreciate it.

John Berman, let me ask you a question, you know, how strained are the relations and the relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and the president? I mean, I know that they've obviously had some past problems, but really as the election was coming closer I thought that they started to make up some lost ground?

BERMAN: There's a sense that Netanyahu was told by people inside the U.S. and Israel that he better get on board. It looked like President Obama was going to win so that it made sense for them to heal whatever rift that there might have been, because, you know, it would be difficult.

CONNIE MACK (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: I think -- I think it's astonishing that the president -- this is the first trip the president has made and then if you think back --

O'BRIEN: I was surprised by that too.

BERMAN: Plenty of presidents that never went to Israel at all.

MACK: If you think back, though, when Benjamin Netanyahu came to the United States, tried to get a meeting with the president, if you remember all of that, I mean, this is not only is Israel an ally of ours, but it's, you know, it's a strong connection between our two countries.

And I think that the president needs to do a better job of not only reaching out to Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel, but other allies around the world. I mean, leadership is about standing up for your -- for your allies, for your friends, for your neighbors, and being a leader on it, instead of kind of ignoring some of the problems that are happening around the world.

O'BRIEN: The charm offensive in Israel now is on.

MACK: I think it's a good thing.


O'BRIEN: John Berman has a look at other stories making news too.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much. It is another crucial day for accused killer Jodi Arias and the defense team. The judge will decide if Dr. Richard Samuels can return to the stand.

Now Samuels wants to testify that arias killed her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in the heat of the moment and did not plan it. That detail, if proven true, could save her from the death penalty. Arias admits she killed Alexander, but she claims it was in self-defense.

China is criticizing the Pentagon's plan to install new missile defense batteries against North Korea's growing nuclear threat saying it doesn't help the situation.

Meanwhile, a key member of Congress is questioning the stability of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, appearing on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You have a 28-year-old leader, who is trying to prove himself to the military, and the military eager to have a sabre rattling for their own self-interest.


BERMAN: Some analysts are now openly questioning whether or not Kim Jong-Un is even in charge of North Korea or if it's the military that's really in control now.

Louisiana governor is uninjured in a car accident last night in Baton Rouge. Bobby Jindal was on the way home from his son's soccer game when state police say a truck made an illegal u-turn and sideswiped his vehicle. He says the governor is fine, but a state trooper went to the hospital with some minor injuries.

So success of sorts, a controlled implosion near Austin, Texas, brought the old bridge down. But what you can't see is that shrapnel from this blast cut a fiber optic cable. That knocked out cell phone and some land line service in three 911 centers. Verizon hopes to get at least some service restored this morning.

O'BRIEN: That's a bit of a mess.

BLAIS: That's a nice picture.

O'BRIEN: I really do enjoy watching those.

BERMAN: I think everybody does.

O'BRIEN: It's incredible when they collapse the whole thing.

So just a few minutes ago, the Republican Party released details of this internal review. It was launched after losing the 2012 presidential elections, kind of unprecedented. The GOP is making the results public in a report.

First few pages, addresses the fact the party is divide. They also say, quote, "The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them the gubernatorial wing is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future."

We're going to talk a little bit more about all of this in addition to the initiative -- hire hundreds of Republican staffers to be on the ground to reach out to minority voters.

CNN contributor Ari Fleischer joins us. He's at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He's there, of course, because he's part of the team that created this report. He'll going to be presenting the report from there. He served as the press secretary for President George W. Bush, co-chair of this project. It's nice to have you with us. OK, wow, we got a lot to talk about. So 219 specific I guess suggestions in terms of -- of messaging, and other things as well although you don't make specific reports about policy initiatives.

But you do say this, "Devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with or welcoming to those who do not agree with us on every issue. And if you look at the table of contents, you really walk through very basically like here is exactly what we have to do.

We have to -- some people say Republicans don't care. America looks different. The way forward, you sort of list it all out. So what is the way forward? Is it -- is it a problem of marketing? Is it a problem of policy? What's been the problem? What's your analysis?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's all the above, Soledad. And this report, 219 specific recommendations for how Republicans are going to win the future. Now the problem the party has is we've lost five of the last six presidential election popular votes.

America demographically is changing and Republicans very much remain a party that is ideological born in the 1980s. Without figuring out what comes next except at the gubernatorial level, if you look at where we have 30 governors, 315 electoral votes among those governor states, that's the land of reform.

That's where the nation's innovators live. That's where people with Republican core conservative principles are connecting with people's lives and making them better, winning large shares of minority votes in all those states. There's a lesson here for federal candidates particularly in presidential election years about how to be successful.

O'BRIEN: So how do you navigate, though, right, I mean, the, the tent is big and yet you have some people who are not only disagree with each other, but are in polar opposite of an issue.

Part of the problem I think was for example the Todd Akin comments, right? Where that they were reflected -- but and I could list a couple others, too, and that was in the middle of the election. I think there was a cost to that.

FLEISCHER: Of course.

O'BRIEN: How do you deal with that in addition to and not have it become the face of the party?

FLEISCHER: You deal with it by being blunt. You deal with it by directly addressing the party's weaknesses and that's what this report does. We blow a whistle on ourselves. We talk about how the party needs to be more inclusive, more welcoming, more inviting conservatism.

One of the things as we say in here is we have become expert ideological self-reinforcement, but we've lost that ability to be persuasive with people who don't agree with us on every issue.

What Republicans need to do to have a bright future is do what the governors have done, which is if somebody doesn't agree with us on every issue, we can still work with them and get things done. That's part of what Republicans historically have done. We need to get back to doing that again.

O'BRIEN: You guys in some ways, Connie and Mary, have been victims of this, right. I mean, you lost your elections. You're a libertarian. You're a moderate Republican, and I bet you could have written this report yourselves, right, full of anecdotes personal anecdotes -- the next chunk of points.

So do you think that this is a good first step, as, as much of what Ari is saying is sort of the governors have provided a way, I think that there are some real challenges. I mean, Evangelicals make up a big part of the party.

It's 50 percent, if you look at the, the primary voters in 2012. They have some social issues that they vote on, that are important to them. Let me get to Connie first, and Mary and then I'll go right back to you, Ari. Hang on a little second.

BONO MACK: Well, first of all, great first step is that you have a problem. I think it took us a long time to get to this point. And you know, I had a congressional district that really if you look at the analysis of may race exactly it was messaging, but it was also the ground game itself.

We put so much money into media and advertising and we didn't have the soldiers and the foot soldiers. California is especially tough, I'm happy to hear the party got that wake-up call plus the messaging.

As a moderate I've been frustrated. I'm moderate/libertarian. I'm happy to see we're getting back to the libertarian message that's going to speak to the younger generations if we have the right spokesman who isn't out there offending everybody left and right with how they say and what they have to say.

MACK: First I would say that it's nice to see that Ari was so involved in this report. I mean, I think he's somebody that, as Republicans we have a lot of respect for. He is -- he has been a leader in our party and understands that we have to be more diverse when we try to campaign and ask for people for their vote.

But I don't think you need a report to tell everybody that we have a problem reaching out to different groups of people around the country. And you know, as you mentioned, I'm more of a libertarian Republican. I get frustrated when I see our party marginalize itself or reduce itself.

You can't win elections if you narrow your scope. You have to -- if you want to win elections, you have to broaden your scope. You have to be able to disagree with inside your own party, but recognize that there's a bigger goal and that is to move an economic agenda that's good for all groups of people. O'BRIEN: Yes, but people don't --

BONO MACK: -- did a report.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a follow question. When you look at what the GOP lost by categories, lost African-Americans by a ton, lost Latinos by a lot, lost Asians by a lot, 73 percent to 26 percent, lost other by a lot so you definitely have this sort of issue of diversity, which is only going to be more of a problem as the nation becomes more and more diverse.

How do you manage that, you know, when you talk say specifically about Latinos, you have a real position in what people think immigration should look like and that is certainly one of many issues of importance to Latinos?

FLEISCHER: Well, Soledad, both parties have these issues. The Democrats lost senior citizens by a lot. The Democrats lost veterans by a lot. The Democrats lost white voters by a lot. The Democrats lost religious voters by a lot. Both parties have these issues.

For the Republican Party what it means is Republicans need to adhere to our conservative message, our conservative core, but do so in a way that invites other people to join in. We cannot do it in a way that pushes people out or says they're not welcome and that's been a real Republican problem.

We give people the impression that they're not wanted. The power of conservatism is that it's an attractive position. It should bring people in to how you make it, how you can be successful, happy, and make it in America.

That's the message of aspiration that draws people to this country and helps low-income people become middle-income people and middle-income people rise. That's the conservative core.

O'BRIEN: I get you on the economic front I fully understand. I think everybody is on board --

FLEISCHER: Social issues --

O'BRIEN: And you look at how -- so if you talk about immigration there's a challenge. Then you have gay marriage. There's a challenge within the GOP people who disagree. And -- and young voters are more consistently for gay marriage.


O'BRIEN: So how will you --

FLEISCHER: The difference is in the Democratic Party, those other voices are not welcome. How many people are pro-life in the Democratic Party? They really are shunned. Republican Party is, indeed, a big tent. And we need to make sure that's a big tent, and not just rhetoric. Take the issue of gay marriage, for example and gay rights. There is a genuine generational split in the Republican Party on that issue. Many, many young conservatives are for gay rights, are for gay marriage. And we openly talk about that and acknowledge that and we welcome that.

That's part of what a big tent should be about. You don't find that in the Democratic Party. You find that in a party that's growing. And America, remember, is mostly a conservative center right country. Not a center left country. That's how we can be successful, win again, and follow that inclusive model that the governors have shown us.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see how the report is received when it comes out. I think it's at 8:30 you're going to announce it from the press club. Ari Fleischer, always nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. You bet. Good luck with it. CNN's Jake Tapper is going to have more on the GOP autopsy -- there's a lot of Republicans -- actually, yes, I didn't make that up.

Also, you can catch the launch of Jake's new show. It's called "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER." That happens this afternoon at 4:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

And you want to get your brackets ready. March Madness, clearly some working on it all day, March Madness, yes, that is not an easy chart to fill out. Look at the rankings at our "Bleacher Report" right after this break.


O'BRIEN: College basketball selection Sunday is in the books. Now it's time to fill out your brackets. Andy Scholes is in today. He's got the "Bleacher Report." Hi, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, "BLEACHER REPORT": Good morning, Soledad. Well, according to a Yahoo! survey, it takes fans an average of 75 minutes to fill out their bracket. I'm about 30 minutes into this one right here. So it looks like I'm probably going to take a little bit longer than that average.

Yesterday championship week wraps up with four games, one of those being the ACC title game between Miami and North Carolina. The Hurricanes would come out on top to win the ACC for the first time in school history, but it's still wasn't enough to earn them a one seed in the big dance.

Miami will be two seed in the East region. Louisville is the number one overall seed in the tournament. The other one seeds are Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga. Last year's number one overall seed and defending champions, Kentucky, they failed to make the tournament this year. St. Louis wrapped up the Atlantic 10 title yesterday taking care of BCU at the Barkley Center in Brooklyn. After the game they tried to get right to the airport so they could watch the selection show, but they got stuck in traffic in New Jersey.

So the entire team stopped off at a local Best Buy and set up their own watch party in the magnolia room. Shoppers joined them as they learned they would be the fourth seed in the Midwest region.

And will Lebron and the Heat ever lose again. Miami beat the Raptors yesterday for their 22nd consecutive win. That ties the Houston Rockets for the second longest streak ever. The Heat are now 11 wins away from tying the '72 Lakers with the longest win streak in NBA history.

Tonight they play in Boston and it was the Celtics that broke the streak five years ago. See more at If I walked into a Best Buy and got to take part in a NCAA watch party I think that would be cool.

O'BRIEN: Can you imagine?

MACK: I filled out my bracket in about 30 seconds. Does that mean I have no shot at winning?

O'BRIEN: That means you have no shot of winning, yes.

MACK: OK, well, good.

O'BRIEN: Coming up in our next hour, we're going to sit down with the Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. She has a new book aimed at helping women succeed in the work place also some of her response to critics of the book. We're back with that.


O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper is going to sit down and talk with us, a little who are about the report from the RNC on the Republican Party. We'll get his insight.

And then part one of my interview with Sheryl Sandberg. She has a new book called "Lean In" and it's sparking nationwide conversations. It has some controversy, too, about women in the workforce. She addresses the fact that most of her critics are women. We'll talk about that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, breaking story we're following. Explosive device found on a Florida college campus along with a body. We'll tell you what officials say is happening there.>

Then homes crushed, a small jet torn to pieces after it smashes into three homes. We'll take you live to the scene this morning. BERMAN: New this morning, the Republican Party making public a report saying voters feel the party is marginalized, unwelcoming and divided. We're talking to CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper about that.

Also developing, wildfires burning from Colorado to South Carolina. Homes destroyed. Roads closed. We'll have the details coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And in business, a proposed bailout of cypress is taking a toll right here at home. Stock futures are down this morning. Are we in for a messy day on Wall Street?

O'BRIEN: Later this hour, part one of my sit-down interview with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. We'll tell you why she says people need to stop bristling at the word feminist. It's Monday, March 18th and STARTING POINT begins right now.