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Obama Gun Control Push; At Home With Gabrielle Giffords; Helicopter Crash In Afghanistan; John Kerry Overseas; Pilot Texting Before Fatal 2011 Crash; This Isn't Sesame Street; Firefighters Rescue Dangling Trucker; Police: Hakken Children Abducted To Cuba; An Anniversary Trip In Cuba; America's Smallest Running Back; Grounded Dreamliners Airborne Next Month?; Airport Worker Accused Of Looting Luggage; Annette Funicello 1942-2013

Aired April 9, 2013 - 07:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.


BERMAN: With legislation apparently stalled in Washington, President Obama is digging in on gun control, and he's enlisting help from parents from the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today, they will lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: Yesterday, the president took his message to Hartford, Connecticut, not far from the scene of the Sandy Hook massacre. CNN's Brianna Keilar is live at the White House for us and he had some powerful partners in trying to deliver this message.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He sure did, Christine. This is going to be a very tough sell for Congress as we watch to see if they are able to come up with some sort of gun legislation that can make it through the Senate. And the fact is, President Obama can use all of the help that he can get.


KEILAR (voice-over): If he can't convince Congress to take up gun legislation, perhaps they can. President Obama brought 12 family members of the Newtown victims back to Washington with him, personally ushering them off Air Force One. Among them --

NICOLE HOCKLEY, PARENT OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: The president of the United States --

KEILAR: Nicole Hockley who lost her 6-year-old son, Dylan, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

HOCKLEY: Though sometimes the waves of sadness are so great they threaten to drown me, I stand before you now and ask you to stand with me with all the families. KEILAR: Hockley had earlier introduced the president as he began a week-long White House push for a gun bill. Obama criticized Republican senators for trying to block a measure from coming to the Senate floor.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In the wake of a tragedy, you think this would not be a heavy lift. And, yet, some folks back in Washington are already floating the idea that they may use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms.

KEILAR: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is now planning to join the 13 senators who say they will filibuster a bill. Democrats are hoping to overcome the filibuster with a bipartisan compromise that would require background checks for all or almost all gun purchases. The measure has overwhelming public support, but is in jeopardy in the Senate.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We have to tell Congress it's time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun. Let's make that happen.


KEILAR: Vice President Joe Biden will participate in an event here at the White House today featuring law enforcement. Attorney General Eric Holder will also make remarks here, and then tomorrow, first lady, Michelle Obama heads to Chicago to talk about how kids need opportunities to succeed, those opportunities including safety.

ROMANS: All right, Brianna Keilar for us live at the White House. Thanks, Brianna.

BERMAN: So it's been more than two years since former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot and nearly killed by a crazed gunman in Tucson. Today, brain injuries make speaking difficult yet Giffords has become an active spokeswoman for new restrictions on guns. Still she hasn't lost her appreciation for gun culture.

Dana Bash spent some time with Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, at their home in Arizona and she got really incredible, exclusive behind-the-scenes access.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Target practice is a form of entertainment at Giffords' mother's house, deep in the Arizona desert.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's aiming for my pot. Whoa.

BASH: Husband, Mark Kelly, using planting pots and water bottles as targets, while Giffords watches from the patio with her mother, cheering him on.


BASH: Kelly isn't shooting with just any kind of gun.

MARK KELLY, GABRIELLE GIFFORDS' HUSBAND: This is the same kind of gun Gabby was shot with. A Glock, a 9-millimeter Glock, but in that case it had a magazine that held 33 rounds. This when it's full holds 17. He shot 33 rounds. Every round hit somebody, we think.

BASH (on camera): How long have you had this gun?

KELLY: Well, I gave this to Gabby as a gift.

BASH: When?

KELLY: A number of years ago. She's a gun owner. You know, she's from the west.

BASH (voice-over): Still, we asked the question a lot of incredulous people seeing this scene would ask.

(on camera): Really? This guy sort of still has -- gets his kicks or recreation for him is shooting a gun, after his wife was shot through the head?

KELLY: Well, Gabby used to like shooting a gun, too, occasionally.


BERMAN: Giffords and Kelly argue that because they appreciate and understand the gun culture they have more credibility in their fight to expand background checks for private gun sales.

Dana Bash is going to have more on this, Giffords recovery and her bone-chilling experience of coming face-to-face with her shooter that is tonight on "AC 360."

ROMANS: Meantime Zoraida Sambolin has the rest of the day's top stories. Good morning, Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Good morning to you too. Just in to CNN, two coalition members have died after a kept helicopter crash in Eastern Afghanistan this morning. So far all we know is that there was no enemy activity in that area at the time and of course, we're going to bring you more information as soon as we get it.

And Secretary of State John Kerry has wrapped up his visit to Israel. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning and right now, he is scheduled to leave Israel, headed for London. It is the next stop on his 10-day overseas tour through Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

And texting might have played a role in a medical helicopter crash that killed four people. This happened nearly two years ago in Missouri. Investigators say the pilot had been sending and receiving text messages during that flight.

They think that he was distracted and misjudged how much fuel he had left, and how far he could actually fly. Federal officials will hear more about that case that is scheduled for today.

And this simply does not happen on "Sesame Street." A man who dressed up like Cookie Monster is in big trouble this morning. He's accused of pushing a 2-year-old boy out of his stroller and cursing out the boy and his mother.

This Cookie Monster allegedly lost his cool when the boy's mother refused to pay him $2 after posing for a picture in New York's Times Square. The suspect 33-year-old Oswaldo Lopez is charged with reckless endangerment, and endangering the welfare of a child. He denies those charges.

Not cool at all. And check out these pictures, it is a dramatic rescue above the frigid James River in Virginia. Firefighters plucking a terrified truck driver from the cab of her big rig as it dangles over the side of the Monitor Merrimack Memorial Bridge.

The 43-year-old Almira Rebek lost control of her truck on I-664 yesterday morning. It actually caught fire for a few minutes after jumping that embankment. Firefighters were able to use their truck's rescue bucket to bring her right there to safety, lucky gal.

ROMANS: These pictures are so dramatic.

SAMBOLIN: Can you imagine just dangling?

ROMANS: Wow. All right, thanks Zoraida. This morning we're talking about two stories out of Cuba. One report is two young Florida boys allegedly abducted by their father showing up there and then Jay-z and Beyonce's controversial trip to Cuba that some have questioned whether it crossed the legal lines.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a Republican from Florida. She is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She was born in Cuba and fled with her family when she was 8 years old. Welcome to the program. Good morning, Congresswoman.

REPRESENTATIVE ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Thank you. Good morning, thanks for having me.

ROMANS: Let's talk first about these two little boys. If it is found that these two little Florida boys are in Cuba, and you have experienced 13 years ago with the Elian Gonzalez case, a famous case, obviously this is the reverse. But if it is found that these two little boys are in Cuba, do you think it will be difficult to get them back?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I wouldn't call it a reverse of the Elian case. It's quite different. And here in the United States, we have a system that works with checks and balances. The Elian case went through the court. You can't compare that to a kidnapping where there's no redress and there's no criminal justice system that is impartial in Cuba.

ROMANS: Right -- first I meant, they were in Cuba instead of here.

ROS-LEHTINEN: OK, thank you, because, I would never compare this wonderful country with a communist tyranny in Cuba. But, unfortunately, those parents, and those poor children, innocent ones, will now be in a country where there are no laws, there is no redress, and where it has been a refuge for fugitives, and for wanted criminals for many years.

In fact, two of the people who are on the top ten FBI most wanted list are now in Cuba living a wonderful life, because Castro gives refuge to these criminals. One is Joann Chasemert who killed a New Jersey state trooper. Another one is a gentleman who killed a --

ROMANS: So you think he could let --

ROS-LEHTINEN: -- and it goes on and on.

ROMANS: Do you think he would let the father and the children stay?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I think that sometimes that Castro throws a little bit of crumbs to the United States to appear that he is a law-abiding member of the international community, which he is not. He runs a criminal enterprise gangster style.

So he might return them if the heat is too much. But remember, he is currently holding a United States citizen, Allen Gross, illegally in jail. They had a sham, kangaroo court. They sentenced him to many years in prison.

Why, because he wanted to bring communication equipment to the Jewish community. So it's a lawless land. They'll give refuge to anyone and he'll do whatever he wishes.

BERMAN: Let's get to another controversy that you are deeply, deeply involved in right now. This has to do with the visit to Cuba by Beyonce and Jay-z. You wrote a letter to the Treasury Department asking them to give you info about whether there was a license that allowed them to travel there.

Reuters reporting right now that the Treasury did license that trip and this is what the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said about the trip.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Decisions made about cultural travel and academic travels are made by the Treasury Department, and I would refer you for specific cases to the Treasury Department.

It is certainly been the case that under this administration we have eased the ability to travel to Cuba for those purposes. But the decisions at the individual level are made at the Treasury Department not here. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All indications are their trip was through this academic cultural group, the kind that does make these accepted trips to Cuba. What's your response to the administration?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, first of all, as recently as this morning they told us that they have, in fact, not confirmed with any news source what the source of the travel was. Whether it was a cultural exchange, whether it was a licensed travel, or maybe they went through another country.

So I know that Reuters has been reporting it, but it will take them a few days to respond to our congressional inquiry, which is kind of a farce in itself. It's very easy to check what kind of license.

But what this trip is about is that we're saying that no one is above the law, even if you are the diva, Beyonce, and that's wonderful that she's famous and rich, and Jay-z, everybody loves him, too, terrific. But no one's above the law.

ROMANS: But the law --

ROS-LEHTINEN: -- for everyone.

BERMAN: But the law does let you travel to Cuba under some circumstances, correct?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Yes. But if you saw the footage, and the photographs from their visit to Cuba, it looks just like what the Cuban government said it was, it was a tourist trip where they were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

And there are a lot of better places they could go where they're not feeding a monstrous regime because every dollar that is spent there goes to the Castro regime so they can further repress the Cuban people.

I wish that they would have taken the time to meet with brave Cuban leaders like the Ladies in White who speak out in favor of human rights. In fact, there's also a Cuban rapper who has been harassed for the lyrics and for the songs that he sings.

Liberties that we enjoy here, but that they are not celebrated in Cuba in the least so I wish that they would have a little more common sense and understanding and solidarity with the suffering of the Cuban people, and they ate at great places and stayed at beautiful hotels, none of which the Cuban people are allowed to eat or stay.

Were they able to afford it, which they can't so I don't think it sends the right message to the suffering Cuban people. They want freedom, and Beyonce and Jay-z are there to have a good time. They should go somewhere else.

BERMAN: OK, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, this morning a 7-year-old boy suffering from brain cancer has a day on the gridiron he will never forget. You're going to meet little Jack Hoffman and his -- look at that run! Touchdown! Coming up next.


BERMAN: We first told you yesterday about this really wonderful story, a 7-year-old boy battling brain cancer and living a dream.

ROMANS: Jack Hoffman ran 69 yards for a touchdown at the end of the University of Nebraska's annual spring scrimmage, a crowd of more than 60,000 Red-Clad Husker fans cheering him on. The place went wild.

The entire cornhusker team celebrated with him in the end zone. Now little Jack has an entire nation of fans. He joins us this morning. We're thrilled to meet him along with his dad, Andy, via Skype. Jack, tell me, are you in first grade?


ROMANS: Now, how does it feel to run those 69 yards? Did it feel great or were you scared?

JACK HOFFMAN: It felt great.

BERMAN: You looked great, man, you were fast. I'm wondering, Andy, what advice did you give your son before he took the field?

ANDY HOFFMAN, JACK'S FATHER: You know, it was -- there was a lot of emotion. It was just a really exciting opportunity for Jack, and for really the whole family. It was really just an incredible, incredible day.

BERMAN: I heard you read don't fumble, don't fall down and don't run out of bounds.

ANDY HOFFMAN: Yes. That was -- that was the advice we gave. You know, from our perspective, you know, we certainly weren't thinking that this is going to be just some big thing. I was worried about just these key areas.

We were coaching him, stay in bounds, don't fumble, you know the biggest thing I said is don't stop running until you get to -- get across the goal line. And so, those were kind of the main points I guess we covered beforehand.

ROMANS: You know, Jack, you look real comfortable holding that pigskin. You look like you know what you're doing. Jack, did you practice a lot?

JACK HOFFMAN: Well, not --

BERMAN: You know, I think we all have the dream to run behind the Cornhuskers line because they're some pretty big guys, Jack. Do you measure up? How high do you come up? Do you come up to their waist, to their legs? How much bigger were they than you?

ROMANS: They're pretty big guys, weren't they, Jack?

JACK HOFFMAN: They were a lot bigger.

BERMAN: A lot bigger.

ROMANS: Dad, tell us a little bit about how he's doing now. How his treatment is progressing, I mean, it's great to see him out there. This is all to raise money for cancer. Tell us a little bit about how he's doing.

ANDY HOFFMAN: You know, Jack is doing good. You know, that was really the blessing about Saturday is you know I looked out there, and here is the kid who's been through two brain tumor surgeries, years worth of chemotherapy. Right now, he's on a two-week break.

We're looking to hopefully be done with chemotherapy in July. You know, the hard thing about pediatric brain cancer is that the treatments are so archaic. Jack is taking chemotherapy protocol that's 25 years old.

And so, you know, it's been around since 1985 and that's, you know, as of right now that's the best we can do for first line chemotherapy treatment and so you know he's doing good.

You know, but we still but we still got a ways to go, and doctors have kind of prepared us this is a marathon, it's not a sprint. And, you know, it's just one of those things. You take it a day at a time. An MRI at a time, and you know, you just thank the good Lord along the way.

ROMANS: I want you to pitch People can go there, right?

ANDY HOFFMAN: Yes, that's right. We started a new foundation, We're, you know, trying to -- it's a really simple goal. We're trying to raise as much money as we possibly can for pediatric brain cancer research.

We've teamed up with some great partners and we're involved with uplifting athletes, a national organization. They are also tied in with the football program and so some great opportunities.

BERMAN: Well, go Jack. Go Huskers. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. It's so great to see you. It's our favorite video --

ANDY HOFFMAN: Thank you for having us.

ROMANS: You are the best, guys, thank.

BERMAN: All right, so coming up next, the grounded Dreamliner could be back in the air soon. We're going to have that story when STARTING POINT returns. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT this morning. Grounded Dreamliner jets could be back in the air next month. United Airlines telling CNN it's expecting the FAA to give Boeing the green light soon. The government ordered all 787 Dreamliner jets out of the sky in January because of overheating problems with the battery system.

BERMAN: An airport worker in Minneapolis busted for stealing from passengers' checked bags. David Vang is accused of stealing about $85,000 worth of jewelry, electronics, guns and other items. Authorities say Vang only stole from bags connecting through the twin cities making it best harder to track. Surveillance cameras finally exposed these crimes. Vang's wife is also charged.

ROMANS: Annette Funicello is being remember this morning as a beloved "Mouseketeer" and an inspiration for her more than two-decade battle with multiple sclerosis. She was breakout teen star from the original Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s. She costarred with Frankie Avalon in numerous beach blanket movies in the 1960s. Annette Funicello died yesterday from complications of MS. She was 70 years old.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, tensions boiling over on the Korean Peninsula. The North is warning people in the South to prepare to evacuate because of the threat of war. We'll get reaction from Congressman Peter King.

BERMAN: And two young brothers from Florida allegedly kidnapped last week by their father, they have apparently turned up in Cuba this morning, setting up a possible international dispute. We're going to be live from Havana, coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is a busy morning here. First, a dire warning from North Korea telling foreigners to evacuate ahead of a possible all-out war in the Korean Peninsula.

ROMANS: New this morning, wild fires in California, tornadoes in Colorado, blizzards in the Midwest, we got live team coverage of all this wild spring weather.

BERMAN: Two brothers allegedly kidnapped by their father, reportedly turning up in Cuba of all places this morning. What will happen to them? We're going to live in Havana coming up.

ROMANS: Louisville, the king of college basketball, an incredible game, incredible team that brought an emotional reaction from their coach.


RICK PITINO, HEAD COACH, LOUISVILLE: The spontaneous emotion from that event today makes me as proud as any moment I have ever had in coaching.


ROMANS: It's Tuesday, April 9th, STARTING POINT begins right now.