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AMERICAN MORNING

A Bruising Debate; Troubled Pop Star; Extreme Weather

Aired January 31, 2008 - 08:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have details on that in just a moment. It's Thursday, January 31st. A special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry here in New York.
Hey, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you, I'm John Roberts. We are outside the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California. The Oscars are coming up here on February 24th. But there was plenty of anticipation today about the Democrats' main event, Clinton versus Obama tonight. It's just the two of them left now in the Democratic field.

Tonight's CNN Democratic debate looks like the toughest ticket to score in town, because the California Democratic Party says they are getting more requests for this debate than the Oscars are getting for tickets for the big show coming up later on next month. It all starts tonight, 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Back to the big debate last night, the Republicans are back on the campaign trail today. Last night, it was frontrunners, John McCain and Mitt Romney that spent a good chunk of time attacking each other over who's the more conservative candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a good Republican. I wouldn't question those credentials at all, but there are number of pieces of legislation where his views are out of the mainstream, at least in my view, of conservative Republican thoughts. So for instance, he is opposed to drilling in an-war. I believe, if I'm correct -- correct me, senator. He voted twice against Bush tax cuts. Only two Republicans did that.

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me just say I'm proud of my conservative record. It's one of reaching across the aisle to get things done for Americans, obviously, whether it be McCain-Lieberman that established the 9/11 commission, and then the legislation that implemented that, or whether it be working across the aisle in the Armed Services Committee to provide the men and women with what they need to defend this nation. And I'm proud of that record.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHETRY: After the dust settled between McCain and Romney, all four candidates had a chance to share their thoughts on the economy and who has the best plan to fix it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: An economic stimulus plan has to put money in the hands of consumers and businesses and homeowners now.

MCCAIN: I think that we've got to return to the principle that you don't lend money to people that can't pay back.

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he really wants an economic stimulus package, look at what infrastructure investment does.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Where are you going to get the money to build the highway? Same old thing. You know, we have a foreign policy where we blow up bridges overseas and then we tax the people to go over and rebuild the bridges overseas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: They all said they support the economic stimulus package that's making its way through Congress.

John?

ROBERTS: Debate fever here in Los Angeles today. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama going one-on-one for the very first time. And the candidates are sharpening their attacks, ahead of tonight's big showdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know it is tempting after another president named George Bush. It is our second one now. And so I know it's tempting to simply turn back the clock, look backwards and try to build a bridge back to the 20th century. It is not enough to say you'll be ready from day one. You have to be right from day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, Hillary Clinton responded to that saying, quote, "That certainly sounds audacious, but not hopeful." A reference to Barack Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope."

She said, I would certainly hope we could get back to talking about the issues, drawing the contrast that are based in fact, that have a connection to the American people.

CNN's Jessica Yellin joins us now with some of the issues that could spark fireworks in tonight's debate. And speaking of issues versus fireworks, do you think this is going to be more about aggressive comparing and contrasting than it is their position on the issues?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's anyone's guess but it seems very like that tonight could be a lot more aggressive because there's no John Edwards there to temper this debate. I mean, we all recall when John Edwards said last week, "I'm the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party."

Because he was the one sort of stepping back and saying let's get back to the people's business. And we could very well see more of what we saw from Barack Obama yesterday, which was hitting Senator Clinton hard on senator's vote in Iraq, on her failure on health care and comparing her to the sort of, saying essentially, she'll unite the Republicans against the Democrats.

ROBERTS: There are some people including our Roland Martin who are saying this is Barack Obama's last chance to prove that he can go with the rough and tumble of presidential politics and he has to be out there. He's got to be very forceful tonight.

YELLIN: That makes very good sense and it's right, because he has to show all those doubters that he is strong enough to be the Democratic nominee in the general election. And if it were John McCain, he was up against, he could face him toe-to-toe.

And on the same time, it's Hillary Clinton's opportunity to show that she's not going to be an attack dog; that she can be sort of the conciliator and she can be much more of the policy person that people want her to be. They get nervous when she's too aggressive.

ROBERTS: When we were in South Carolina last night, as big a topic as the two candidates, was the fellow who is not in the race, but who is out there on the campaign trail. Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton had something to say about that yesterday.

YELLIN: That's right. We've all been talking so much about Former President Clinton's role and she says, you know, I do take responsibility for the some of the things he has said lately. She acknowledged that maybe they did upset people but she said, remember, this campaign is about me, not about him.

Probably, not great. When you're the candidate, you have to remind people of that, as you pointed out.

ROBERTS: That's true. Yes. You shouldn't have to say, hey, listen, I'm the candidate here. Pay no attention to him. We haven't seen him on the campaign trail as much this week?

YELLIN: He has been out there, but it's been very muted. He has not made news because it really does seem that he's trying to not grab the headlines. Just make a quiet case for his wife. We'll see if he'll crop up there in the next few days again.

ROBERTS: You mentioned how John Edwards' departure from the race could affect the debate tonight allowing them to go at each other without interruption. Another candidate saying, hey, me, over here -- remember me? There's three of us in the race. How do you think it will affect the race overall?

YELLIN: Well, the natural inclination is to believe that John Edwards' people will go to Barack Obama because Obama and Edwards were so close in some of these debates. But the truth is many of Edwards' issues are core Democratic issues. And that core base of Democratic voters Hillary voters. So it could split in two and both candidates are going to vie aggressively.

ROBERTS: We've been taking this in formal vote today -- in our "Quick Vote." And it's just about split right down the middle, so maybe that's the way they'll break out.

Jessica Yellin, thanks very much. Good to see you this morning.

Tonight's CNN Democratic debate, don't forget, begins at 8:00 Eastern and there will be an encore presentation of last night's Republican debate, that's coming up at noon Eastern right here on CNN.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Thanks a lot, John.

Well, our Alina Cho is here with more news developing overnight.

Hey, Alina -- about Britney Spears.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Kiran. Good morning again. That's right. Good morning, everybody. Breaking news overnight.

Troubled pop star, Britney Spears, is back in the hospital. Los Angeles police tell CNN, they responded to Spears' home and transported her to a local hospital. She was apparently physically removed and taken by ambulance. You can see the video there.

The "Los Angeles Times" is reporting, Spears is being held on a 72-hour mental health evaluation at UCLA Medical Center. The paper is also reporting all of this was prompted by a call from her psychiatrist. This is the second time Spears has been taken from her home and hospitalized on a mental health hold in just a month.

There could be a showdown today over who gets a tax rebate check and for how much. The Senate Finance Committee has approved an economic stimulus plan that will shrink the rebate to $500 per individuals and $1,000 for couples, but more Americans could be eligible.

Individuals making $150,000 a year and couples making $300,000 would get checks under this plan. That's up from $75,000 and $150,000 respectively. The House and White House are urging the Senate to pass the package already approved by the House.

The IRS is issuing a warning. Watch out for tax rebate scams. The Fed say identity thieves are posing as IRS agents, calling people and telling them they can't get their rebates unless they provide information about their bank accounts for a direct deposit. The IRS of course are trying to take advantage of those people expecting a rebate from the economic stimulus plan.

And finally, new this morning. Brand new rules starting today at the border with Canada. Americans and Canadians will now have to show government issued I.D. and proof of citizenship to enter the United States. For example, you would need a driver's license and a passport or birth certificate now, before you could just tell the border agents where you're from. So now, 19 and older, you got to have not just a driver's license but proof of citizenship, too.

CHETRY: And a lot of concerns that it could affect businesses in the area. That people fearing long lines and so they're just not going to bother.

CHO: Oh, yes. As you all know, I spent some time at that Border Library, remember, earlier in this year.

CHETRY: Yes and you were sometimes in Canada, took a step and you were...

CHO: That's right, straddling the border and a lot of businesses in that area are really concerned. Yes, absolutely.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we'll keep checking on it for our viewers. Alina, good to see you. Thank you.

CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: We're also watching extreme weather this morning across the country. Snow and avalanche danger shutting down Interstate 90. That's taking place in Washington State. Two cars there buried under snow. Police say that four people were trapped inside the car but got out OK.

Also snow covered roads and bitter cold in Wisconsin. Warming up slightly today after temperatures plunged more than 50 degrees within hours earlier in the week, but driving, still dangerous in some parts of the state. They are also saying that the wind there is delaying some arriving flights as well. And buffalo slammed with near hurricane-force wind gusts yesterday causing lakes to turn to ice.

Reynolds wolf has been tracking all of the extreme weather for us including some developing news this morning of a tornado watch for parts of Texas.

Good morning, Reynolds.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: Ten minutes after the hour now, Kiran. The president's economic stimulus package is a big break for people who own expensive homes. Is that fair? Our personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, joins us a little bit later with the answer to that.

And it was a bruising debate. Let see if the Republicans came out of it with an edge heading into Super Tuesday. That's next on AMERICAN MORNING. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I guess I'd also note that if you get endorsed by "The New York Times," you're probably not a conservative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: Let me note that I was endorsed by your two hometown newspaper who know you best, including the very conservative "Boston Herald," who know you well better than anybody. So I'll guarantee you "The Arizona Republic" will be endorsing me, my friend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Ouch. It wasn't always pretty at last night's Republican debate. Right after it, I caught up with Mitt Romney. We talked about everything from Ronald Reagan's powerful legacy to the acrimonies back and forth between he and John McCain. It seemed to be one of the themes of the night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: An awful lot of back and forth between you and Senator McCain. And I wonder, just a few days before the primary, is that what the voters want to hear? Didn't they want to hear substance on the issues?

ROMNEY: Oh, I think substance. I think Senator McCain was called out for what everyone has said was a false accusation. "The New York Times," "Washington Post," "Time" magazine, Bill Bennett, everybody has said what he said was simply wrong and reprehensible. I think it was a huge mistake on his part.

He wants to stick with it. So he got to take the shots for it, as long as he's doing that. I think people are going to really say, what's the heart and soul of the Republican Party going to be going forward? And I think that you're going to recognize them. That people do not want to have somebody who says no to drilling in ANWR, who says we're going to put a 50 cent a gallon burden on gasoline in this country.

Senator Mccain is just, I think, out of step with Republicans on issue after issue. That's what's going to hopefully get me the nod.

ROBERTS: There was a lot of talk, of course, tonight because we're at the Reagan Library, about the legacy of Ronald Reagan. Is it right for the Republican candidate to try to be Ronald Reagan or be like Ronald Reagan, who has been described as the person with the right ideas for that time?

ROMNEY: Yes. I'm going to say Ronald Reagan is one of a kind. No one is Ronald Reagan, but Ronald Reagan. But each of us can talk about things we've learned from Ronald Reagan, and say, you know, that's something I learned from him. That's a lesson I haven't lost. ROBERTS: So what have you learned from him?

ROMNEY: Optimism. Recognizing this is the Shining City on the hill. You got to have a candidate that's optimistic or we lose. A change agent. Ronald Reagan was somebody who went to Washington from outside Washington. He went there to change Washington. That's important as well.

And I think being a social conservative, combined with being an economic conservative that means lowering taxes as well as believing in a strong national defense. These are all Reagan principles that got to be applied in a new way today because of course the kind of threats we face today are different. But the principles, they're the same.

ROBERTS: Is the Reagan coalition still alive?

ROMNEY: It is. There are social conservative, there are economic conservatives and there are foreign policy conservatives but they're splintered. They haven't all been put back together, because, well, our Congress went off in different directions on spending and the president took a course on Medicare, to be Medicare part D that got a lot of success.

So you've got the people wondering whether the heart and soul of the party can be put back together.

ROBERTS: Well, can it be? Is there a candidate out there in the Republican Party who can put it back together?

ROMNEY: Well, that's what I'm trying to do. As you know, I'm doing my very best to bring back all three branches, if you will, of Republican conservative thought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, Mitt Romney spends the day here in California with events plan at Long Beach and San Diego.

John McCain is expected to pick up the endorsement of California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger today. Last night's debate was the last chance before Super Tuesday for Republicans to see the candidates side by side. Did the debate tilt anything in anyone's favor? Joining me now is Mike Allen. He is the chief politico writer of the "Politico."

So what do you think? Was there a clear winner last night?

MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER, POLITICO: Well, there wasn't. And John, I'm struck, as I watched that video. The human element of this. Those two guys sitting as close as we are the day after a bitter Florida primary. They weren't sure who was going to win. It has to be so unpleasant. But John, there is a potentially momentous development this morning and that is the Romney campaign changing its strategy. As you know, their plan had been on these big Super Tuesday states, advertised where he's not appearing. But the campaign is confirming that they have not bought television time in these big states. So I've been speculating how much he's going to open his wallet at the moment and it could change. But the moment, he is not advertising big and we've agreed that every day counts.

On the other side, if you look at these big endorsements. They just add to the impression that John McCain is looking like the nominee. Right here -- just, he already was ahead in polls here in California and it just helps him build up that head of steam.

ROBERTS: I was there waiting for John McCain to come off the stage. And he and Mike Huckabee got together and Huckabee said, you're racking up all these big endorsements. Leave some for the rest of us. You know, the fact that he got Giuliani yesterday, he's getting Schwarzenegger today. How does that play out on the national stage?

ALLEN: It will. For people who were reluctant to go with him, it sort of -- is a seal of approval, and in some cases, and it's much like the way that all of the endorsement are playing out for Obama. Like if you were uncertain, it's sort of a little nudge or a little push. And as you know, Senator McCain tells a lot of work to do with conservatives. Something very interesting.

As you know, the Woodstock for conservatives every year, they call it CPAC -- the Conservative Political Action Conference last year. That's where they had those no Rudy McRomney? But it didn't seem like old times. Doesn't it?

In the past, John McCain had snubbed them. He's not gone there. This year, yesterday, the day after Florida, he called and asked to be invited. You'll be speaking. So this is part of the John McCain makeup tour. And I think you're going to see him reaching out to conservatives in both subtle and obvious ways.

ROBERTS: But at the same time, people like Rush Limbaugh, with the huge megaphone that Rush Limbaugh has, beating John McCain and Mike Huckabee mercilessly. Does he need to get Limbaugh and people of his -- over to his side or could he do it without them?

ALLEN: He's not going get Limbaugh on his side. I think that's a great point you make, because these people talk to important Republican voters, and Rush Limbaugh had said they might not vote Republican this year. Can you believe it? If John McCain's the nominee. Rush says, I know who the conservatives are. So it...

ROBERTS: He's got nobody else to vote for. I assume he just stay home, right?

ALLEN: I can't see him pulling the rubber for Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. That would be news. Although, they are so good for his business. He certainly ought to.

ROBERTS: Yes, all right. Mike Allen from "Politico." It's always good to see you, Mike. Thanks very much. ALLEN: Good luck at the debate tonight.

ROBERTS: All right. It should be a lot of fun here. It would be an interesting time.

Let's throw it back to New York now and here's Kiran.

CHETRY: Another interesting historical note. For the first time ever, the Democrats will not nominate a white male. They'll either nominate a black man or a woman for president. The field now whittled down to two after Former Senator John Edwards announced he's out. Edwards made the announcement from New Orleans. The same place where he announced he was running.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for me to step aside so that history -- so that history can blaze its path. We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history. We will be strong. We will be unified and with our convictions and a little backbone, we will take back the White House in November, and we'll create hope and opportunity for this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Now, Edwards did not endorse either candidate but said that both Clinton and Obama promised to take up his fight against poverty.

It brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question, which is -- who will benefit more from John Edwards' departure from the presidential rate? Do you think its Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Right now 52 percent of you say it's Hillary. 48 percent say Barack. Cast your vote, cnn.com/am. We're going to update your votes throughout the morning.

So how did the voters think the Republican candidates did last night? We're going to show you their instant reactions -- that's the dial testing, after the debate, coming up.

Also, (INAUDIBLE) for people with expensive homes, really fair? Well, personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, breaks it down ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, if you need a break from politics. How about a panda? This is our "HotShots" this morning. It's from Austria. And it's the newest attraction there. 5-month-old panda named Fu Long. The name means "lucky dragon" in Chinese. The cub is cute, cuddly and a little bit wobbly. Although, not doing bad there. Zookeepers say she sleeps about 18 hours a day. There she is right now. She needs her beauty sleep, playing with mom. Hey, if you have a hot shot, send it to us. Send it to our website at cnn.com/am. Follow the "HotShots" link and please include your name, where you're from, and a little bit about the picture or video and please make sure the image is yours.

Well, we've heard about Americans getting tax rebates from this economic stimulus plan that's being battled back and forth in the House right now. But there's another benefit that hasn't got much attention. One that could help homeowners. CNN's personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, joins us now with more.

Well, the House has their version that they pass through and the Senate is coming up with a version right now.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're not done yet.

CHETRY: But there could be -- when something finally gets out there, something that helps homeowner that you may not have thought of?

WILLIS: Exactly. It could be even bigger than the rebate as a matter of fact. If you have a jumbo loan out there and you know who you are. It's for $417,000 or more. You know, you typically pay more in interest for that loan than folks that have so-called conforming loans, which is lower than $417,000.

Big news is that in the economic stimulus plan they may raise the levels for those conforming loans to as high as $729,750. So this is a very big deal for folks who have those jumbo loans. Let's give you an example.

If you have a loan for $500,000, you could save as much as $164 a month, almost $2,000 a year. Now, my sources are telling me that the difference to folks out there in the market place will be something like a half percent. Maybe even three quarters of a percent. Our number is there. I assume of an improvement of about half a percent. So we don't have that yet, OK? I just want to tell you.

CHETRY: Right. So what they're doing is they're possibly going to raise the capital on what they consider a jumbo loan?

WILLIS: Right, exactly. And this will probably only last for about a year. So they're going to have a window to take advantage of this. Probably won't go into an effect in April, even if it does go into effect so it's few months...

CHETRY: And then you have to refinance yourself, right?

WILLIS: You have to refinance. Get your documents together now. Rates are lower in the marketplace right now if you're worried about that.

CHETRY: That's very interesting and then some people say, look, if you can afford to take out that kind of loan, do you really need the assistance? WILLIS: Well, I think that's a great point. But I want to show you some pictures here that will help you explain what I'm talking about. You know, jumbo in what it used to be.

Take a look at this California property over here. This is a $415,000 house. It's 1100 square feet. This house in Texas. This may be what you think of when you think of a jumbo loan. Four bedrooms, three-1/2 baths. I mean, this is a luxury house, on the right. On the left, you just get a regular house, for example, in San Diego. The median price in San Diego, $551,000.

CHETRY: It's mind-boggling. I mean, take a look in New York City for half a million dollars, you get basically the size of someone's closet.

WILLIS: Yes, exactly.

CHETRY: So what you're saying is that people have to borrow more? You're not getting as much for your money as you were back in the day?

WILLIS: In some markets. And of course, they have -- in this proposal, it will accommodate the fact that, you know, we live in different markets. Some places are expensive. Some places aren't. It's not gone into effect yet, but you should keep your eyes on this if you have a jumbo loan. Because you could get some big help out there that would mean more to you than even the tax rebate.

CHETRY: Yes, very true, because you're talking much more than $500 or $1,200.

WILLIS: Exactly.

CHETRY: Gerri Willis, always great to see you. Thanks.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

CHETRY: John?

ROBERTS: Kiran, instant reaction from voters, right as the candidates were debating. We'll have that coming up.

And you have questions, he has answers. The doctor is in. Dr. Sanjay Gupta's about to open up his mailbag.

Good morning, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Lots of medical questions this week and lots of medical topics that we covered as well. Thanks to your questions. We'll be getting to them, straight up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: It's Thursday, January the 31st. We're outside the Kodak Theater here in Hollywood, California, special edition AMERICAN MORNING. 46 degrees now, it's a little chilly but thankfully the rain stopped. We had a beautiful day yesterday. It's supposed to be nice today as well, with highs in the mid-60s. I'm John Roberts. Hey, Kiran.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR:: Good to see you this morning. Kiran Chetry here in New York, and we're talking about the debate last night. Not a popular word among conservative circles, John, as you know, is timetable. Well, Mitt Romney said he never used timetable when talking about the war in Iraq and it caused the most heated exchange last night between Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why do you say --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not using the actual quote. That's not what I said.

MCCAIN: We don't want them to lay in the weeds until we leave. That is the actual quote and I'm sure fact checkers --

ROMNEY: What does that mean?

MCCAIN: It means a timetable for until we leave.

ROMNEY: Let me --

MCCAIN: Is it not --

ROMNEY: Is it not fair to have the person who's being accused of having a position he doesn't have be the expert on what his position is? How is it that you're the expert on my position when my position has been very clear --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: There you have it. Romney and McCain clashed all night about their conservative credentials right in front of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who was also in the audience.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is throwing support to John McCain. CNN has learned that announcement can come today when the two make a visit to a solar energy facility. McCain is also set to receive \endorsements from Georgia's two republican senators. John.

ROBERTS: So, what do perspective voters think of last night's CNN republican debate? We gathered together a group of undecided voters for what we call a dial test. They are asked to turn the dial one way when they like something or the other way when they don't. The higher the collective graph line goes, the more the voters like what they're hearing. Chris Lawrence joins me now with the result of our dial test and a lot of up and down yesterday, as there is with all these debates. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: The most up and down, John, actually from that clip that Kiran just showed. That exchange on Iraq generated the most interest, some of these voters who were looking. In fact, whenever John McCain went after Mitt Romney, you could see McCain's approval numbers nose dive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Iraq conflict --

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Mitt Romney didn't run away from President Bush and these voters approved.

ROMNEY: He did something for our party that was important to the do, which is to show that when someone attacks America there will be consequences, and he kept us safe these last six years. And --

LAWRENCE: Those were remarks scored near the top of the scale. When John McCain claimed Romney supported a time table to withdraw American troops from Iraq, voters took side.

ROMNEY: How is it that you're the expert on my position when my position has been very clear. This is --

MCCAIN: I'm the expert on this, when you said I won't weigh in, I'm a governor. You couldn't weigh in because were you a governor --

LAWRENCE: McCain's aggressive style made the meter drop like a rock especially when he criticized Romney for spending money on attack ads.

MCCAIN: You spend it all. The fact is that your negative ads, my friend have set the tone unfortunately in this campaign.

LAWRENCE: Mike Huckabee flat lined when he talked about abortion. But on foreign policy and defense, which aren't normally considered his strengths, he got his highest marks.

MIKE HUCKABEE (), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to have an army that is well-staffed, well-trained, well-financed, and that is prepared for anything and hopefully because it is so well-prepared, it never has to be used.

LAWRENCE: Ron Paul connected by explaining how he'd fix the economy.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need lower text taxes, less regulation and we need to free up the markets.

LAWRENCE: And one of few times McCain scored with voters is when he aimed his anger at Wall Street.

MCCAIN: I think we got your return to the principal that you don't lend money to people that can't pay it back. I think that there's some greedy people that, in Wall Street that perhaps need to be punished. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: You can see the spike there, but in the final question, when asked, would Ronald Reagan support your -- why would Ronald Reagan support you for the presidency? McCain again slipped it again, seemed to go after Romney saying, Ronald Reagan would not support someone who would changed positions so often. You could see his approval ratings -- down.

ROBERTS: It's a group of 24 people. It's a small group but it's a representative group and they seemed to like it when these candidates attack attacked the issues as opposed to each other?

LAWRENCE: Exactly. You're talking about 24 undecided republicans but if you look at those lines they seem to be making some decisions as they went along.

ROBERTS: That's interesting. We'll see how it plays out on Tuesday. Chris Lawrence, fascinating piece. Thank you.

Tonight's CNN democratic debate begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and there will be an encore presentation of last night's republican debate. That will air at noon eastern right here on CNN.

Let's go back to New York and here's Kiran.

CHETRY: The number of dead growing this morning, John, after a freak storm ravaged China. At least 63 have been killed in these snowstorms that's been going on there for three weeks now. Power, non-existent and the transportation system crippled. The snow made 12 national highways impassable, stranding thousands on the roads. CNN's Andrew Stevens is in China for us this morning and he joins us just outside of Nanjing, about 170 miles northwest of Shanghai. And Andrew, you are in one of those traffic jams right now.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: We're right next to it, Kiran. And I'll tell you what, it hasn't been moving for a long time. Just let me paint a picture for you. What you're looking at now is a long, long line of traffic stretching miles and miles in both directions. They're going back against the traffic, at least 30 miles back, that's the city of Nanjing. And 80 miles ahead is the city of (inaudible). Now this traffic has been trying to get out of the city of Nanjing all day. We left in a car 30 miles ago, 9 1/2 hours ago. We're about 30 miles into it. It's just chaos here at the moment. The weather, luckily, is holding. It's a clear sky tonight. It's very calm but there is no snow. You can imagine when you get traffic this sort of length, what will happen if you get heavy snow here. That's what they're forecasting over the next 12 hours or so. Heavy snow coming in from the west which is where this traffic is all heading to. So it could get extremely dangerous. Already thousands and thousands of vehicles across southern, across central China are trapped, blocked by snow across roads.

The rescue authorities can't get to many of these people, because the conditions are just so bad. If you go down to the south of the country, in Guangzhou, which is the capital down there. We got about 800,000 people in and around the railway station trying to get home. The reason for all this mess is because there are about 200 million people are expected over the next couple of weeks, starting about a week ago, is to try to get back to their homes and their families for the Chinese New Year, Kiran.

CHETRY: And the other thing it seems to be a little bit puzzling. I mean, we deal in the U.S., we see these types of storms where you know feet of snow sometimes fall and they're up and running rather quickly. Why is this so crippling to the power grid and to the systems there and to the roadways?

STEVENS: This is the worst weather they've seen for 50 years. In fact, the problems just down the road we are trying to get to has declared this the worst disaster since 1949. That's when the communist took over. Now, what that means, of course, is they're just not prepared for this sort of weather. This is quite a tropical air, and very hot summers here, cool winters.

This is the land of fish and rice they call it, this province. So, when you get feet of snow here, there's no know-how, there's no technical ability and there's no equipment to actually deal with it. So you've got thousands of people shoveling, literally shoveling snow off the roads. You've got now about 200,000, 300,000 army workers, and army police employed just to try to get things moving. But at the moment, it's not -- they're certainly fighting, if not a losing battle but certainly not winning this battle at the moment, Kiran.

CHETRY: Yes, what a mess out there. Andrew Stevens reporting from China for us. Thanks so much.

You know, China's not the only place that's been seeing some very unusual weather this winter. We're actually going to talk to somebody from the Farmer's Almanac. Their job is predicting this type of stuff. About why this year seems to be quite unusual, weather wise.

Also, we're opening up Dr. Sanjay Gupta's mailbag and judging by your questions this week, you have been paying attention to a lot of things that the good doctor has been talking about, from caffeine in pregnancy and to why the 40s, when you get to be in your 40s, it seems to be a time of the blues a little bit more than maybe other decades. Sanjay has all the answers for us, coming up next.

Also, January going out like a lion for some. Here in New York though, here's a live picture this morning of New York's Central Park. One thing that's been missing. You know, they've had the runners, the bikers, the dogs are out walking. No snow. We're going to talk more about why we've seen such a strange weather pattern. Wacky winter in a lot of places, coming up.

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CHETRY: Britney Spears in the hospital this morning after some overnight drama that's unfortunately looking to be a norm around her house in the past month. This is the second time, in fact, in the past month that authorities have been called to her house and she's been taken to a hospital. She is now being held for a mental evaluation.

AMERICAN MORNING's legal analyst Sunny Hostin is here to talk about the legal issues surrounding this. You said last month when we've talked about this that you know, you have to get a doctor's - you know, there has to be some sort of ruling about the mental state. And still then it's very difficult to hold somebody against their will?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN, LEGAL ANALYST: It really is. It's an extremely difficult standard that they must meet. Remember this is a civil commitment. That means commitment by the state, not a voluntary commitment, and it's really regulated very, very heavily. It's protected by the, almost every single constitutional amendment you can imagine and people are really asking what is happening to Britney now? And really what is happening is, she's been put in for a 72-hour evaluation hold. There are several rights that she has. She can have visitors. She can refuse medication which is an important thing. She can wear her own clothes. She can write to people. She can refuse to have her picture I.D. taken but right now she's being evaluated. It's an extremely thorough evaluation. It's a complete psychiatric evaluation. There's a full interview. There's lab work and after that, Kiran, the next thing that's going to happen is they're going to determine whether or not the legal criteria is met to have her held for another 14 days.

CHETRY: When that happens is it under a different set of circumstances? I mean, can you be forced to take medication if that ruling goes down?

HOSTIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And what happens is, the legal criteria is whether or not she's a danger to herself, whether or not she's a danger to others or whether or not her mental disorder has caused her to be gravely disabled and she could not take care of herself. That is a determination that is being reviewed by a judge. And really that's where my guess is the psychiatrist that's treating her wants this to go.

CHETRY: All of these is contingent on whether or not the patient agrees to it. Meaning there has been some reports that perhaps she was not fighting going to the hospital this time?

HOSTIN: She wasn't fighting but let's remember, this is an involuntary commitment. One of three things can happen after the 72- hour hold. So, you're right. One is that she can be released, determined that she's not a danger to herself or others. I don't think that's going to happen. The second thing is another hold, another 14-day hold, or lastly, the status changes from involuntary to voluntary. That's the best case scenario that Britney decides, I need help. I need help. And that's going to bode well if she makes that decision for her child custody case.

CHETRY: Maybe it will also be helpful to have a 72-hour reprieve from the paparazzi. Helicopters were outside her house following her every move.

HOSTIN: Absolutely. You know, I know this is a public interest story and everyone is interested, but we have to remember, she needs help. She needs treatment. She's spiraling downwards. We want a happy ending to the story and that ending has to be treatment.

CHETRY: All right. Sunny Hostin, great to see you. Thanks.

HOSTIN: Thank you.

CHETRY: John.

ROBERTS: CNN NEWSROOM just minutes away now. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead. Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hey, good morning to you, John. Politics on the NEWSROOM rundown. Of course, the democratic presidential candidates face to face tonight in the CNN Los Angeles "Times" debate. Our guests are going to have a preview of what will happen.

And after last night's GOP debate, John McCain looking at another key endorsement today. This one from that guy. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And this young warrior gets a surprise break from the Iraq war. A free trip to Super Bowl XLII. We'll talked with him live from Phoenix.

Also breaking news whenever it happens here in the NEWSROOM, top of the hour right here on CNN. John.

ROBERTS: Heidi, we'll see you then. See you soon.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on call to answer your questions from his mailbag, including about alcohol and exercise. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

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ROBERTS: It's Thursday which means it's time to dig in to Dr. Sanjay Gupta's mailbag and answer your question. Sanjay joins us now. Sanjay, here's your first question. Are you all set?

All right, here we go. Cheryl in Wilton, Connecticut writes "I just you're your piece on "Frowns in your 40s." Amazing timing. I am 44 1/2 years old and I have been most recently been feeling what you described, a little blue. What do we do about it?"

GUPTA: Well, Cheryl's referring to what I thought is a pretty interesting study, sort of looking at our happiness as we through our lives. What people found is it's actually sort of a u-curve. Start off pretty happy, sort of have this lull around 44 1/2 in the United States and then back up again. A couple things, Cheryl. First of all, you should feel solace in that most people go through what you're going through now. I don't know if that makes you happy or not but you're not alone for sure. We also know from doing a lot of research on happiness, specifically for some of our reporting is that most of us are sort of born with a happiness set point, and not surprisingly, lots of money is not going to change that set point.

So, winning the lottery, for example, won't help. But changing the set point could be changed by actually doing things that you enjoy every single day. So, taking a walk, for example, getting ice cream, or just even looking at your job in a different way. Those sort of things can help. Overall exercising, eating healthy, just laughing, John, smiling, like you do often, that can make you happier.

ROBERTS: Yes. You're headed for the U, I'm on the upswing and still waiting for the lift.

GUPTA: Does that make you happy, John?

ROBERTS: Maybe I should go for some ice cream. Second question from Julie in Salt Lake City, she says, "Interesting report on exercise and alcohol. Question is, any type of alcohol or are some types better than others? Wine, beer?" Maybe a combination? Jack Daniels and jumping jacks? (inaudible) and crunches? You know, anything particular that go well together?

GUPTA: Julie is referring to an interesting study that actually looked at the affects of exercise versus alcohol and both of them together overall on your heart health. And what they found interestingly was that adding moderate amounts of alcohol to your exercise was best of all in terms of trying to ward off heart disease, specifically because not only does that combination lower your bad cholesterol levels, it actually raises your good cholesterol levels. They didn't distinguish between beer, wine or hard liquor. There was really no distinction. Keep in mind, red wine, for example, five ounces of that, that's 105 calories, gives you a lot of flavonoids. A 12-ounce beer, 150 calories. Start doing the coke and rum, you get 250 calories. So you got to watch that as well, John.

ROBERTS: And all things in moderation as well. Don't get hammered.

GUPTA: Two drinks for men and one drink for women.

ROBERTS: Don't get hammered and go on the treadmill. That might be dangerous. Final question from Marion in Minneapolis. She writes this "does your caffeine report relate to pregnant women throughout the entire pregnancy or during the first trimester only?

GUPTA: Great question, Marion. Specifically, what Marion is asking about has to do with this idea that caffeine in two high amounts can actually increase a woman's risk of miscarriage. A lot of people are sort of stunned by that information. A lot of women drink caffeine at the beginning and during their pregnancy. Let me give you a couple of specifics. First of all, it was more than 200 milligrams a day of caffeine where concern started to arise. The study was actually done, Marion, all the way through 20 weeks. So, it wasn't just the first trimester but all the way through 20 weeks so really looking at caffeine intake until the first half of the pregnancy. Keeping in mind that a pregnancy is typically 40 weeks, John. ROBERTS: Great advice, Doc. Thanks for stopping by. We'll do the mailbag again next Thursday. And don't forget Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special on "Broken Government Health Care" tonight at 11:00 p.m. right after our debate coverage.

It has certainly been a winter to remember, from wild storms out west including snow here just north of Los Angeles to a nearly snow less January in New York City. What's going on and what's in store? The managing editor of the world renowned "Farmer's Almanac" is here to explain. That's coming right up on AMERICAN MORNING.

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CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. You, know, it's been a wacky winter. We've seen flooded, icy lakes in the north. We've seen avalanches out west. There has been tremendous wind and storm systems moving through the Midwest and the Great Lakes. Here in New York City, though, something's been missing. It's a snow less January. And it's the first one we've seen in 75 years. Sandy Duncan joins me now. She's the managing editor of the "Farmer's Almanac." Thanks so much for being with us. You guys try to predict the unpredictable. And it seems as though it's been a strange winter. Hasn't it this year?

SANDY DUNCAN, MANAGING EDITOR, "FARMER'S ALMANAC": Well, you know, the "Farmer's Almanac" said it will be a winter of split personality. We thought that the East Coast will be very, very cold and snowy back to New England and northeast, where they will be kind of more mild and not snowy in the northwest.

CHETRY: And so how did it turn out?

DUNCAN: Well, you know, so far, in December, we've been very accurate. Here in New York, we don't have any snow, but if you look around, snow is everywhere. We've been cold down in the southeast. We've had a lot of snow in the mountains. But January is kind of a little in reverse. And I think it might be because of La Nina. It's a little more on the west coast, and a little less on the east coast.

CHETRY: Yes. So when we talk about that. So, it's 75 years since we've had measurable snowfall. We should have about eight inches for January, and we really have had hardly any. Why is that?

DUNCAN: Well, you know, mother nature likes to keep us on our other toes. Wild, wacky weather and I think that it's one thing I think that we can't control. As we see the "Farmer's Almanac," we see that snow is coming. Winter's not over. The groundhog are coming out on Saturday. There's going to be six more weeks of snow and I bet there will be some snow before the end of February.

CHETRY: So, you're saying we're not going to be snowless for the season here in the city?

DUNCAN: Absolutely not. It's going to be, in fact, it looks very cold in the whole country, but in fact in New York City as well. CHETRY: You know, we've also been reporting on this record snowfall in China. They've seen it in places like Baghdad, in Israel. Is there something going on worldwide as well that's leading to some weather that we don't usually see.

DUNCAN: Well, again I think mother nature likes to keep us on our toes. You know, the whole idea of global warming. The "Farmer's Almanac" has always been close to the earth. We offer tips and ways to live more sustainable in our website, the "Farmer's Almanac"dotcom. We got all kinds of tips. But I don't think it's global warming. I think its just weather. You know, there's a belief that there's a lot of the warming is due to solar activity. And we're kind of a solar activity and in a couple of years, we might actually see global cooling.

CHETRY: All right. So you're saying that the groundhog is going to see his shadow. Obviously, we work with the "Farmer's Almanac" or they consult with them.

(crosstalk)

DUNCAN: He get's...

CHETRY: All right. Sandy Duncan, she's the managing editor of "The Farmer's Almanac." It's pretty chilly out here. Even though there's no snow.

DUNCAN: It is.

CHETRY: Temperatures are right. We just need the rest of everything to fall into place. Hey, John.

ROBERTS: Kiran, thanks.

A final check of this morning's "Quick Vote" question. We were asking you this morning, who will benefit more from John Edwards' departure from the presidential race? It's a close one today, and it actually flipped back and forth across the line. But look at this. Razor thin. 49% say Hillary Clinton will probably benefit. But 51% say Barack Obama stands to gain more. To all of you who voted thanks very much, and we'll do it again tomorrow.

And a reminder. Tonight's CNN democratic debate begins at 8:00 Eastern. And there's an encore presentation of last night's republican debate. That will take place today at noon Eastern right here on CNN The democratic debate tonight is going to be really interesting affair. With John Edwards out now, it's the very first opportunity for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to go one on one with each other and Kiran after the fireworks that we saw last week, last Monday in Myrtle Beach, I expected tonight's affair is going to be an interesting one with a lot of aggressive comparing and contrasting between these two candidates.

CHETRY: Absolutely. You were saying earlier the most sought- after ticket in L.A. right now is not to a movie premiere or an awards ceremony. It's this debate. A lot of people listening, a lot of people very eager to hear what both of those candidates have to say.

ROBERTS: This is very much going to be like the Oscars as well, because we're expecting a tremendous number of celebrities in the audience. We'll be working the crowd tonight with the microphone and hopeful he get a chance to talk to be a few of them and bring you some of that tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING.

For the moment, that's it for us. Thanks for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. I'll see you again tomorrow from the Kodak Theater, Kiran.

CHETRY: Sounds good. And one other reminder also tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to hear from George Clooney. I'm going to be talking to him about a new designation he got. A U.N. messenger of peace, how he's been active certainly in a lot of conflicts around the world. So, we're going to talk to him about that. Coming up.

Meanwhile, CNN NEWSROOM with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins starts right now.

TONY HARRIS, CNN, ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. Watch events come into the NEWSROOM live, Thursday morning, the last day of January. Here's what's on the rundown, the democrats facing off tonight in a CNN debate. A leading republican picking up a big endorsement today.

HARRIS: A frozen flood part of the brutal winter mix - snow, wind, rain, maybe tornadoes around the nation.

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