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Mitt Romney Wraps on Israel Trip; Political Pundits Debate Romney's Record; Colorado Theater Shooter to Face Formal Charges; Black Couple Denied Wedding in Mississippi Church; Newspaper Office Set On Fire; Syrian Rebels Overtake Army Base; Aleppo "Nail In Assad's Coffin"; Drew Peterson Murder Trial Set; Favre Returns To Football Today; A Threat To National Security?; America's Military Budget; London 2012

Aired July 30, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, our starting point this morning, Mitt Romney on his way to Poland after his welcome strip to welcome trip to Israel. Later this morning he's going to be meeting with the country's prime minister as well as Poland's former president. In Jerusalem Mitt Romney took a pretty hardline stance on Iran and expressed he support for Israel as well. Here's what he said.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must not delude ourselves into thinking containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course. No option should be excluded. We recognize Israel's right to defend itself and that it is right for America to stand with you.



O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney trailing in polls when they are asked which candidate would handle foreign policy better. It's a critical time for him to recover from what some say were pretty big gaffes made in Britain. Michele Flournoy is the co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security committee and former defense secretary under President Obama and was in the situation room during the Osama bin Laden raid. Nice to see you. Thank you for talking us with this morning.

Do you see a big difference between Mitt Romney's foreign policy stance when it comes to Iran and president Obama's foreign policy stance when it comes to Iran? They both talked about no option being off the table.

MICHELE FLOURNOY, CO-CHAIR, OBAMA CAMPAIGN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMITTEE: There really isn't that much substantive difference, Soledad. The president has made clear his policy is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon and that all options are on the table. Right now we're focused on imposing the most crippling sanctions in the history of any country. Those are tightening the screws on Iran's economy and we hope it will change the catalyst with regard to the nuclear program.

O'BRIEN: I want to read what Mitt Romney said about the Arab spring and lack of stability in the Middle East. He said "President George W. Bush urged Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic post tour but president Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we're seeing a whirlwind of turmoil because the nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their his trip in a more peaceful manner." That's what he said to an Israeli newspaper. What do you make of that comment?

FLOURNOY: I think this is a great example of Romney sort of using foreign policy as a way to mischaracterize the president's record. I think from the president's Cairo speech all the way through his actions during the Egyptian revolution, it's been clear which side the United States is on and that is on the side of democracy and freedom. But what Romney fails to do each and every time is really layout how his policy would be different, what specifically would he do differently. And we haven't heard from him on those issues. The American people frankly deserve to know that.

O'BRIEN: We know now there was a contingency plan shared with attacking Iran if any kind of diplomacy should fail and looks like they are getting a nuclear weapon. Some people have said that is purely politics and especially the timing is suspicious considering it comes at the moment when Governor Romney is making his way to make headlines in Israel.

FLOURNOY: Well, I think again, President Obama has made very clear that all options are on the table. What Romney seems to be doing is grabbing at straws and trying to make an impression on his foreign trip. Frankly, with the gaffes in London and performance in Israel, I think this trip raised more doubts. Is he really ready to represent the United States abroad? Is he really ready to be commander in chief? Is he really ready to lead on the global stage? I think this trip and his performance has raised more questions than it's answered frankly.

O'BRIEN: Some of that was part of what I was asking was is the timing suspicious, especially and is it set to undermine what he is trying to do in Israel?

FLOURNOY: It is, actually. And it's particularly striking when you contrast the nature of this trip, which has been very political, very focused on fundraising and statements and so forth, with President Obama's trip, where first and foremost he went to see the troops in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, understanding the importance of that stewardship role as commander in chief. He laid out a very substantive agenda and set of policies for the American people so they would know if he became president what he would do. We haven't heard that from Mitt Romney on this trip.

O'BRIEN: We heard on Friday the president committing $70 million for missile defenses. Again, is that just a political maneuver on the heels of the governor making a foreign policy trip to Israel to undermine and undercut whatever he's going to do?

FLOURNOY: No, it's really not. Congress finally passed the legislation. This was the president's first opportunity to have a signing ceremony and underscore the very strong, really unprecedented level of support and assistance that this administration provided to Israel's security.

O'BRIEN: One of the things we'll talk about is the new cover of "Newsweek." Can we throw that up on the screen, guys? Basically the question it asks is about the wimp factor, a big picture of Mitt Romney and the author's premise is that maybe Mitt Romney is too much of a wimp, his words, certainly not mine. What do you think of that cover?

FLOURNOY: I'm not going to get into any name calling. What I can say president Obama's record, if you look at the facts as opposed to the mischaracterizations, it stands for itself. He's one of the strongest national security presidents we have had ever had whether it's his performance on ending the Iraq war, setting up transition in Afghanistan, bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. The list goes on. I think that record stands for itself.

O'BRIEN: That's a complete dodge because I didn't ask anything about that. I ask about the cover but I understand. Thanks for joining us, we appreciate your time.

FLOURNOY: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Coming up in our next half-hour, we'll get reaction from the GOP Senator John McCain will join us and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte will join us as well. We'll talk to the author of "Newsweek" who wrote that piece.

Other stories to get to, Zoraida Sambolin has a look at the top stories making news this morning. Hey Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. The man accused of the Colorado movie theater massacre will face formal charges in court. James Holmes is suspected of killing 12 people, wounding 58 others during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie. He made an appearance in court last week where he seemed dazed and did not speak. CNN's Jim Spellman joins us live from Centennial, Colorado. What can we expect today, Jim?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, we will not see television cameras in the courtroom today. In four and a half hours he's going to make his way from the jail through an underground tunnel into the court. We expect him to be formally charged with 12 counts of first degree murder and numerous counts of attempted first degree murder and other charges likely around the booby-trapped apartment he set up as he went off to do this shooting at the movie theater. Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: Lots of talk about the death penalty. Any decision on that? SPELLMAN: That will come down the road. They have to take into account what the victims want to have and all of the evidence in the case. When they get to that point, but they tell me they would be shocked if the date does not go for the death penalty.

SAMBOLIN: Jim Spellman, thank you for that. Next hour, remembering the victims of the Colorado movie theater massacre, including 32-year-old Rebecca Wingo. Rebecca's mother will join us live.

And anger on the streets of Anaheim, California, people chanting "Tell the truth" during a protest over recent police shootings in the city. Police say they arrested two people when a peaceful protest started to take a turn yesterday. The demonstrations follow the fatal shootings of two men this month by police.

His relationship with President Obama has been rocky, but former president Bill Clinton will play a major role at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. An aide confirms that Clinton will deliver a key prime time speech and on September 5th, and it's the party's choice to place President Obama's name into the nomination as well. At the final night of the convention, President Obama will accept the nomination. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Zoraida, thank you very much.

Blown leads and world records and tears are all part of team USA's story at the Olympic Games in London. Leading the medal count is China with 12, the United States right behind with 11. Italy is in third place. Let's get right to Amanda Davies in London this morning. Amanda, good morning to you. Gosh, the big story has got to be this gymnast, Jordyn Wieber, mis-qualifying because of the rule that only allows two to make into the next level. Talk to me about that first.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of Americans feeling hard about this morning, but the rules is the rules and that's it, bottom line. And sadly for Jordyn Wieber she finished beneath Gabby Douglas and Ally Raisman. So that is it. She won't be able to go for the goal that she trained so hard for. It was interesting seeing walking through the zone after the event, because her teammates wanted to celebrate that they performed well but they had one of their teammates who they trained against who was obviously absolutely devastated and had obviously been crying.

A little bit later on Jordyn tweeted. She said "Thank you for your love and support. I'm so proud of our team today. I can't wait for the team finals. She will be taking part in the team finals and be able to go for gold on her own in the floor event on August the 7th. So it's not the end of Jordyn Wieber's Olympic campaign but it's certainly not the start she was hoping for.

O'BRIEN: It was so sad, sad to see her crying while her teammates were trying to cheer for themselves.

There were some reports that were set yesterday, tell me about that. DAVIES: Yes, it was a pretty good day for the USA women in the pool, not so good for the men. They had to settle for silver. It was France who beat the men to the gold medal. But Dana Vollmer, she took the gold medal and set a new world record, which is what she's been working for after the last eight years after claiming a team gold in Athens in 2004.

And then we've also got to congratulate Kim Rhode taking part in the shooting event, the skeet, which not many people have necessarily heard of it. But it was a great day for her. She is the first U.S. athlete to have won medals in five successive Olympic Games.

O'BRIEN: I would think with skeet shooting, you have a career forever, right? You should be able to do that when you're 70 if you want to.

DAVIES: I suppose you do. It's not something I'm particularly good at, not so hot with guns but I suppose you don't have to move anywhere particularly. I don't know whether she'll make it to another five games, that's quite something.

O'BRIEN: We'll watch for that. We appreciate that. Coming up later in this hour, we'll talk to Olympic great Kerri Strug a little bit more about the gymnastics and that incredible upset. That's going to be straight ahead.

Our "Get Real" this morning, talk about a couple denied their dream wedding because they are black. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. I'm Zoraida Sambolin minding your business this morning. U.S. markets deflating after the big rally last week, stock futures are all trading lower right now.

Apple and Samsung take their patent war to a federal court in California today. They've been fighting since apple sued Samsung last year claiming smartphones and tablets ripped off the iPhone and iPad. Samsung accuses apple of infringing on its patents and stifling competition.

And "The Dark Knight Rises" won big at the box office for the second weekend. The movie took the top spot raking in $64 million. It has made $537 million, that is worldwide. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Zoraida, thanks.

We told you earlier about Mitt Romney's trip to Poland for the final leg of his overseas tour. His stop before this in Israel is where he took a strong stance on Iran, appeared almost hawkish, he said Tehran must be halted in its ability to create nuclear weapons. And his senior foreign policy aide suggested Romney would support a military strike by Israel against Iran.

This morning "Newsweek" magazine is covering Romney a wimp on the cover. "The Wimp Factor" is the cover title. It asked if he's too insecure to be president. The article was written by Michael Tomasky, a special correspondent for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." He's also the editor of "Democracy," a journal of ideas with a progressive quarterly publication. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it. What's your definition of a wimp?

MICHAEL TOMASKY, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Well, as the second instructive word on the cover says, somebody who's insecure in the positions he takes and way he presents himself as a candidate. I see this up and down. I saw it this weekend, actually. On the surface, the speech in Israel sounded like a real tough speech and headlines say tough talk and so on and so on. You said it yourself.

But what the speech actually was was him pandering to the rightwing base in America and Israel and saying every word that would absolutely please them and not a single syllable that would displease them. We remember all of the flip-flops on the most important issues of our time he's completely reversed position. What sort of person that?

O'BRIEN: You think the flip-flop what defines somebody as a wimp. I want to read from your article. "The episode highlights what's really wrong with Romney, he's kind of lame and really annoying and keeps saying these incredibly off-key things and apologizes with all of the sincerity of a hostage. The one thing he never does, mans- up, double down, and take his lumps." That's from the article.

What your assessment doesn't focus on for a voter or potential voter, not really about the policy, he's not really how he was wimpy in thinks political stance in Massachusetts or fighting to get health care in that state or wimpy in his business at Bain. Do you think you create a strong argument for the wimp factor as opposed to a personal attack framed around the wimp factor?

TOMASKY: There are some person quirks that he has that are highlighted in that paragraph you read. But farther down in the article and heart of the piece and I say this in the piece, it centers on the positions that he takes, the way he has pandered so consistently on important, important issues, issues on which we'd like to see our politicians have some kind of consistency, some kind of backbone. He's repeatedly just changed positions completely and up pandered totally to the right wing. When Rush Limbaugh says jump, he says, how high? I think it's a fair question to ask, is this the kind of person we want to see in the White House?

O'BRIEN: He said this when he was asked what was his reaction to your story, he said this. I want to play a little bit.


ROMNEY: If I worried about what the media said I wouldn't get much sleep, and I'm able to sleep pretty well.


O'BRIEN: Meaning he doesn't care about it at all. Do you think he should worry about it? Do you think when it comes to the election that that is going to potentially have a big -- play a big role, potentially be a factor?

TOMASKY: I'd like to say yes, but I don't know. I can't control those things. The Obama campaign as we know is not really highlighting anything like this. They are not really making his flip- flops his character and issue. They are talking about Bain and his financial history and so on. But they are not really making this aspect of his character an issue, which is probably a little bit of a mistake and could persuade swing voters there's not much to this guy.

O'BRIEN: In 1987 there was a similar cover story and she described President Bush -- it was called "Fighting the Wimp Factor." And here's what Robert O'Brien said, a Romney campaign adviser, "Newsweek" was beyond silly when it called naval aviator George H.W. Bush a wimp. The fact is Mitt Romney is a steely nerved businessman that turned around failed companies and corruption plagued 2002 Olympic Winter Games and almost-bankrupt Massachusetts," essentially not only do you have it wrong, you have it completely wrong and picking examples of wimpiness that they would take exception too.

TOMASKY: I did say in the article that George H.W. Bush was a war hero and "Newsweek" was probably wrong in 1987. Mitt Romney, first of all, he's no war hero. He sat out the Vietnam War in France, got student deferments. OK, a steely-minded businessman? Well, yes, he saved some companies. Bain has also not saved some companies as we know very well. Look, I want to return to the main point.

I want to return to the main point. He is wishy-washy on most of the most important issues of the day on pro-life versus pro-choice, on immigration, he used to support a path to amnesty.

O'BRIEN: Politicians, as you and I both know, if we had a dollar for every politician who changed his position on an issue, we could both retire.

TOMASKY: Soledad, one or two issues, sure. Not six. Not seven, not the most important issues, not every single one of the most important issues of our time.

O'BRIEN: We are out of time. Thanks for speaking with us. The article is called -- let's throw up the cover story from "Newsweek," "The Wimp Factor," asking the question is Mitt Romney a wimp. We have to take a short break.

Still ahead, it was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their life but they were denied their dream wedding because they are black. Our STARTING POINT team is heading in to talk about that, Margaret Hoover leading the way, Ryan Lizza and Lenny Cruz with us. Here's Lenny's playlist.

I heard this song a million times. How are you? Nice to see you. This is "We are Young." Who sings this?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. A couple of headlines to tell you about, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is being evaluated for depression and also said to be suffering from gastrointestinal issue U.S. the son of reverend Jesse Jackson hasn't been on Capitol Hill for two months.

U.S. safety officials are investigating engine problems on the new 787 streamliners jets after debris fell from the plane and caused a grass fire at Charleston in South Carolina. That is according to the "L.A. Times" and other papers. It has been hit with several glitches.

O'BRIEN: Yikes.

Our team joins us, Lenny, the last time I saw you was -- we really saw each other for the first time when the show started in Florida.

LENNY CRUZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nice to see you. Nice and cool.

O'BRIEN: Only 100 today, you'll be fine.

Margaret Hoover is with us, former White House appointed in the Bush administration. Ryan Lizza has a new piece out today, it's a profile of Paul Ryan and it's we're going to be talking about that piece I think tomorrow. Do they show you the art work they are going to do ahead of time?

RYAN LIZZA, "NEW YORKER": They do, yes.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Don't always show the art work on the cover?

LIZZA: That's true.

O'BRIEN: That's always a surprise at times.

Our get real this morning, this is such a sad story because I was reading this story along with an article that talked about had race relations improved under a black president. So this is a story of Charles and Tandra Wilson, planning their dream wedding for months. Wanted to get ready in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, date was set and maimed the invitations. The day before the wedding, the pastor says several members of the church are having problems with having black people married at the church. He said this "This had never been done here before so it was setting a new precedent and there were those who reacted to that."

HOOVER: Isn't that unbelievable? You have a church that never had a black wedding in it.

O'BRIEN: In Mississippi where there are a lot of black people.

CRUZ: Still segregated. We talked about the wimp factor, this was a wimp. The leader of the church, some of the congregants went to the pastor and said, we don't know exactly what they said but whatever they said, they were uncomfortable with the wedding, and he was the one that went to the couple and said maybe we should do it somewhere else. His job as the pastor to come -- to tell these people, you guys are wrong, come on.

HOOVER: To not buckle to the discrimination and bigotry.

LIZZA: And Pastor Weatherford -- the few don't speak for the church.


CRUZ: A number of people were outraged as anyone would be. The pastor is the real leader that failed.

HOOVER: The pastor gets the wimp win for the day. But it's more than being a wimp. At this day and age you have to stand up to bigotry and discrimination.


O'BRIEN: The husband said if there were a time to step up and be Christ like it was before the wedding, hindsight is 20/20. But they are married. Good for them.

We have to take a break, ahead on STARTING POINT, a young woman gave us one of the most memorable Olympic moments of all time. Remember that, Kerri Strug being carried by her coach. She'll talk about the women's gymnastics finals and the big shock that happened over the weekend.

Plus, two top Republicans are joining us live. We'll tell you why Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte are hitting the road together, talking about defense cuts.

Here's Ryan's playlist.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's start with Zoraida Sambolin. She's got a look at the day's top stories. Hi, Z. Good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. Free speech under attack in Mexico. Police say several masked armed men broke into the office of a newspaper and poured out gasoline and set the building on fire.

The newspaper's web site also says none of the 15 people working in the office were injured. The paper's offices were also attacked with grenades two weeks ago. It is believed to be the work of drug cartels.

After hours of clashes, Syrian rebels overtake a military base on the outskirts of Aleppo, the country's largest city. The area has hotly contested with bloody battles raging for more than a week now.

Opposition groups say violence claimed another 114 lives in Syria yesterday at least 41 of them in the capital Damascus and in its suburbs.

In a CNN exclusive, defense Secretary Leon Panetta had no nonsense comments on Syria.


LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think if they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think it will be a nail in Assad's coffin.


SAMBOLIN: Panetta spoke to our Barbara Starr as he landed in Tunisa late last night. He's on a five-day trip that will take him to Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Panetta also told reporters that the Israelis have not made any decisions on attacking Iran over its suspected nuclear program.

An opening statement in the Drew Peterson trial gets underway tomorrow. Peterson is accused of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He was charged in her 2004 death after investigators exhumed her body and conducted a second autopsy.

Savio's death was initially ruled an accident after her body was found in a bathtub. Peterson is also a suspect in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy.

Michael Jackson's personal physician is asking for a new round of testing on a piece of evidence that put him behind bars. Prosecutors say Conrad Murray gave Jackson a fatal dose of, IV dose that was, of propofol mixed with lidocaine to ease of sting of the propofol as it entered Jackson's vein. Murray's lawyer says Jackson gave himself the fatal dose of propofol so there should be no traces of lidocaine in the bottle.

Storms in store for the east coast today and heat in the Midwest. Let's get a quick check on the weather. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins us.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, again, Zoraida. Yes, the heat across the southern plains and lower Mississippi Valley, advisories up in a couple of areas of warnings as well, could see heat indexes over 110 again, some dangerous heat and these numbers measured in the shade.

Not including humidity 109 in Joplin and 107 in Topeka, so these just kind of baking that ground and exacerbating the drought and these numbers up and over 100 will probably last for three or four days.

East of the Mississippi, temperatures aren't quite as hot, but the threat for afternoon thunderstorms is going to be with us popping up from time to time. Temperatures are relatively cool in New York 79, 89 degrees in D.C. and 90 for the high in Chicago. Zoraida, back to you.

SAMBOLIN: I guess that is relatively cool here in New York. Thank you, Rob.

Meet your new coach, Brett Favre, the future NFL hall of famer returns to football again Tuesday, this time though as an assistant high school coach in his hometown of Mississippi.

Favre will report to Oak Grove High School for practice this morning. He retired from the NFL in 2010 with most passing yards and touchdowns of all time. Imagine telling your parents, guess who is coaching me.

O'BRIEN: Coach Favre says I have to -- that would be so awesome if you're a high school freshmen, probably the greatest thing, awesome. All right, thanks, Z. Appreciate it.

Well, Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte and Lindsay Graham are going to be visiting three key states this week. They are going to be highlighting the pending defense cuts at the end of this year. The Defense Department budget could see $500 billion in cuts if Congress and President Obama don't act.

The cuts of course are part of the Budget Control Act, which was passed last year to avoid a fiscal crisis. It slashed more than a trillion dollars from the budget split evenly between nondefense and defense programs.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned cuts to defense could be disastrous for the military. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are both Romney supporters and both members of the Armed Services Committee.

And they're with me this morning. It's nice to see you both. Thanks for being with me. Senator McCain, let's start with you, if we can. The $500 billion cut over the next 10 years. You've had said that sequestration would be devastating. Give me a list of why?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: Well, first of all, it's on top of another $460 billion that is already being cut. Second of all, it's the view of Secretary Panetta and our uniform leaders who have used words like devastating, impossible to carry out our national security, challenge -- meet those security challenges in the most graphic terms they have used as to the effects of these cuts.

And not to mention the job losses -- the over a million jobs that would be lost and the billions of dollars also in defense industry so it's a very serious situation.

Congress should sit down, Republicans and Democrats and work this out but we also need the president's leadership to call us together and avoid these cuts, which again Secretary Panetta said would be devastating to national dense. O'BRIEN: When we look at the details of the military budget, $711 billion in 2011, five times the size of China's, almost ten times the size of Russia and 11 times the size of Britain and 11 times the size of France's.

Could you look at those numbers and say, Senator Ayotte, the U.S. is at a line in terms of spending when you compare it to other countries and especially if we're talking about there's going to be no tax increase to help pay for it, you have to cut somewhere and this is what was agreed to?

SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, actually, I want to put this in perspective. First of all, what we're spending on defense right now, it's about 4.7 percent of our GDP. It's actually a historical low given the conflicts we've been involved in.

If you look over the history of the nation and also if we took all the defense spending including the war spending, we wouldn't even get barely half of the deficits we've been running over the last several years.

So defense spending can't address all of our debt and it's important for you to think about, Soledad, just in terms of making sure that are country is safe. There still remain very many threats out there and also hollowing out our force.

We have to keep faith with our military, those who have served. These cuts based on what our army chief have said we have to cut the army an additional $100,000.

Our Marine Corps, a assistant commandant in the Marine Corps has said that the Marine Corps would be unable to fully respond to one major contingency. This is very serious in terms of our national security.

O'BRIEN: So then Senator McCain, where would you cut? I mean, let's say this number is a real number and obviously, this is what the debate was all about and everybody kicked the can down a little bit of way.

And now you're paying the piper if I can keep throwing in these phrases, but I think this is fair to say. You have to lose some money from the budget. Where are you going to cut if you don't take it out of defense? What would you recommend goes for $500 billion?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, when you look at increase in overall spending, obviously we could restrain that. I think as I mentioned, we've already cut $460 billion from the defense budget.

And I would point out that if we sat down together, we could look at loophole closing and spending cuts and look at freezes. We could look at all kinds of things.

This "Super Committee" came close to an agreement, but we have to have everything on the table and yet our first and foremost responsibility and the president's first and foremost responsibility is commander in chief.

So making sure that our nation is secure from a defense national security standpoint is the first priority. I don't think most people would argue with that.

AYOTTE: And Soledad, I want to put it in perspective, we could address both the dense and nondefense savings from sequestration by living within our means for one month in this government.

It's about one month of borrowing. So we can find those savings across the government and do this in a more responsibility way and still address the deficit reduction.

O'BRIEN: Well, but Republicans at the same time don't want to cut taxes on the wealthy. We know that's a debate also heading towards the fiscal cliff.

It seems like everybody wants to get to a number, but no one is willing to cut the thing that is important to them. I think that's fair to say. No one wants to raise taxes on people they feel would support them politically.

I think that's fair to say. It seems like tough choices have to be made. I thought the whole entire Budget Control Act, which Senator Ayotte, you voted against, but Senator McCain, you voted for was to determine this very thing.

Now it's come to the moment of fruition and it seems like you're changing your mind, sir.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I disagree with every one of your fundamentals here. The fact is that the president himself said raising taxes in difficult times on anybody is a terrible idea. He said that himself.

If you think obviously you may, but raising taxes on quote, "the wealthy" is the answer then we have a fundamental disagreement. We are glad to look at loophole closings. We'll look at ways for example selling off federal land, which could raise billions of dollars.

But obviously, I do not accept the premise of your statement. I believe when raising taxes on anybody as the president once said would be a terrible idea, particularly when we see that the economy continues to weaken rather than strength.

AYOTTE: And also Soledad, to put it in perspective, here we've already cut nearly a half trillion dollars from the Department of Defense. We're not saying the defense can't take savings, but this is disproportionate.

It's 19 percent of federal spending is taking 50 percent of cuts and it's a fundamental responsibility we have to the American people. Listen, I take Secretary of Defense Panetta at his word that this is going to be devastating. It seems to me we need to act on it. O'BRIEN: You're going to be hosting town halls to have this kind of conversation. I think some people would say, why not -- maybe the question is, what's the strategy beyond the town halls?

Because really at the end of the day, it's not about the American people coming together to discuss this, right? It really is about Congress sitting down and doing what they were trying to do not so long ago, which is to come to a decision on where cuts can be made jointly in a bipartisan fashion to get something done.

MCCAIN: You're exactly right and hopefully by what we're doing and this program and many others in these states that were so important, for example, 41,000 jobs here in the state of Florida, that that will have -- make people motivate the members of Congress and the president of the United States, the commander in chief to sit down and prevent what every uniformed leader in the secretary of defense said would be devastating to America.

AYOTTE: And also think about it in terms of jobs, 136,000 defense jobs in Virginia. They have to issue layoff notices before the election so members of Congress need to come together on this.

And I think more the American people know about this the more they'll urge their member of Congress to resolve this and the president as commander in chief to lead that effort.

O'BRIEN: We'll see what happens. Senator John McCain and Senator Kelly Ayotte, thanks for talking with me and joining me this morning. I certainly appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

AYOTTE: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You bet. We have to take a short break.

Still ahead this morning, a stunning moment at the Olympics, the reigning world champion United States Gymnast Jordyn Wieber ends up not qualifying for the finals. We'll tell you what happened.

And up next, we'll talk to a woman who knows a thing about unbelievable moments, Kerri Strug of the magnificent seven women's gymnastics team. They're live for us.

Here's Margaret's playlist All American Rejects with "Swing Swing." Clearly, I have to e-mail folks about my choices this morning.


O'BRIEN: God I love that graphic of the Olympics. How much have you been watching?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I watched a lot.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I switched the swimming last night.

O'BRIEN: My kids up all night watching. Team USA is second in the Olympic medal count, right behind China. The game is already filled with drama, a huge stunner in women's gymnastics when the defending world champion Jordyn Wieber was eliminated from the all-around competition.

She plays fourth. She was outscored by her teammates and Ali Riceman and Gabby (inaudible) and that meant it's only two per country rule. She was cut from that all-around x competition.

Kerri Strug can relate to that. She missed the all-around competition herself. She is a two-time medallist, created one of the most iconic moments of all time when she landed on the vault with an injured ankle, won the gold for Team USA.

It turned out she had fractured that ankle ultimately. Kerri is live from London. It's nice to see you. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Wow. We have so much to talk about. Let's talk about the surprise of Jordan Wieber being out in the individual competition, the world champion herself. Were you stunned by that?

KERRI STRUG, TWO-TIME OLYMPIC MEDALIST: I think all of us were surprised and disappointed for Jordyn, but it goes to show you the depth of Team USA. The squad is phenomenal and ally edged her out. It's disappointing. I know she will come back and still has a chance in individual medal as well on the floor exercise.

O'BRIEN: We are certainly hoping so. In 1992, didn't a similar thing happen to you? You were edged out as well they were taking three and you placed fourth, right, and had the similar thing. So talk to me about that, were you just devastated? You had to be.

STRUG: Yes, it is difficult when you have certain expectations for yourself. But nonetheless, that's what so special about the Olympic games is just we never know what's going to happen here.

And you know, moving forward she has to focus on the team competition and what's left ahead and we're expecting great things. So honestly I'm here to encourage everybody to cheer on Team USA by going to

Because for every good luck message posted there it will be streamlined to the USA here in London. I know what it means to have that enthusiasm behind you.

HOOVER: We're exactly behind them. Kerri, it's Margaret. It's Margaret Hoover here, Kerri. It's great to see you. Question, can you give us perspective on what happened with Jordyn? She never has a bad day. She had this bad day. Was it lack of mental preparation? Do you think somehow the enthusiasm, the excitement of the games somehow got to her?

STRUG: Well, you know, it's not like Jordyn had a major fall. She had a few bobbles here and there. She wasn't at the top of her game. She didn't have the performance of her life.

She's still way up there. You know, it's just unfortunate the two per country rule leaves her out of the all around finals. So again, it is disappointing and she has to deal with that mentally now.

She is a phenomenal athlete and it goes to show you anything is possible here at the games. The talent is phenomenal and so it's really important to stay focused on to be mentally tough because if you are not, just the little bit here, if you are a little bit off there and a bobble there, it makes a big difference in the sport of gymnastics.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you about Ryan Lochte, it's kind of off the focus of the entire interview and is certainly not gymnastics about, but what do you think of that? He has lovely teeth. That's a whole other thing.

STRUG: Well, you know, each athlete has their thing. We're expecting wonderful things from him. He's exciting to watch and has a personality of his own. So whatever works for each athlete, I'm here to support all of them and root on Team USA.

I love the Olympics, the movement, the various events and, of course, watching our American flag being raised each time that we win a medal.

O'BRIEN: Kerri could be a diplomat with that answer. Well done. I think she just had a baby, Kerri Strug, and she is a marathoner now so thanks for joining us. She could go right into the diplomatic circus with that. To each his own -- thanks, Kerri. We appreciate you joining us.


O'BRIEN: We agree. Go Team USA. My kids are going crazy with the Olympics. They love it so much. It's so much fun. We have to take a short break. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead in the next hour of STARTING POINT big announcements that happened today. President Clinton is going to have a big role at the Democratic Convention. The question, of course, is why.

And who is that girl the web is buzzing about a mystery woman inappropriately dressed to crash the opening ceremonies. Did you see her walking with India? You're watching STARTING POINT. We got to take a short break. We're back in a moment.