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Romney and Ryan Hitting the Trail; Interview with Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia; Interview With Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Mitt Romney Picks Paul Ryan for Vice Presidential Running Mate; Interview with Ari Fleischer

Aired August 13, 2012 - 08:00   ET




Campaign jolt to tell you about. Mitt Romney and his new running mate Paul Ryan on the road, drawing huge, energized crowds. On the attack, the Democrats, who are pouncing on the pick, blasting Ryan's stance on taxes, spending and entitlement programs.

And it's on to Rio, as London bid musical farewell to the Olympic games. Rio is next getting ready for 2016. Picabo Street is going to stop by.

Also ahead hits morning, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is going to be our guest, Democratic Party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the former White House press secretary to President Bush, Ari Fleischer, is also joining us.

It's Monday, August 13th and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Introing our team this morning, Richard Socarides is with us. He's a writer for the Ryan Lizza is with us, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker". Will Cain is the columnist for John Berman is bringing us the news this morning.

I'm surrounded by a bevy of handsome men. What a great way to come back from vacation. More, more.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: 36 hours at each other's side, they sound almost like a couple. We keep talking them that way. Mitt Romney, his new running mate, they're splitting up and they're going to go their separate ways. The former Massachusetts governor says he is very happy with his new teammate.

And Ryan seems very honored by his new role. At one point he was tearing up with emotion yesterday. That was at a stop in Wisconsin.

And it surely sounds like he is ready for a fight. Here is what he said.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to help him win this race, so we can do it for the American people. We're going to split up more often than not and double our efforts. So, to me, this is -- this is -- it was one against two for a while and now two against two. We'll redouble our efforts and bring a message to the country. Here's how you get the country back on track.


O'BRIEN: President Obama leaves Chicago this morning to kick of a three-day bus tour across Iowa. Vice President Biden has a campaign event in Durham, North Carolina. They, too, are splitting up.

Today, Ryan is going to make his first solo appearance as Romney's running mate at the Iowa state fair in Des Moines while Romney's bus tour will make two stops in the state of Florida.

All that brings us to CNN's national political correspondent Jim Acosta, who's in St. Augustine, Florida, this morning.

How's it look? We hear how it sounds. My goodness.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I didn't bring my guitar with me this morning, Soledad, so I'm going to have to do the best that I can over the music here. But they are getting into a festive mood here in St. Augustine, Florida. The Romney campaign is making a shift from the running mate to the runner- ups you might say this morning.

As you said, Paul Ryan is off to Iowa. Mitt Romney is here in Florida, but he'll be joined on stage behind me in just a few moments from now by Marco Rubio who is said to have been very high on that vice presidential selection list for the Romney campaign. He'll also be with Mitt Romney later on today in little Havana down in Miami.

I will tell you, Soledad, that the Romney campaign is facing some questions this morning about that Ryan budget plan that I know you've been talking about all morning long. The Obama campaign has put out a web video going after that budget and a video that features Florida seniors saying that they're not going to do well if Mitt Romney becomes president and that Ryan budget plan is put into action.

I will tell you that after the Romney campaign said yesterday that Mitt Romney is at the top of this ticket it, in reference to that Ryan budget plan, they have said in the last 24 hours that if Mitt Romney were elected president, they would sign the Ryan budget into law.

One other note to point out, how the race to define Paul Ryan is on -- last night, we were able to confirm with the Romney/Ryan campaign that Paul Ryan would be releasing two years of his own tax returns and making those public. They say as soon as they're ready to be released -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: One has to imagine they're ready since he had to turn a bunch of them over while he was being vetted.

All right. Jim Acosta, thank you. You can continue to rock out.

ACOSTA: That's true.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: St. Augustine, Florida, 8:00 in the morning. That is -- you are making a statement, Mitt Romney, in St. Augustine.

O'BRIEN: Rocking out at 8:05 and 42 seconds.

Let's get right to Bob McDonnell, he is the Republican governor of the state of Virginia, the chair of Republican Governors Association. He's also a Romney campaign surrogate. He introduced Mitt Romney on Saturday, brought Paul Ryan on to the stage to make his debut.

You were very, very, very fired up. Clearly, you are excited about the pick -- even though you were talked about as being someone who potentially could be on the ticket yourself.

Why do you like Ryan as a pick?

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: Because the biggest problems facing the country have to do with a $16 trillion national debt and a crushing unemployment rate that's affecting the middle class. And so, Paul Ryan is the guy that understands the federal budget, perhaps better than anybody and along with Mitt Romney I think has got the right ideas and, Soledad, to say, listen, we can't afford this anymore. We've got to make tough choices. We've got to reform Medicaid and Medicare if we're going to get the country back on track.

So, I think he's the right guy and I was pretty fired up in Norfolk on Saturday.

O'BRIEN: Very fired up. I don't even think it was pretty fired up. They were very fired up on Saturday.

Let's assume that people who are strongly into the GOP are going to go with Romney/Ryan. Let's assume the hardcore Dems are going to go with President Obama. There's a 4 percent to 8 percent chunk that's undecided and I assume that's where some of the independents lie.

When you ask those independents about what they think of Paul Ryan, here's what they say. 27 percent have the favorable opinion, 22 percent unfavorable, 15 percent no opinion at all. Never heard of him is 36 percent and that moves the Medicare and budget conversations right to the forefront of defining who Paul Ryan is.

Is that good for you or is that bad for you?

MCDONNELL: Well, this is a charismatic young leader I think when they get to know him over the next couple of weeks -- keep in mind, we have a convention coming up, Soledad, in two weeks. That's going to introduce Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in a new, refreshing way to the American people.

And when they get to see I think the honesty of these two when it comes to addressing the problems that face the country. When they look at what they're going to say about this crushing debt and the unemployment rate and how they are going to get the middle class back on track to create new jobs. I think they'll like what they have to say because these are two serious candidates that are going to focus on the issues people care about and not some of the side issues the other side has been talking about.

O'BRIEN: You know, if you look at a poll, here is a question, CNN/ORC poll the first week in August. Romney cares about the rich and 64 percent agreed with that statement, the middle class 27 percent agreed, the poor only 2 percent. And some of that, of course, I think, is success from the Democrats who have been messaging hard on that.

How is a Paul Ryan pick -- how does a Paul Ryan pick help you with that when you look especially at the budget which, you know, looks really closely and rips out a lot of the entitlement spending which will affect the middle class. I think that could be potentially a big problem, wouldn't it?

MCDONNELL: Well, but first, you've got to look at leadership. I mean, this president has had no budget for 3 1/2 years. Harry Reid won't take up a budget. The president's budget would have increased the debt to $25 trillion by 2021. He couldn't get one vote for it in the United States Congress.

I mean, Soledad, we are in a difficult time for the greatest country on earth and the president is talking about issues that really don't resonate with the people. And I think what Paul Ryan brings to the ticket is now a serious conversation about debt, taxes, spending, energy, entitlement reform. These are the things that will determine what kind of country we've got for our kids and our grandkids. They need to be talked about and Paul Ryan is a good guy to do it.

So I think independent voters when they realize that we have these serious problems will say, yes, we do need to make some changes and this is the team to do it because the status quo with Biden and Obama is unacceptable.

O'BRIEN: Governor Bob McDonnell is a Republican from Virginia. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us about that. Appreciate it.

MCDONNELL: OK, Soledad. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Will Cain, I want to ask you a question before we move on. He said, the governor just said it brings up a serious conversation about debt, entitlement reform. I think that is that piece everyone talks about. He's courageous and he's gutsy. On the other hand, those things might be really terrible to take on if you're talking about the overwhelming number of people who get entitlements.

It's a huge percentage of Americans, many of them middle class.

CAIN: That's right. I think I told you a minute ago that I think the selection of Paul Ryan is a sign of leadership. Paul Ryan has been a leader on many issues, quite honestly, the public doesn't want to hear about. They don't want to hear about entitlement reform. Now, we'll find out in the next three months if they're willing to listen to ideas to reform those entitlements.

It would be nice, also, I would suggest, if President Barack Obama and Joe Biden, put forward their alternative plans to reform those programs as well, because the one argument that is untenable, that is not possible, continue these as they are. That's simply not the argument that's fair.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, NEWYORKER.COM: You know, it's amazing that we agree. I mean, we agree on -- I agree with everything he just said. I think this will become --

O'BRIEN: Write down this moment in time.

SOCARIDES: I think that the selection does show a lot of leadership. I mean, I think it also shows that he figured out he can't win by default but I think that it will make the election more a vision election -- the election will be about whose vision going forward is best.

But I think Democrats will win the vision election. I think that's what the Democrats are convinced of.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What I think is a little off is I don't understand why Romney has taken the focus off of the economy. What gets the economy moving and jobs and on to these very narrow fiscal issues which are very important.

O'BRIEN: I think they scare people. Medicare -- a conversation about however you're going to reform -- that's what people don't talk about because it's the third rail and it makes everybody think I want to keep what I have even if it's 20 years and even if the country cannot afford it, people don't want to talk about it.

SOCARIDES: And Ryan has done more than talk about it. Ryan has put forth a very specific plan which basically changes the entire program and puts all of the burden back on working class people who are needy. I mean, Ryan's plan is to cut taxes on the rich and to shift more of the burden to needy Americans. I mean, that's what we're going to hear.

CAIN: I disagree with that. But --


O'BRIEN: The agreement ended right there. We're going to take a break.

SOCARIDES: We had -- we had a quick moment.

O'BRIEN: That lasted about 10 seconds. Still ahead, the party crashing buzz. Mitt Romney touring some key swing states. Democrats also hitting the road on a bus of their own, attacking the governor's economic plans. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is going to join us up next live.

And a senior has a computer program to help students register for fall classes faster. School has pulled the plug because it's wildly successful. And they punished him. We'll tell you what happened there. It's today's tough call.

We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Mitt Romney in Florida today just two days after he announced that Congressman Paul Ryan will be his running mate. Democrats wasting no time attacking Ryan. The website for the Democratic National Committee now says, quote, "He could be a heartbeat from the presidency. Get the facts on Paul Ryan."

And the Obama campaign has a new ad out, and it looks like this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's going to help the wealthiest Americans (INAUDIBLE) of the middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But somebody else needs to protect us, and that's going to be our president.


O'BRIEN: Well, yes, I was going to say. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. She's in her home state of Florida, which is where the DNC is shadowing the Romney campaign. Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. Here's a list of, from what I can call from the Republicans -- my pleasure -- Republicans why they love Paul Ryan and we had a couple on this morning to talk about it.

He appeals to the base, he's young. They call him a truth teller. He's telegenic. He gives a great speech. He's a genuine conservative, and he's got a great personal story about his father who died when he was a teenager and he had to help pull the family up from the boot straps. I can go on or you can jump in and tell me why you disagree.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D) FLORIDA: Well, what makes severely conservative extreme Republicans delighted makes seniors here in my home state of Florida really gravely concerned and rightfully so as well as the middle class, because Mitt Romney's full embrace of the Ryan budget by actually nominating and selecting its author and architect to be his running mate really spells disaster for the middle class, spells disaster for seniors, because Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both want to end Medicare as we know it.

They both want to shred the safety net that is the Medicare healthcare safety net for seniors that's been in place for more than 50 years that would add more than $6,000 in premiums under Paul Ryan's proposal that Mitt Romney has embraced to seniors premiums in Medicare and that would really force us back to the days for senior that would -- that had them choosing between medicine and meals and had them choosing between healthcare and paying their rent and literally surviving.

It's unacceptable. It's devastating and it's another clear picture where Mitt Romney stands.

O'BRIEN: Some people might say that last portion right there is where you started getting very dramatic, the picking between food and having to pay for your medications, which clearly is circumstances for some people --

SCHULTZ: Look, there's nothing dramatic about -- let's go back -- no, no, no, there's nothing dramatic about it. If you go back to before Medicare was a safety net that was in place for our seniors, you had seniors who were not able to pay for their own healthcare needs, whose children went medically bankrupt trying to care for them.

And so, what we did is we adopted Medicare because we knew when seniors reached after years of working a point at which they were no longer going to be able to afford their basic healthcare costs, we had a safety net in place, Medicare, that is a floor through which we're not going to allow --

O'BRIEN: And Paul Ryan in his interview on "60 Minutes" --

SCHULTZ: -- has a hole in that floor and seniors crashed (ph) through it.

O'BRIEN: Paul Ryan in his interview on "60 Minutes" spoke about his mother who is one of those very seniors, right? And here's what he said.



REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our point is, we need to preserve their benefits because government promises them that they organize the retirements around them. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform (ph) for those of us who are younger. And we think these reforms are good reforms.


O'BRIEN: So, really, for someone like his mother, for those seniors in Florida who you see right now, their plan is not going to be touched, right? It's people who are 55 and younger.

SCHULTZ: Well, both my parents are on Medicare and live in Florida, too. And I can tell you that my parents and the tens of thousands of seniors that I represent are deeply concerned that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney want to turn Medicare into a voucher program, want to end the guarantee. That's what Medicare is.

Medicare is a guarantee for seniors that there is going to be a safety net through which we're not going to allow them to fall. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan embrace ending that guarantee. Paul Ryan is the architect of ending it. His plan would increase the premiums for seniors by more than $6,000.

And, as a result, when the voucher is provided and it doesn't amount to as much as the cost of a private healthcare plan, a senior would have to make choices that would be financially very, very challenging to them. And that's the guarantee that we said seniors would no longer have to worry about.

O'BRIEN: I got ask you question about something you were saying on the "Fox News on Sunday." You were interviewed and you were being asked about this Priorities USA Super PAC ad that it featured guy whose wife died of cancer. They were talking about on the show last week when I was out, and they asked you, should the Democrats be releasing an ad that accuses a presidential candidate through inference of being responsible for a woman's death?

And you said that's Priorities USA ad. That's not a Democratic ad. It's a Priorities USA Super PAC ad.


O'BRIEN: And then, he asked you, do you deny that they're Democrats, and you said this. "I have no idea the political affiliation of folks who are associated with that Super PAC." Really?

SCHULTZ: Soledad, of course, I know the Priorities USA Super PAC is a Democratic affiliated Super PAC. The point I was trying to make was that that ad was produced by a separate organization, an organization that we don't coordinate with, that we have nothing to do with, and the bottom line of that ad is that it was making the point.

And the individual in that ad was making the point that Mitt Romney's claim to fame and his predicate for his candidacy for president is that he had private sector experience. His private sector experience devastated companies like GST Steel. It bankrupted companies.

It laid people off and cut their benefits and that had an impact on families like that gentleman's and that's the point the ad is trying to make, and I think it's a valid one. Something people need to consider when they're looking at the choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz joining us this morning, Democrat from the state of Florida, which is where she is this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

SCHULTZ: Always great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, our "Tough Call" is straight ahead. A Florida university punishing a student who created a service that helps students register for class, and then, they announced they've got their own version, ripping off his idea. Is that fair? That's our "Tough Call" this morning. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Our "Tough Call" this morning, a senior at the University of Central Florida says he wanted to help his fellow students register for classes, so he created an app, of course, he did, called, sends a text message to students whenever a class that they want opens up, but UCF busted Tim Arnold (ph) six days after the site went online saying he misused his access to the school's server and was basically tying up the network.

And, by the way, he had a really great idea that they didn't execute on, so they seem to be a little mad about that, too. They blocked his site. They also put him on academic probation and they have rolled out their own new and improved registration process similar to Arnold's.

The "Orlando Sentinel" says UCF acknowledges Arnold's outside site accelerated the development of their version. So, they're like, what a brilliant idea. You get act pro and --

LIZZA: Not a tough call.

BERMAN: You know what, they're punishing him now, but in ten years, they'll be asking him for money when he's worth $1 billion as, you know, as an internet entrepreneur.

O'BRIEN: He has to give up his role as treasurer for the society of marketing professionals because of his academic probation. You're right. So, doing that, and then at the same time, and this is what they said, they said they encourage and applaud innovation and entrepreneurship, but --

BERMAN: But not really.


O'BRIEN: It's not about innovation. It was about the execution.

SOCARIDES: You like this story.

O'BRIEN: I do.

SOCARIDES: Why isn't this guy on? We should have this guy on.

O'BRIEN: Let's bring him on.

SOCARIDES: Put this guy on the CNN technology team.

O'BRIEN: Maybe he could just keep creating apps (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Bill gates left college early. Mark Zuckerberg --


O'BRIEN: See, see, now you're talking.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a massive monsoon dust storm is blowing through the Phoenix area. State officials say they're worried about some of the serious health problems that it might cause. We'll talk about that.

Plus, Paul Ryan putting a charge into his party's conservative base. Can he impact the outcome of the election? We're going to talk about that with Ari Fleischer. He's George W. Bush's press secretary. That's straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT, and we're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. is Mitt Romney's VP pick a game changer? In just a few moments we'll talk to Ari Fleischer, a CNN political contributor, former press secretary to George W. Bush. He'll be joining us to talk about that.

First I want to get right to John Berman with an update on today's top stories. Good morning.

BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad. So we have some big news overseas and here at home, where more than 5,000 acres have been scorched by two wildfires in northern California. One of them is forcing dozens of families to evacuate their homes in Clear Lake. That's about 100 miles north of San Francisco. More than 200 firefighters are on the scene. Officials say it could be at least another week before everything is under control.

A giant wind and dust storm swept through Arizona and a CNN iReporter caught these really stunning time lapse images of the Phoenix area. Experts say more and more of these storms have been rolling through. This one brought high winds, as high as 40 miles per hour.

And 93-year-old evangelist Billy Graham is alert and in good spirits this morning. He's in a North Carolina hospital battling a pulmonary infection believed to be bronchitis. He was admitted to the hospital this week after developing a slight fever. Graham's spokesman says no date has been set for his discharge. Last year he was hospitalized for pneumonia.

And overseas, big changes in Egypt. President Mohammed Morsi wrests power from Egypt's military. He is forcing several top military chief's out and replacing a constitutional declaration with a new one that gives him broad legislative and executive powers. The declaration also potentially gives him a key role in drafting Egypt's still new constitution. That is news that being watched closely in the State Department.

O'BRIEN: John, thank you.

The newest member of the Romney ticket wasting no time. Congressman Paul Ryan will be campaigning in the swing state of Iowa today. Mitt Romney will be in the state of Florida. Democrats already taking the opportunity to focus on the sunshine state, saying that Ryan's proposed budget plan would hurt people there using Medicare. Of course there is an elderly population in the state of Florida, that's why that message could resonate.

That brings to us Ari Fleischer, a CNN political contributor, was press secretary to George W. Bush. He's also an unpaid occasional communication adviser to the Romney campaign. When they call, you take their calls and give them some advice. First and foremost, what do you make of this pick? What do you think?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I love it. I think what it does for Mitt Romney, it helps define what his top priority is. His top priority is fiscal. It's the economic crisis this country is in. That's what vice presidential selections tend to do for presidential nominees. They define what is most important to them. This is that type of statement for Mitt Romney and it's a welcome one from a conservative point of view.

O'BRIEN: Does it come with risks, though? You talk about fiscal. If you look at Medicare, you're talking about 2023 but it's fiscal but down the road a bit. If you look at the budget there are clearly areas the Democrats are looking at this as an opportunity to try to hammer the Romney/Ryan plan together and, you know, use some of those polling stats on their sense of Mitt Romney caring about the rich I think was a question the polls asked, and 64 percent said that was a problem.

FLEISCHER: Of course it comes with risks. This is exactly the type of risk that we should be talking about in the election, the future of our country. As governor of Indiana, the red menace is all the red ink our government is bleeding. Are we going to confront those issues head-on and do something about trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see which are coming from wheat growth and then overspending on the nation's entitlement programs, Medicare and Medicaid included. Or do we ignore those because it's politically controversial and has political risk?

That's why I think it was a smart decision by Mitt Romney. He's shown that he is interested in governing in a serious fashion and not making it a campaign of small issues and minor issues or personal issues. The country needs to have a debate because the country is at risk.

BERMAN: It's John Berman here. One of the things Mitt Romney likes to say if you're trying to create jobs it helps to have had one. And what he's saying with that is Barack Obama has been in government his whole life, are he's never had a job in the private sector. Paul Ryan really hasn't either. You were staffers with Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in the '90s. He really never worked in the private sector at all. Does this fight the jobs message that Mitt Romney is trying to deliver?

FLEISCHER: No, John, because I don't think vote remembers going to go to the polls and say I'm voting for the biography of the vice presidential candidate. I think the broader point Mitt Romney is making there is you need to have a president and people around the president who understands how private sectors work. And I think when you look at Mitt Romney's background and when you look at Mitt Romney's proposals and you also look at Paul Ryan's ideas, they focus on growth. Barack Obama, "you didn't build it. The private sector is doing just fine." He doesn't seem to focus on economic growth from the private sector as more as he focuses on fairness and redistribution of income. That's, again, a good, healthy debate to have. But I'm not worried about the biographical issue.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a quick question about all the advisers will tell you, number one, do no harm with your VP pick, and, number two, you're trying to pick somebody who is going to get something for you. So let's talk about what Paul Ryan gets you geographically. And I think we have a graphic of this. Clearly the state of Wisconsin, although I think that some people will argue over whether or not outside of his own district that he won he's able to leverage some support. He went to college in Ohio, so some would say that could potentially get you something there.

SOCARIDES: A little bit of a stretch.

O'BRIEN: I'm just throwing out what people say. Give me a break here.


O'BRIEN: Is this the wishful thinking list? I'll help you with that. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri also saying like these shock waves could be sent.

SOCARIDES: He was scheduled to be on vacation in Colorado.

O'BRIEN: There you go. A key swing state.

SOCARIDES: You really think this will change the nature of the discussion? You think this will mean we are going to have a debate in this country the next several months about the Ryan budget and what it would mean for the country?

FLEISCHER: I think that's Mitt Romney's intention, and that is my point. He's making his priority reform, fiscal reform, taking straight on, head on.

O'BRIEN: Did voters want that? FLEISCHER: I'm not a big believer in the demographics of the vice presidential selection. John Edwards didn't deliver North Carolina for John Kerry. I'm dubious that people really vote much on the basis of where the vice president is from or he can deliver an ethnic group.

The race really does settle down quickly when the selection goes right to the presidential candidates, Obama versus Romney. The only thing about the Ryan selection is his district went for Barack Obama and in a close election in the state of Wisconsin if you flip it to a district that goes for Romney, can that move the state? Maybe. But I don't think you pick on the basis of geography.

O'BRIEN: Are Fleischer, always nice to see you that early. Appreciate it. Thanks.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, from school to prison. One county is accused of cramming students into cells, using mace as punishment even for minor infractions like talking too much. We'll tell but that school. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. A school in Meridian, Mississippi, is under fire for the way it put into effect its disciplinary actions. Students in the predominantly black school being incarcerated for minor infractions, including dress code violations, using profanity, and, according it to a probe listed a number of things saying they were crammed into small, filthy cells, tormented with the use of mace as punishment for even the most minor infractions, like talking too much or failing to sit in the back of their cells.

Civil rights investigators claim that the Water Dale County Youth Court, Meridian police department, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services operated, quote, "a school to prison pipeline whereby children arrested in local schools became entangled in a cycle of incarceration without substantive and procedural protections required by the U.S. constitution," basically being arrested without probable cause and failing to have due process in court.

The town itself denying any wrongdoing despite the findings from the department of justice. The federal agency is giving local officials 60 days to negotiate the end -- an end of the constitutional violations or face a federal lawsuit.

All of that brings us to Steve Perry, CNN education contributor, founder of capital prep school in Connecticut. This is such a shock. Even in the scheme of shocking things when you hear about schools, this one, the school-to-prison pipeline, they weren't joking about that.

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: They weren't. And what's most important, Soledad, is the people who supposedly run this school have completely lost control. And as a result they're calling the police in to take care of what should be simple acts that children do. If the kids cussed or if the kids had a dress code violation, are we really saying the next step is it to call the police? And then we're going to continue to employ you as an administrator in our community, employ you as a teacher in our community?

The sad part about this is even though the justice department has found issue with what's happening in meridian county, the children are the ones who will have to go back to this horrible academic setting. I use "academic" very lightly.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk about race and all of this as a factor because the fact it's a predominantly black school is not incidental to the story.

PERRY: No, not at all. We're having this conversation because it's about black kids, because we have somehow so criminalized the behaviors of African-Americans that it goes all the way down to the littlest of us. Some of these children are very young. Some of the crimes they're being accused of are just being kids. But because they're being kids who are African-American it seems to be acceptable in this particular place to criminalize it to the extent that you now need to call the police.

We have a school with 700 children. We called the police twice last year, twice. We're an urban school. We called twice. This is not normal behavior. It's disgusting, reprehensible, and every single child in the school needs to be given the opportunity to go to another school because the people who are offensive are the ones, to me, who are calling the police for actions that they should be taking care of themselves as skilled educators.