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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Interview With Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; Romney Avoiding Abortion Debate

Aired August 23, 2012 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we have a lot of politics to cover.

But, first, a quick update on the breaking news that we are following now, new information on Tropical Storm Isaac.

You already know it may threaten the start of the Republican Convention in Tampa on Monday.

But, right now, the storm could be a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of people who are its path. They're living in tents in Haiti and exposed to elements, wide open to bad weather.

And they are just the first who could be in very serious jeopardy.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

COOPER: The storm known as Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin, that has already arrived in Tampa, basically, for a conservative activist conference.

Congressman Akin, he said he is going to be skipping the convention. Leading Republicans want him to drop out of the race entirely, of course, and they hope out of the national picture. Here is a sign how politically toxic they think he is.

Mitt Romney not only doesn't want to answer questions about Akin or abortion. He doesn't even want to be asked those questions. A reporter at the CBS affiliate in Denver managed to score an interview with Mr. Romney. But there was he said a catch, no questions about Akin or abortion, according to his campaign.

The Obama campaign sent out an e-mail today making light of it, saying -- quote -- "Women across America deserve to know the truth about Romney/Ryan's extreme agenda."

That notion is part of a larger Democratic effort to paint the Romney/Ryan ticket as the Romney/Ryan/Akin ticket. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: The Republican Party , Mitt Romney's Republican Party, has now adopted Congressman Akin's policies as part of their platform.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: Paul Ryan and Todd Akin, like two peas in a pod.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: And now we have a Republican Party platform that was designed by Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's the message, that the platform, the Republican Party platform was designed by Mitt Romney.

Now, "Keeping Them Honest," though, there are truthful ways of making that message and less-than-truthful ways.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who you just saw in that clip there, also heads up the Democratic National Committee. I'm going to talk to her in just a moment, but first I just want to show you some of the fund-raising letter that she sent out this week.

It starts off by saying, "Friend, here's the Republican Party's message to women in 2012. No choice. No exceptions." It went on to say, "Their party just voted to embrace Akin's position by including a constitutional ban on all abortions even in cases of rape or incest in their 2012 platform."

Then the DNC chairwoman calls out Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for saying they don't entirely agree with that plank. And here's how she backs it up -- quoting again from the letter -- quote -- "But guess what? 'The Los Angeles Times' reported yesterday that the platform was, and I quote, 'written at the direction of Romney's campaign.'"

Now, those words did appear in "The L.A. Times." And just that little bit of that quote, "written at the direction of Romney's campaign," seems pretty clear, right?

But "Keeping Them Honest," that quote was taken completely out of context. It was ripped in fact out of a sentence. If you put it back into that sentence, here's what it looks like -- quote -- this is from "The L.A. Times." "Delegates for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney are voting down substantive changes to the platform language that were written at the direction of Romney's campaign."

So the DNC letter takes the last eight words out of that sentence, using it to suggest something that full sentence obviously does not suggest. And "Keeping Them Honest" there's more to the story than just selective editing. There are facts that directly contradict the DNC's claim.

First the abortion language in the 2012 platform, it hardly differs from the 2008 language and the 2004 language in the platform. That language obviously wasn't written by the Romney campaign. In addition, our own correspondent Peter Hamby was in the room while the platform was being debated or being drafted. He said Romney's advisers made any number of suggestions, but not on the abortion plank. Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz joins us now.

Congresswoman, in the wake of the comments made by Congressman Akin on abortion, you have been sending out fund-raising appeals that seem or that attempt to link Mitt Romney with Congressman Akin, even Paul Ryan's position on abortion.

You do acknowledge that Mitt Romney supports abortion in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, don't you?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think women need to know the dramatic difference between President Obama's position on a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices, as well as the Democratic Party position, and Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

And so Mitt Romney's words are very nice, but the bottom line is that Romney's campaign just directed the Republican Party platform to include the most restrictive constitutional amendment that would say to women that you would have no opportunity to make your own reproductive choices under any circumstances, even in the case of rape or incest.

COOPER: But wait a minute. You're saying his campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... absolutely silent and makes no exception at all.

COOPER: You're saying his campaign directed the writing of the platform and that's the claim you make in your fund-raising...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's the responsibility of...

COOPER: But it's not.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's the responsibility of a presidential campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But factually speaking, Mitt Romney did not design or direct the writing of the Republican Party platform. In particular, the language on abortion is virtually the same as it's been for years.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Are you saying that he wrote it in 2000 and 2004 and 2008? Because it's the same language. And according to our reporters who were in the room as the platform was being discussed, people could suggest changes and the Romney did suggest changes to a few sections, but they didn't say anything about the abortion language.

And you can fault them, as you did, for not pushing their position, but you can't say they designed the abortion section.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: In fact, Anderson, we definitely can say it, because even in the previous platform, Mitt Romney has embraced previous Republican Party platforms and embraced that language and said he would be delighted to support a constitutional amendment banning all abortions.

He has supported personhood amendments. There's no getting around that Mitt Romney has fully embraced a policy...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Sorry. I don't want to speak over you.

But he has for years -- you have to acknowledge, he has for years publicly said that he supports abortion in the case of rape, incest and where the life of the mother is at stake.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I can certainly acknowledge that he says that out loud.

And I think it's very clear that Mitt Romney talks the talk, certainly doesn't walk the walk. He has fully embraced his party's platform that includes a constitutional amendment banning all forms of abortion, including with no exception for rape or incest.

COOPER: Do you at least acknowledge that the quote that you gave from "The L.A. Times" is completely incorrect?

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I don't acknowledge that. I know that is what you're saying.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Well, I can read it to you right now, because what you said is...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Anderson, what I'm saying is, it doesn't matter.

COOPER: I think what you say does matter. You're quoting "The L.A. Times" and again you have misquoted them and to back up a position.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Anderson, Anderson, the point of the e-mail, and there's no getting around that, and I would think you would agree that there's no way that a presidential candidate, a party's nominee, can separate themselves from that party's platform.

COOPER: He has. (CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: There is no exception for rape or incest in the human life amendment. But he hasn't insisted that his own party's platform -- but, no, he hasn't, because he hasn't insisted -- he had an opportunity during the drafting of that platform language to make sure that his own view, if that really is his view, is in that party's platform's language.

And it isn't. He didn't do that. Neither did his campaign team. That's why we sent the e-mail, because I want to make sure women know that.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But you sent the e-mail to raise funds and you're misusing a quote.

And I just think -- I do think accuracy is important and my job is to point out things that are not factually correct. What you said...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You said, "Guess what? 'The Los Angeles Times' reported yesterday that the platform was, and I quote, 'written at the direction of Romney's campaign.'"

That sounds very direct, but that's not actually what "The L.A. Times" was saying.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The bottom line message...

COOPER: The bottom line -- what they said is...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: ... "Delegates for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney are voting down substantive changes to the platform language that was written at the direction of Romney's campaign."

They're just not saying they wrote all the language. They're just saying specific language that the Romney campaign wrote, their surrogates are voting down and abortion language was not part of that.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Anderson, the bottom line message of our e- mail is that, A., women need to know the difference between the two parties and the two presidential candidates on a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices and that Mitt Romney can say that he's for an exception for rape or incest.

His party platform doesn't reflect that. He has previously fully embraced a human life amendment with no exception and said he would be delighted to support it and women need to know the difference. And women need to know that Mitt Romney is simply saying one thing, but not insisting that his party's policies as reflected in their platform reflect his views. And we're not going to let him get away with it. This is an important decision.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And they need to be informed.

COOPER: My only point is, and again it's my job on both sides of the aisle to point out things that are inaccurate, is in a fund- raising e-mail to misquote something to serve your argument just doesn't seem in the long term to serve your argument very well.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I understand your point, but I think we -- I mean, the balance of the e-mail makes the case very clearly.

And the main thrust of the information we're trying to convey is that Mitt Romney is disingenuous when it comes to his position on a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices, and he's extreme and has embraced an extreme position. And we women to know that.

COOPER: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I appreciate you being on. Thank you.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Let us know what you think about the discussion right now on Twitter @AndersonCooper.

One late note from our senior congressional producer, Deirdre Walsh, on Congressman Todd Akin. She's learned of a possible threat against him. A spokeswoman telling her that Capital Police are currently working with the FBI on the matter, but declined to say more, citing policy against discussing obviously the security members of Congress.

So let us know what you think, we're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter as I said @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting throughout this hour.

Up next, the "Raw Politics" of a presidential race that could come down to just a tiny number of people in a handful of key states. We have got some new polling, interesting new numbers out there from those key states. John King crunched the numbers. And perspective from presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, welcome back, "Raw Politics" now: new polling that shows the gap between President Obama and Mitt Romney narrowing, the race tightening, the stakes growing obviously for both candidates going into the conventions.

John King is here to break it down for us at the magic wall. Before we though go to John King on that, we should say that we have spent a long time trying to come up with an appropriate title for John King's segments at the magic wall.

Our thinking is a good title, I don't know, might make you sit up a little bit more, take notice, when one of the best political minds in the business is coming on. But we have not rolled out a title because really all of our idea really kind of stank, things like King size download or data-driven or map master. Really, they are cheesy and lame. Yes, I know. John was shaking his head.

Tonight, we just decided to call it what we think it is. And we even made a fancy graphic, the part of the show where John King makes you smarter -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, three new battleground state polls out today and three new pieces of evidence that this race, 75 days before the election and just days before the Republican Convention, is about as close as you can get.

And all three states where we have the new poll were Obama states in 2008, Wisconsin, Ohio, and the state of Florida. Let's go through them one by one. If we look at Wisconsin and we look at this first stretch it out, you see this is "The New York Times"/Quinnipiac/CBS poll, that is a dead heat. The president with a slight advantage. Proof positive the Paul Ryan pick is giving the Republicans a bit of bounce in Wisconsin. It has been a Democratic state in presidential politics for a long time. It's a battleground now.

This is the one up place where you do see evidence of immediate help for Romney when it comes to the Electoral College map looking at the battleground states. Then you move over to what is often the decisive battleground, the state of Ohio. Again, here you see a slight advantage for the president.

In this poll, the president has a six-point edge. Some other new polling out just today shows the race a little bit closer. But campaigns concede at the moment slight advantage for the president in battleground Ohio but this is a very competitive race and this is a state, it's almost impossible to do Romney-wins math without the state of Ohio.

So he needs to improve his standing here. Now we come down to the state of Florida, the home state of the Republican Convention, weather permitting. We will watch that one play out, but at the moment, again about as close as they come. The president with a slight advantage here, 49-46, that is within the margin of error, a statistical dead heat in the state of Florida.

The Tampa convention, a chance for Romney to move the numbers a bit there. As he tries to do that, and let's look at some of the key subgroups there. Older voters will be critical across the country, especially in a state like Florida, the Medicare debate front and center right now. If you look at the age breakdown, the president winning convincingly among younger voters a key part of his coalition in 2008. But look at this, Mitt Romney right now and this in the state of Florida, the senior vote is critical, with a big 13-point advantage. That is better than McCain in 2008 and even better than George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. If Romney can hold that, it bodes well for his chances in battleground Florida.

What does all it mean? Let's switch maps and look at how this plays out when you look at the Electoral College. At the moment, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, we have them all as tossups. Play out this scenario. Right now, the president has strong or leaning 237 of the 270 he needs. And Romney is a bit behind, 206 of the 270 he needs.

If Romney can pull out Florida, Ohio, look at that, he is closing -- he has passed the president, and he's knocking on the door. If he can get Wisconsin, he's knocking at the door of being the next president of the United States, would need only one more big state or two of the smaller states to get there.

That is Governor Romney can pull out the troika here and win all three. But look at this. Let's put this one back to tossup. What if the president won Florida and lost none of the states he has right now? If he wins Florida and wins Ohio, it's game over. That shows you why the three states we are talking about today, especially Florida and Ohio, are so critical.

Governor Romney has a tougher map. He needs to win Florida, he needs Ohio and he would like to win Wisconsin. It would make the challenge a lot easier. But of the three states we're talking about today, Florida and Ohio, if they are not red come November, very hard to see Romney in the White House, Anderson.

COOPER: John, I want to bring in Candy Crowley, obviously chief political correspondent and anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, the poll numbers that John just outlined, Romney gaining ground in some key swing states, a point of two increase here or there for Romney, what do you think is behind that?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think a couple things and I think the dynamics of the race, much like the poll numbers, haven't changed all that much, because what you have are sort of countervailing forces.

You have the economy, which really is a drag on President Obama still when you look at the polls. Any time you have an economy showing the kind of figures that this economy shows right now, it's a danger zone for the president.

On the other hand, you have Mitt Romney who the American voter has not yet warmed up to. They still have this real skepticism about Mitt Romney and about whether he can make things better. Some of the early advertising from President Obama and folks supporting him has done pretty well at tamping down any kind of expectation that Mitt Romney would kind of pull ahead in this sort of economy.

So you have got these two forces. You have got the economy and then you have got the likability of Mitt Romney, which really he's shown no headway. And that's why when you look at the convention and the upcoming debates, it's so important for Mitt Romney.

COOPER: John, in the states where Romney is showing signs of improvement, how much of that do you think may be also the addition of Ryan to the ticket or signs that Governor Romney's ads against President Obama may be working?

KING: I would say a bit more evidence of the former more than the latter, in the sense that especially if you look at Wisconsin there's no doubt Paul Ryan has been worth a point or two in his home state. He's energized the Republican base and that has given Governor Romney a bit of a bounce.

If you look at the new polling, if you look at Florida, Ohio, one of the things that is crystal clear is it has helped him among the conservative base. He was doing pretty well among conservatives anyway but this has helped a little bit. You have this fascinating dynamic now. Hundreds of millions of dollars are about to spent to influence a tiny slice of the American electoral in eight or nine states because if you look at the latest polling, in part because of Paul Ryan, Governor Romney is rock solid among conservatives and among Republicans and, guess what, Obama is rock solid among liberals and among Democrats.

The key is the very small slice in the middle that describe themselves as independent and undecided. And so it's a bit of Paul Ryan. The ads have been mostly a wash. Both sides and all the super PACs, essentially what they're doing is confusing people.

COOPER: Candy, it's interesting though in the battle for the undecided and for independents perhaps, this poll doesn't show any fallout for the Congressman Akin remarks yet because of when this poll was taken. Do you think that may have an impact, just the whole discussion about abortion, abortion rights?

CROWLEY: We will see.

I think the Romney team is lucky they have the conventions coming up where they can try and turn the conversation back to where they want, which is the economy. It doesn't surprise me there is no real switch here, simply because we know there is a huge gap between the percentage of women intent on voting for President Obama and those intent on voting for Romney.

There was already a huge gap there. And just to add one thing to what you and John were just talking about, and that is, yes, it's certainly going to be about the swing voters, but even more than that, and I think this is why we got the Ryan pick, it's about getting your voters enthusiastic and getting them out there. It's a turnout election more than a message election at this point.

COOPER: How much, John, of a bump can a candidate like Mitt Romney expect and how long does that bump actually last? Because if you look at past years, past presidential races, whatever bump, it gradually has faded for a number of candidates. KING: They do tend to fade, especially for the candidate that goes first. And Romney is going first.

I remember leaving Atlanta in 1988 with Michael Dukakis and he was 17 points ahead and they thought it was time to measure drapes and pick furniture for the White House. And guess what? Michael Dukakis lost 40 states. To me, it's not so much the horse race number.

Yes, Governor Romney would like to boost his number in the national horse race. He would love to boost his number. This convention is in Florida, will get a lot of local coverage, as well as national coverage. And he would love to boost his number there.

But more important than say a two- or three- or a four-point bounce in the national polls for Governor Romney, go deeper in the polls. Candy is dead right. The Obama people have defined Governor Romney in the spring and summer as a rich guy who not only doesn't understand, but they have made the case he doesn't care about the middle class. That's what he has have to move the numbers.

When you look at people, does he care? Does he understand? Does he get your problems? And one other point. Governor Romney now leads among seniors. Republicans tend to win the vote among seniors and he needs to boost that number. Because when the Democratic Convention comes around a week later, guess what, they are going to hammer Romney and Ryan on Medicare. They will peel some of that number.

So Romney needs to boost his standing among older voters and then get to the perception that the Obama people have started to paint, that he doesn't care about everyday Americans.

COOPER: John King, Candy Crowley, thank you.

An amazing story coming up. A Texas county judge is facing calls to resign his elected position after saying that civil war could break out if President Obama is reelected. He is talking about U.N. troops being sent to Lubbock, Texas -- details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back.

There's growing fallout tonight over comments by an elected count judge in Texas. His name is Judge Tom Head. He is a Republican and he oversees emergency planning efforts in Lubbock.

In radio and television interviews this week, he warned that civil war could break out if President Obama is elected. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think he is going to do if he gets in next term?

TOM HEAD, TEXAS COUNTY JUDGE: He is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N. OK. What's going to happen when that happens? I'm thinking worst-case scenario.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Right. I understand.

HEAD: Civil unrest, civil disobedience. Civil war, maybe. And we're not talking just a few riots here and demonstrations. We're talking -- we're talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Judge Head claims that President Obama is going to bring United Nations troops into the U.S. into Lubbock, Texas. He actually said that. We're going to play it for you in just a minute. The Texas Democrats are calling for him to resign. The county's Republican party chief is standing by him.

Ed Lavandera joins me now from Dallas. Ed, what is the latest on this?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, if you really back up a little bit here, it's even more amazing when you start kind of looking at the context of why all of this started. This has all had to do with a debate there in Lubbock County where county commissioners were debating whether or not to raise taxes to add extra funding to the sheriff's department and the prosecutor's office there in Lubbock County. So you're wondering, how in the world do you go from debating that to talking like this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEAD: He is going to send in U.N. troops. I don't...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: U.N. troops.

HEAD: With the little blue beanies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, OK.

HEAD: I don't want them in Lubbock County. OK? So I'm going to stand in front of their army personnel carriers: "You're not coming in here." And the sheriff, I've already asked him, are you going to back me?"

He said, "Yes I'll back you"

Well, I don't want a bunch of rookies back there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: True.

HEAD: I want trained, equipped, seasoned veteran officers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: So you can imagine, before reporters there in Lubbock heard all of this, they went and asked the sheriff about it, about this conversation. How did it all take place? The sheriff, Anderson, says that they had talked about the emergency plan contingencies, but none of this talk of civil war ever came up.

COOPER: So this is actually -- he's wanting to kind of raise taxes in order to buy enough equipment in order to fend off Lubbock, Texas, from the U.N. troops he believes President Obama may send in after he cedes southern sovereignty over to the United Nations?

LAVANDERA: Exactly. He did say -- he has said in a couple of these interviews he doesn't think that this actually -- is going to happen, but he has to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.

COOPER: So could Judge Head face any kind of repercussions for the comments? I mean, he's a sitting judge.

LAVANDERA: Well, there's no -- right, he's an elected official. He's -- he's had a great deal of overwhelming support for more than a decade there in Lubbock County. There's no way of recalling someone in his position.

Obviously, many local officials, mostly Democrats, of which there aren't very many in Lubbock County, they had put out a statement this afternoon saying, "Judge Head's paranoid fantasy of a U.N. invasion has captured the attention of the world. A disease of the mind has taken control of the Republican Party. Judge Head would rather have an imaginary conversation with our sheriff to prepare for United Nations tanks invading Lubbock County than do the serious work that preparing a county budget requires."

And I just spoke tonight, Anderson, with the lone Democrat, county commissioner on that court. And I asked him, I said, you know, "Is this something that's typical from Judge Head?" And I asked him, "Do you feel like he has fit to serve in office?" And I'm saving this for the end. Because I wouldn't be able to stop laughing to be able to get through this. But the quote I got back from the commissioner was, "Judge Head is a six-pack short of a 12-pack of beer, if you know what I mean."

COOPER: That's really -- the Democrat, we should point out, the lone Democrat. Ed Lavandera, appreciate the update. A remarkable story.

Coming up, a teacher accused of sexually abusing his students. Yet the school actually has to pay him to leave. You say there ought to be a law? Well, next, we'll show you how just such a law, making it easier to eliminate problem teachers, was blocked. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news, Tropical Storm Isaac is on a collision course with Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tent camps after the 2010 earthquake. Gary Tuchman -- imagine living in those tents with a tropical storm this size heading that way. Gary Tuchman is there now, live. We'll get a live update from Port-au-Prince when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Another "Keeping Them Honest" report about a bill that recently died in California's legislature. This is probably going to make you mad. And we should say up front this story contains some adult subject matter that's disturbing, so if there are little kids in the room, you might want to have them leave for just two or three minutes.

The bill was designed to make it much easier for public schools to fire teachers who commit sexual, physically abusive or drug-related acts with their students. It sounds pretty noncontroversial. Right? But the fact is, it is incredibly hard to immediately fire public- school teachers in California, even if they are charged with completely despicable crimes against students.

Now, the bill's sponsor wanted to change that. But four key legislators derailed his plans. "Keeping Them Honest," the question is did money from the state's powerful education unions influence their actions. Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. Hi.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the halls of the California state capital, Assembly Member Wilhelmina Carter is not in the mood to talk.

(on camera) I just want to chat with you about senate bill 1530.

(voice-over) She wouldn't stop to answer a single question.

(on camera) Why is that?

(voice-over) As silent here as she was when faced with legislation aimed at protecting sexually abused children.

(on camera) Can you just give me a reason why you chose not to vote on that bill?

WILHELMINA CARTER, CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY MEMBER: I have no comments on that bill.

LAH: None at all?

(voice-over) But a voice in California's capital is what parents were demanding. This is Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, where prosecutors say teacher Mark Berndt blindfolded children as young as seven, placed roaches on their faces, taking pictures as he dangled spoons filled with his semen near their mouths and forced them to eat cookies laced with his bodily fluids.

Berndt pled not guilty to charges and faces trial next year. As disgusting, as horrific those alleged acts are, they are only the beginning of the outrage.

Despite the charges against Mark Berndt for what police say he did to his students, the school district couldn't simply fire him. That's because in California, the process to fire a teacher, even one accused of a child sex crime, can take years. So what could the school district do with Berndt? They could have suspended him with pay pending a hearing, but instead they chose to pay him to resign.

(on camera) They gave him 40,000, right?

ALEX PADILLA (D), CALIFORNIA STATE SENATE: Forty thousand dollars simply to retire.

LAH: California State Senator Alex Padilla said that sends a signal that the system was broken, "so we drafted a new bill that would allow a faster way for schools to fire teachers accused of the most heinous crimes against children."

PADILLA: We're very specific to these serious and egregious crimes -- sex, drugs, violence -- involving students. I mean, these to me are no-brainers.

LAH (on camera): The bill looked like a shoo-in. It sailed through the senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Its next stop, the state assembly, and there, it died. Not just by lawmakers voting no but lawmakers who chose to stay silent. They chose to not vote at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there a motion on the bill?

LAH (voice-over): This is the assembly education committee earlier this year. There are 11 voters, four key members, members of Padilla's own party, chose not to vote at all. Which in California is as good as saying no. Their silence helped killed the bill that fell one single vote short of being sent to the full state assembly.

(on camera) Why would they stay silent?

GLORIA ROMERO, Out of fear and intimidation that these campaign dollars will no longer flow their way.

LAH (voice-over): It comes down to cash. Campaign contributions from special interest groups, charges former state senator Gloria Romero knows a thing or two about it. She's a former head of this very committee and now an education reformer. Not voting, she says, is political Teflon. They don't look bad to their constituents and the money from the powerful education unions keeps flowing.

ROMERO: They voted no because they were tied to the hip with power and money, thinking that nobody would ever find out about an "abstain" vote. Well, we found out, and we're outraged.

LAH: But is it simply about the money?

DAN NEWMAN, PRESIDENT, MAP LIGHT: There are 11 (ph) lawmakers on the committee. LAH: Dan Newman is the president and co-founder of Map Light, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group dedicated at looking at money's influence on politics. We looked at overall campaign contributions from teachers unions to the committee members from January 2009 to May 2012.

NEWMAN: You can see how the money correlates with the vote.

LAH: With the exception of the committee chair, the numbers reveal a pattern. All those voting no or not voting, received much more money over the years from education unions than those voting yes.

NEWMAN: I don't know what's in the lawmakers' head, but I do know that, on average, it's striking that lawmakers who received more money from the teachers unions in this case tended to vote more with that union. And what that correlation shows is that the money is having an influence.

LAH: We also don't know what is in the lawmaker's heads.

(on camera) Hi, there.

(voice-over) We got no response when we asked for sit-down interviews with the four who were silent, so we went to Sacramento to see them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you take the camera out?

LAH: Kicked out of one office after another, staffers saying their bosses couldn't talk.

(on camera) Excuse me.

(voice-over) And when Assembly Member Carter wouldn't answer our questions in the hall, we followed all of them to the assembly floor where rules state interviews may be granted if you send a note.

(on camera) Can we first ask Assembly Member Carter?

(voice-over) Assembly Member Carter, who according to Map Light, received more than $7,000 from teachers' unions since 2009, ignored the note.

(on camera) Assembly Member Ang.

(voice-over) Assembly Member Mike Ang, who received 18,000 from teachers' unions since 2009, barely glanced at the request.

(on camera) Assembly Member Butler.

(voice-over) Member Betsy Butler, who according to Map Light, received more than 11,000 from teachers' unions since 2009, visibly reacted to my vote but still ignored the interview request.

(on camera) Assembly Member Williams. (voice-over) Only Assembly Member Doss Williams, who received nearly $30,000 in campaign contributions from teacher's unions, walked right over.

DOSS WILLIAMS, CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY MEMBER: I thought the bill was too much of an overreach.

LAH: An overreach, but he wouldn't elaborate what that means; nor would he talk about his decision to not vote, because he said the assembly was in session.

This is the underbelly of how government works, say critics. And lost, they say, are the people who these people are supposed to represent.

ROMERO: Children in a classroom where their teacher has been accused of feeding them semen? These legislators just threw the kids to the wind and basically said, you know, "We don't even want to think about you."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Kyung Lah, that assembly member that you actually talked to on the floor, he reached out to you after the session. What did he tell you?

LAH: Yes. He gave me a phone call and he said, basically, he used that word "overreach," Anderson. And what he's trying to say is that he felt that the bill just simply did too much, that there's a process in place. And he says it wasn't the campaign dollars doing the talking when he wasn't talking. He actually says if there is a new bill drafted with Senator Padilla, something he's hoping to do, that perhaps there is a new version of the bill, he might support it.

COOPER: It's interesting, though, that they don't vote no, they just abstain, which has the same effect, but it sort of, as you say, protects them from -- from blowback from it. What did the teachers unions in California have to say about this?

LAH: Yes, the California teacher's union, perhaps one of the most powerful groups here in California, because they have one of the largest war chests. They have so many members and so many contributing dollars.

What the CTA is basically saying is that there is a due process in place, that it simply does work. Yes, there are certain way bad examples. But they feel that overall, the teaching process, the process there in place for these teachers, that should not be interviewed with. And they say campaign contributions, no, they're not going to talk that way.

COOPER: Pretty, I think, for taxpayers to realize they paid $40,000 to get rid of that teacher accused of really the most abhorrent kind of behavior to students is pretty shocking.

Kyung Lah, I appreciate the report. Really interesting reporting.

We have breaking news next. The latest in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac, storm heading straight for Haiti. More than 400,000 people still living in tents. Our Gary Tuchman is there in Port-au- Prince. We'll have a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news tonight: the people of Haiti, many still recovering from 2010's devastating earthquake, are in danger of yet another natural disaster. Tropical Storm Isaac expects to be Hurricane Isaac when it reaches Haiti, bringing with it as much as 12 inches of rain, the possibility of flash floods and mud slides. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are still living in tent camps two years after the earthquake, and aide organizations are bracing for the worst as the storm approaches. Gary Tuchman is there, live in Port- au-Prince. He joins me.

Gary, how are people there preparing for the storm? Are they?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think what's incredible, Anderson, with all the tropical storms and hurricanes I've covered, I've never gone through a city and a capital like Port-au-Prince, and seen absolutely no preparations whatsoever. There's absolutely no sign of the imminent arrival of a dangerous storm.

Now, in some wealthier neighborhoods, there may be. Indeed, in wealthy neighborhoods, those people are going to shelters: churches and police stations.

But here we're in a section of Port-au-Prince only 10 minutes away from the presidential palace. This is a tent city and a shantytown called Icar (ph). This is the neighborhood. There are hundreds of people here, and we had to notify at least eight or nine of them that a storm called Isaac was on its way. People are alarmed, but they said they're not leaving. They don't want to leave their home. They feel if they leave, someone will come and take their place in the only homes that they've had for the last two and a half years since the earthquake.

So these people are staying. We're less than 24 hours from the arrival of a dangerous storm, and we haven't seen anyone here leave for shelter, anyone leave here whatsoever. They're sticking it out.

COOPER: And amazing that they haven't even been notified. It seems to be a slow-moving storm. So flooding for people in those camps, that's obviously a very real concern.

TUCHMAN: Yes. And this country has suffered so grievously throughout the decades from mud slides and storms. In 2008, 800 people were killed from four different storms that came through Haiti.

In 2004 when Hurricane Jeanne hit, 3,000 people were killed. There hasn't been a tropical storm or a hurricane that's hit Haiti since the earthquake. A tropical storm kind of fizzled out last summer. So this will be a big test. The fact that these people have suffered so much. You know, you're talking about 300,000 people who were killed two and a half years ago. It's 3 percent of the population of this country of 10 million. These people have suffered. Nevertheless, we've let people know, and they're scared but they're not leaving.

COOPER: Gary, thanks.

We're following other stories tonight. Susan Hendricks joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a prosecutor says the accused Colorado gunman made threats prior to his deadly rampage, and police knew about them. She says the threats began after he failed oral exams at the University of Colorado. He was barred from campus, and police were notified. A short time later, he allegedly killed 12 at a suburban Denver theater.

A shocker for Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner tonight, saying he is ending his fight against doping charges that could cost him those titles. In a statement just out, he says he refuses to participate in a process that is, in his words, "so one- sided and unfair."

Long-time diplomat and former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker is facing hit-and-run and intoxicated driving charges in Washington state. Ryan, who stepped down as ambassador to Afghanistan last month, allegedly crossed two lanes of traffic, hit a semi- and continued to drive. He has pleaded not guilty.

And companies marketing the Ab Circle Pro exercise device have agreed to pay as much as $25 million in refunds to settle charges of deceptive advertising. Television infomercials claimed customers could lose ten pounds in two weeks by using the gadgets for just three minutes a day -- Anderson.

COOPER: Susan, thanks.

Coming up, learning new words is fun. Learning that a word didn't mean what you thought it did, not so much fun, especially on live television. "RidicuList" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Ah, yes, it's that time in the program, "The RidicuList." Tonight we're talking about adventures in local news, starting with a little impromptu vocabulary lesson.

When trying to segue from one story to another, a news anchor in Canada learned the hard way that a certain word doesn't mean quite what he thought it did. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of them brought their girlfriends out to, you know, canoodle or whatever. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did people canoodle in Union Bay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They did canoodle in Union Bay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time now for a full look at your forecast with Astrid, and maybe we can canoodle before you get into it about...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not going to be canoodling. What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought "canoodle" meant chat.

Astrid, you're lucky there's a producer in my ear. I would have -- I would have carried that on and on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Wah, wah. Canoodling: kissing, cuddling. Canoodling, not to confused with noodling, which can mean casually revising music or catching catfish with your bare hands. Two other things I'm guessing meteorologist Astrid Bronschmidt (ph) wouldn't agree to do with him either.

But lest you think local news has the market cornered on totally inadvertent on-air sexual harassment, let us not forget about this moment right here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I know who likes chocolate. Our Zain Verjee love chocolate. One of our -- nice melons behind you there.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: No! Whoa.

PHILLIPS: Whoops. I'm sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Hey, lady. All right. Enough with the innuendo and double entendres. Such a base form of humor, don't you think? Allow us to raise the maturity level a bit, shall we? And check out what happens when a local reporter is live on the air with a super flatulent rhino.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the morning ritual. Get a load of that one. She just said pull my finger.

It smells ripe in here now. Let me tell you. That is so -- that is so funny.

Yes. How's that working for you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now, at this point you may be wondering how can one possibly top a gassy rhino live on the local news? Well, how about an entire scatological seismic event?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A 7.2 magni-turd -- magnitude earthquake rattled Alaska, seismically active Aleutian Islands. Magnitude 7.2. It was a very large earthquake. The good thing is, there were no immediate reports of any damages or injuries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I give him points for just moving on with that. Magni- turd, it's a great band name. Not so great method of measuring earthquakes.

But it is also an excellent reminder in local news, as in life, we should choose our words carefully, pronounce them carefully. And yes, ideally, I mean, if you want to talk about a perfect world, know what they mean.

And that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.