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Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien

Interview with Former Ambassador Richard Williamson; Awaiting Charges For James Holmes; Interview with Congressman Joseph Crowley; House to Introduce Tax Bill; Is Algebra Necessary?

Aired July 30, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, Mitt Romney gets aggressive on his international tour. Takes aim at Iran. But is he scoring points back at home?

Who is to blame for the Colorado movie theater massacre as suspected shooter James Holmes heads to court this morning. There's word that the mother of one of the victims is hiring a high-powered attorney and may be suing the theater.

And marquee player, former President Bill Clinton playing a major role in the Democratic convention in Charlotte. Did he really bump Vice President Joe Biden for the spot?

It's Monday, July 30th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All good energy.

O'BRIEN: I have to wait for Lenny and 8:02 in the morning on the East Coast to get a little music. Yes, a little energy in the music. That's Flo Rida, "Good Feeling."

Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning is Lenny Curry. He's Florida GOP chairman. We're talking a little bit about the Florida strategy as we get ready to head out to the RNC and DNC.

Margaret Hoover is with us, former White House appointee for the Bush administration.

Ryan Lizza is Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." His piece is out today. It's a profile of Paul Ryan called "Fuss Budget." We're going to be talking about that tomorrow.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: Mitt Romney is scheduled to land any second now in Poland. He's going to be meeting with the country's prime minister and also Poland's former president, Lech Walesa. It comes after a weekend in Israel where he took a hard line stance on Iran. He also explained comments by his senior foreign policy aide who suggested Romney would support a military strike by Israel against Iran.

Here is what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must not delude ourselves into thinking that 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: Romney's trailing President Obama in the polls which asked which candidate would handle foreign policy better -- brings us to Richard Williamson, he's a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also foreign policy adviser for Mitt Romney's campaign.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.

What do you expect --


O'BRIEN: Thank you -- Mitt Romney to get, to learn in Poland today on this trip?

WILLIAMSON: Well, foreign policy is important. This election will be about the failure of the president on the economy. But Governor Romney now seven days gave a major speech at the VFW and now, his visit to England, Israel, Poland, he wants to reaffirm that one of the pillars of our foreign policy has to be working closely with our friends, supporting and coordinating diplomacy.

In Poland, which feels the rug was pulled out on them on the missile defense, he will reaffirm his commitment to missile defense. He'll also reaffirm the importance of working closely with our allies. And he will discuss the need to support the freedom agenda and human rights.

O'BRIEN: So when it comes to his strategy overall, is he really playing for a home audience? I mean, when you talk to Michael O'Hanlon, which they did at -- "The National Journal" has an interview with him and he says that he looks at Governor Romney's trip as a, quote, "odd itinerary" and that he sort of playing, quote, "naked electoral politics courting ethnic, Catholic and Jewish voters back home is really the strategy of the trip."

WILLIAMSON: No, I think the strategy of this trip, as it was in his VFW speech, was to lay out the governor's vision of foreign policy which begins first with a recognition and embracing of American exceptionalism.

Two, that we have to be aggressive and show American leadership. We should lead from the front not behind. That's better for the United States and the world.

Three, that we work closely with our allies.

And, finally, that peace through strength. Governor Romney is of the tradition of President Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, where President Obama is in a different view and closer to Jimmy Carter. So, that contrast is important for the American people to understand even as their first priority is to get the economy moving, something that President Obama has failed at.

O'BRIEN: As I'm sure you are aware, Robert Gibbs, the Obama campaign senior adviser, said that the trip so far -- he was really speaking specifically about the London portion of it -- had been embarrassing for our country. That's a quote.

Here is what he said. Let's play a little bit.


ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I think it's clear that voters in this country wonder allowed whether Mitt Romney's ready for the world, and I think the world is not yet ready for Mitt Romney. I think there's literally to go overseas, in the country of our strongest ally, in the Olympics that they have been preparing years for, and question whether or not they are ready does make you wonder whether or not he is ready to be commander-in-chief.


O'BRIEN: Do you think the London portion of this has been at the very least from a P.R. perspective, a bit of a mess? Maybe at the most, a disaster and full of gaffes?

WILLIAMSON: No, look, Governor Romney saved the Olympics in Utah that was troubled by scandal, organization, et cetera. He came in and saved that Olympics. It was a great success.

He has been deeply involved in the Olympic movement. He wanted to be in London for the opening ceremony. I think the American people share Governor Romney's commitment to the Olympic spirit. They appreciate his leadership with the Olympics.

And he answered that question more as a former Olympic organizer.

What was important, however, substantively and I understand Mr. Gibbs wants to divert and distract, but what was important in London is that Governor Romney had substantive important meetings for the Prime Minister Cameron, with Foreign Minister Haig and others. And he had the chance to reaffirm the importance of working with our allies and coordinating diplomacy, et cetera.

And in Israel, of course, he had to talk about Iran where President Obama's failed. Whatever his strategy's been, no one contests that for three and a half years we're not closer to nuclear breakout in Iran which threatens our friends in the region, Israel and others, and threatens the United States.

And Governor Romney had an opportunity to show his contrasting vision and approach which would be confronting Iran, looking for stronger sanctions, et cetera.

O'BRIEN: Well, what would he do differently? I mean, already, you see the Obama administration has put sanctions in place and has increased some of those sanctions. They both have said that they will be aggressive. Everything is on the table.

We know that the Obama campaign -- the Obama administration has tipped off, we are told from a national security adviser, informed Israel that there is a contingency plan to attack Iran should diplomacy fail.

What would a President Romney do with Iran?

WILLIAMSON: Look, let's look after the last 3 1/2 years. President Obama's policies have failed. That's irrefutable.

Iran is much closer to nuclear breakout. They have more centrifuges moving. Their ballistic missiles are better.

And whatever has been followed by President Obama has not worked. That's something that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu noted yesterday.

Why? They sought engagement as opposed to drawing red lines against suspending all enrichment.

O'BRIEN: So what would Governor Romney do if he were president?

WILLIAMSON: Let's look -- excuse me, Soledad, but he -- they talk about their sanctions. They wrap themselves around the sanctions as being so strong. The fact is that the sanctions they now credit for, they oppose when Senator Kirk and Senator Menendez pushed them in the U.S. Senate.

O'BRIEN: So, what would a President Romney?


WILLIAMSON: What he would have crushing, strong sanctions. Two, he would draw the red line on any suspension, total suspension of enrichment, and he would make clear as he did yesterday that the military option is on the table.

No one in the region, whether Tehran, Jerusalem, or elsewhere, has confidence that the Obama administration is willing ultimately to use force to stop the mullahs in Iran, the ones that have said they want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth from getting a nuclear weapon. It's just the facts.

O'BRIEN: So, you are saying that Governor Romney would be willing to bomb Iran if, in fact, they crossed that red line?

WILLIAMSON: What he has said is we should have a credible military force. Soledad, Bismarck said over a century ago that diplomacy without force is like music without instruments. It just doesn't work.

And so far, the Obama policies have not worked. We coordinate more closely with our allies including Israel and we would support efforts for tougher sanctions.

This administration gave a waiver for China. So on oil they don't help keep more pressure on Iran and they now have more Chinese workers in Iran trying to get more oil out of the ground that helps the regime stay in power.

O'BRIEN: But both the Obama administration --


WILLIAMSON: -- much more resolute.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you there. But the Obama administration has talked about sanctions. Many people talk about sanctions, right?

And it sounds to me like you are saying the military option has to be a believable threat, right? I mean, if it's not believable, then nobody really works toward what they are expected to do because they don't believe that the military option is going to come to fruition.

So, are you telling me that Governor Romney would be willing to bomb Iran it looks like they're getting nuclear weapons? That they would whether it's with or without Israel, bomb Iran to end that -- they cross the red line, bomb Iran?

WILLIAMSON: I'm saying two things. First, on the sanctions, it's not just talking abstractly about sanctions. This administration has allowed Moscow and Beijing to determine what sanctions we can put in force. Governor Romney has made clear he's going to put tough sanctions in force for the coalition and not play "Mother, may I" with the U.N. Security Council.

Second, that Tehran should know that Governor Romney is committed to work everything possible diplomatically to avoid having to use force. But if it gets to nuclear breakout, military options are on the table and have to be seriously considered.

O'BRIEN: All right. Seriously considered I guess is as far as we're going to go on that.

Ambassador Richard Williamson joining us, he's Romney campaign foreign policy advisor -- nice to see you, sir. We appreciate your time this morning.

WILLIAMSON: Thanks so much.

O'BRIEN: We got other stories making news. And Zoraida has that for us.

Hey, Z. Good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad.

James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people, wounding 58 others inside a Colorado movie theater is due back in court today. He is expected to face formal charges in the case. No word yet as to whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

And in a few minutes, remembering the victims of the Colorado movie theater massacre, including 32-year-old Rebecca Wygal. Rebecca's mother, Shirley Wygal, will join Soledad live.

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

And the web is about buzzing about the mystery woman who crashed the Olympics opening ceremonies. Take a look at this. A woman in a red sweater near the front of the Indian delegation during the parade of nations on Friday night. She is not an athlete. An Olympic organizer says she was a member of the opening ceremony cast who perhaps got slightly overexcited.

I guess if you're going to crash the party, wear the same color, right?

O'BRIEN: You know what? Aren't they wearing saris?


O'BRIEN: So, she's not dressed at all appropriately. I think she has like blue slacks on.

SAMBOLIN: And how does that happen, you know? When security is all around, right?

O'BRIEN: She is a volunteer.

SAMBOLIN: I know but --

O'BRIEN: At one point, they walk into the stadium and instead of stopping and letting everyone walk in, she just kept going.

But you now what I love the most about this? Look at her face. She is so happy. She's so thrilled. She's so proud of the Indian Olympic team.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I know. She is the most famous person from the opening ceremony.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, she is.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: She got more spotlight than the Indian team --

O'BRIEN: She's got -- there's no embarrassment that she is out there. Not in the saffron (ph) colored sari. She's just thrilled to be there.

LIZZA: She's more famous than the Mary Poppins people.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's true.

HOOVER: Or the children dancing on the beds.

O'BRIEN: Zoraida, thank you for the update.

SAMBOLIN: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Right now at the Olympics, the medal count is China leading with 12 medals. The U.S. behind in second place with 11 medals. Italy in third place.

Let's get right to Zain Verjee. Zain is covering this for us.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes. It was a total disaster. The U.S. team was so shocked. And basically, they were saying (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Why? Because the French team took their revenge out on the Americans, because France lost to the U.S. back in 2008.

But the U.S. was winning the whole time Michael Phelps was also involved in that relay. And then the anchor leg (ph), Ryan Lochte, was swimming it. And just in the last 50 meters also, he was just boom, overtaken by the French who then touched the wall first to win. So, really disappointing for the U.S. team.

And Ryan Lochte, by the way, wasn't even supposed to be in the relay, and then, they just put him in last minute and changed the team. So, there are a lot of questions about why and what happened.

O'BRIEN: What do you think is the thing to focus on today? What would you be watching today?

VERJEE: Today, Ryan Lochte again in the pool. The Aquatics Centre is right there behind me. He's going to be swimming the 200- meter freestyle. Then, Michael Phelps is going to be swimming the 200-meter semifinal for butterfly. Soledad, that's his thing. So, he has the defend -- he's going to be defending his title for that.

Also, you want to look out for Missy Franklin (ph) who's going to be swimming the 100-meter backstroke and the 200-meter freestyle. One piece of good news for everyone in the U.S., what should be celebrating is Dana Vollmer. She won the 100-meter butterfly. And not only did she win it, she broke the world record at 55.98 seconds.

She won, and even though her swim cap went off her head the last 50 meters, she just got there first.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That was great to see. All right. Well, thanks, Zain. Appreciate it. We'll keep checking in with you as you get to be there, and we get to watch it from here. No jealousy at all. Zain Verjee for us this morning.

Got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. In just about three hours, the suspected Colorado movie theater gunman, James Holmes, will appear in court. He's set to face formal charges in the rampage which killed 12 people, injured 58 others. The Aurora community continues to honor the victims of that tragedy this week. One of the victims was 32-year-old Rebecca Wingo. She was mentioned by President Obama in a speech last week.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rebecca Wingo, 32 years old, a veteran of the air force, fluent in Chinese, who served as a translator, a mother whose life will be an inspiration to her two little girls.


O'BRIEN: Shirley Wygal is Rebecca's mother. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. Our condolences to you and your family. It must be just such a horrific time for you, and especially knowing now what we've been reading about your daughter, how compassionate and passionate she was. Tell me a little bit more about her.

SHIRLEY WYGAL, MOTHER OF REBECCA WINGO: Well, she was all those things, and she was -- she was just bright. She was intelligent. She was happy. She cared about people. She was just a bright spot everywhere that she went.

O'BRIEN: She has two little girls. I know the oldest is nine and I think the youngest is five. How much do they understand about what happened and where their mom is?

WYGAL: Well, you know, it's funny. I haven't read or watched anything until last night, and I finally went online and read a few things. There's a story out about the oldest one falling to the floor and railing against God and, you know, I never saw any of that actually.

On Friday, when we were pretty sure -- before we got official notice but, anyway, pulled up to the house there and the two girls came running out to the car and the youngest one propped her arms up on the passenger window and said, mommy's dead. And that's how she handled it. And the older one said, yes, she was killed in the theater.

And I said, I know, baby. And then, they went back to playing in the yard, which according to the child psychologist is exactly what they should be doing. So, from what I've seen, they are behaving exactly as would be expected. They don't understand.

O'BRIEN: Right. They're so little they don't quite get it yet.

WYGAL: Right. Yes.

O'BRIEN: There's a preliminary hearing today, which is what we'll be talking about.


O'BRIEN: At today's hearing, cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom, although I'm told the family members will be allowed to go like they were allowed to go the last time. Is that something that you're going to attend, that you want to face the suspect in court?

WYGAL: Well, I absolutely want to face the suspect in court. He looked my daughter in the eye and shot her and killed her. And I want to look him in the eye for her, and I'll be there until he's sentenced and beyond depending on what happens. I'm glad he's here to stand trial. I want to see justice done. And I want to see it with my own eyes, and I will be there with my family.

O'BRIEN: I read a report that you have now hired an attorney, and also that maybe you are going to think about suing the movie theater. Is that accurate?

WYGAL: Well, I hired an attorney because I don't know what to do. I'm not an attorney. And so, I hired an attorney for advice and counsel. There are a lot of things coming up with the death of a loved one that have to be handled and I'm not equipped or trained to do that. Now, as far as liability, I don't know. I have a lot of unanswered questions.

O'BRIEN: Like what? What do you want to know?

WYGAL: Well, you know, I'll go back to the Friday when we got official notification after 10 o'clock at night they came to Robert's house and we all sat together and they told us. And they asked the children -- our advocate asked the children if they had any questions, and at first, no one asked anything and I said, do you have any questions for her and she said, yes. How did he get in there?

And, of course, there's no answer coming -- forthcoming, so she asked that question two or three times and, you know, I think she deserves an answer to that question. I haven't been given an answer to that question. The police haven't talked to me about what happened in the theater. No one has come and told me what happened.

O'BRIEN: You want to know for first and foremost.

WYGAL: I would like to know.

O'BRIEN: Shirley Wygal, the mother of Rebecca Wingo, joining us this morning. We appreciate your time, and obviously, we will -- we won't be allowed to have our cameras in that courtroom today, but we will be attending as well as we continue to follow what happens in this case. Thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it.

WYGAL: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

We got to take a break. Back in a minute.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. "Minding Your Business" this morning, U.S. markets deflating a bid after the big rally last week. The Dow and S&P 500 futures are trading slightly lower right now. NASDAQ futures are up a bit. Everyone will be watching the Federal Reserve and also the European central bank this week hoping they will announce some form of economic stimulus.

Hyundai is recalling about 200,000 Santa Fe SUVs and 22,000 Sonata Sedans over air bag problems. In the 2007 to 2009 model year Santa Fe, the passenger air bag may not deploy properly, and the 2012 and 2013 Sonatas, the curtain side air bags may inflate for no apparent reason, Soledad. Imagine that as you're driving.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Imagine that as you're driving. That would be a bad, bad thing. All right. Zoraida, thank you.

Our "Tough Call" this morning. Of course, we're talking defense cuts. $500 billion on the table which, across the board many people on both sides of the aisle, say devastating but, of course, the reason those defense cuts exist as they are right now is because the Super Committee failed to do their job. Congress also failed to do its job in coming up with reasonable cuts, so we are where we are.

HOOVER: It's incredible. First of all, you've got the issue of what's going to happen with the cuts and what do these cuts mean to the military? And, we've seen cuts along visible proportions. Many times in the past, you saw cuts along this scale after Vietnam, after the Korean War, after the cold war.

The difference this time is that these cuts are following previously cuts always followed a major buildup in the military. This time, we haven't had a military buildup for almost two decades, or three decades.

O'BRIEN: Cutting to the bone.

HOOVER: It might create -- Leon Panetta said a who will create a hollowing out of the military. There's nowhere to cut in a massive way.

LIZZA: Everyone agrees these cuts are bad done in the way they're done. And the whole point was not for them to be wide cuts. They were to put a gun to Congress' head and said if you don't come up with an agreement, some really bad things are going to happen. I think what's disappointing about the interview you did with senators McCain and hat they are still locked into their positions. You can't get Republicans to say, yes, these cuts are so bad, the Pentagon will be so devastated, yes, we will even agree to raise revenue if that was part of the solution.

O'BRIEN: Raising revenue, Republicans are never going to say, yes, let's raise revenue.

LENNY CURRY, FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN: Hold on. If we go back to when President Obama took office and had the house and the Senate, he had the opportunity then to do what he thought was necessary to get our deficit under control and our economy under control. He chose not to do that. This whole discussion about the tax Bush cuts and those making over $250,000 a year are the Obama tax cuts. He signed these. He owns those. The people he called millionaires and billionaires making over $250,000, he was OK with that two years ago.

HOOVER: What's more interesting, I think, you have the town hall, Senator Ayotte and McCain doing these town halls to drum up popular support because, why? They want to change the law because they don't want the law Congress put in place --


O'BRIEN: They are part of the Congress. That would be fine except they're the ones, right, who supported that, McCain certainly. He voted for it. And I think a town hall with the American people is a way to get buzz, right? People are going to be up in arms. They're going to be angry, as opposed to Congress sitting down and having a conversation and working it out. They don't need the American people to weigh in. They need to go back to their respective chairs and work it out

LIZZA: I think there's some educational component trying to get people to understand the issue. I don't criticize them too much for going out and telling people what's coming.

One other -- I can't help but point out the main arguments Senator McCain made was that all of this government spending that will be cut creates thousands and thousands of jobs. Sometimes the government has to spend more. How is it that when you spend money on the Pentagon it creates jobs but no other type creates jobs?

O'BRIEN: Politics. I can explain it to you, politics 101.


O'BRIEN: We can continue to discuss this in the commercial break as we've been doing all morning.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, President Obama and former president Bill Clinton haven't always agreed on policy for politics. Former president Clinton will be front and center. We'll get some details of his role straight ahead. Plus the battle over the Bush tax cuts, will head to the White House this week. Will that be a dead end with the deadline that's still looming? We'll ask the man who kicked off the debate or will be kicking off the debate straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill debating this week how to handle the Bush-era tax cuts. There are to competing plans had one major difference. Democrats support a version that extends the tax cuts for individuals up to their first $200,000 in yearly income, narrowly passed the Senate last week. Republicans want the cuts extended for all Americans no questions asked.

Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York sits on the House ways and means committee. He will introduce the House version of the Senate's Bill. Nice to see you.

REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY, (D) NEW YORK: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The Senate version basically passed along party lines, which means what in the house?

CROWLEY: Well, it had a couple of Republican supporters as well. It's sending a message to the lead e leadership of the Republican Party that if you are serious about getting a tax bill through before the end of the year, here are the parameters. And it's along the lines of what the president has been asking for that the wealthiest two percent among us pay a bit more to secure the country, make sure that we are able to pay our bills, make sure we are at a point we know that our deficit is growing exponentially so. If we don't pass this bill, we'll see an increase. If the Republican pass were to pass and become law an increase in $50 billion to our deficit. We just can't afford that.

O'BRIEN: So when you -- if this were to fail, right, will Democrats extend all the cuts or let them all expire?

CROWLEY: I believe that right now what we're looking for is compromise. We're hoping our Republican colleagues will come in. Right now if we passed the bill, if you are a sergeant in the military serving overseas in Afghanistan, you have a wife and children back stateside, you will see a $400 increase in your taxes if the Republican Bill would become law. That's unacceptable for the middle class and working Americans. We need to pass a bill that makes sense for America, not just for the wealthiest two percent of this country.

HOOVER: In terms of rebalancing the budget, you talk about tax cuts and raising taxes, but you are also talking about a balanced approach and you're on the Social Security subcommittee. Do you believe that entitlement spending can get reformed?

CROWLEY: I think what we have to do -- first of all, I don't think Democrats will negotiate amongst ourselves. What we're looking for is rational people to come together to talk about what is possible for America. The Social Security system was created because 40 percent of the people in this country were dying in an utter state of poverty, couldn't bury themselves. And we look it at the advancements we made with Social Security in place and what it's meant to so many Americans and what it will mean for years to come. Social Security is a jewel of this country, must be preserved and maintained.

HOOVER: Maintained and reformed in order to be able to serve future generations.

CROWLEY: I think we all have 0 to look at the options that we have before us. What is most important is that we right now look out for the middle class in this country. My Republican colleagues unfortunately are not doing that. It has been the Democratic Party that has stood for working class people and men and women of this country.

LIZZA: One question about this, the deficit -- we have such a huge deficit and the Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. It's not going to do enough to cover the deficit. Why won't -- considering the size of the crisis -- why -- you can't just continue to raise taxes on one segment of the nation. Why wouldn't you broaden that out and let the tax cuts expire for everyone and say to even middle class voters, your taxes have to go up a little bit, too?

CROWLEY: I think in a very difficult time, there's no question we are having difficult times for working men and women. This is not the time to be raising taxes on them. I think there may be an opportunity down the road where things are better, people are earning more, feel better about their own situation. Right now is not that time.

LIZZA: Down the road willing to raise even the middle class tax cuts.

CROWLEY: I think most Americans who are rational about this, we have to keep our options open. What's most important is we have our fiscal house in order. We need to do that in a ration at way, one that protects the people in the kun are try struggling so hard to maintain a living.

CURRY: Congressman, back in '09 president Obama said we shouldn't be raising taxes on anybody in a recession, and he, in fact, signed the extension of the tax cuts. Back then did he consider those people making over $250,000 wealthy? What's changed since 2009? Is it because we're in a campaign?

O'BRIEN: I think the president has consistently said the $250,000 threshold is where he would like to begin this discussion.

CURRY: He could have done that years ago.

CROWLEY: I don't agree with you. I heard you in your earlier segment. You need 60 votes to get anything done.

CURRY: We had both houses. CROWLEY: Well, we barely had that, and we understand that history. The reality is that if the Republican Bill would have passed today, we'd be giving $160,000 tax cuts to millionaires. I don't think that makes any sense in this economy or any economy, quite frankly. To be a millionaire in this country, it is the greatest country the world has known. It's a privilege. And I think most people get that. Unfortunately, those countries you have to pick the right side. Here it doesn't matter. You can be green, purple, red, or blue, Democrat or Republican. You work hard, you get ahead, make a living and you contribute back to this country and make it a better country.

O'BRIEN: Representative Joseph Crowley, nice to see you, sir. Thank you for coming in and talking to us.

Still ahead this morning, a new prime time role at the Democratic convention for former president Bill Clinton. Why is the campaign putting him front and center?


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Topic to be announced today is Bill Clinton's role at the upcoming Democratic convention. Supposedly very prominent role, supposedly a major speech.


O'BRIEN: Possibly booting the Vice President out of the way. I wouldn't be surprised by that. I don't think necessarily the vice president is known for being a dramatic speaker. And also, there has been some tension between the former President and the current President and I think that a tough election cycle could certainly heal all wounds.

LIZZA: Yes its -- they have not had a good relationship, Obama and Clinton. And watch in the next week you're going to see a lot from the White House about how this relationship is so much better than people have reported. You're going to get little details about phone calls they've had. I guarantee it.

But it's not just that they had a bad relationship which is kind of crazy if you think about it. If you're a Democratic president you want to be able to rely on the advice of the last Democratic President. But Obama's argument, if you watch Obama closely from 2004 up until the campaign in 2008, was generational. It was this new face.

And a lot of the argument in the primaries when he was running against Hillary Clinton was it's not just that the Bush era we need to put that behind us, we need to put the Clinton -- the Bush/Clinton era. That was the sub text of Obamas --

O'BRIEN: You'd better hope that the President has let that go.


LENNY CURRY, : Well it's interesting. Because this tells you the trouble that President Obama is in. This is not our parent's Democratic Party. And this is the big government, big spending Democratic Party, they want to -- Obama wants to take us back at least makes -- think we're going back to the Clinton era.

O'BRIEN: Which was a great era for a lot of people. He -- I think he wishes that people make that connection. Isn't that the point to put Clinton up there?

CURRY: So he wants to -- he's trying to fool us. He's trying to fool us.

O'BRIEN: Fiscally -- fiscally that was a great time.

HOOVER: It's so great -- it's so great an era --

LIZZA: Clinton is going to the Democratic Convention and he's going to be highlighted but George Bush won't even be at the Republican convention.

HOOVER: What we all know is that he has core constituencies -- President Clinton brings core constituencies to President Obama that had softened, that lacked the enthusiasm that President Obama had in 2008. Millennials, the kids, 70 percent of them like Bill Clinton. African-Americans, 89 percent of them like Bill Clinton. Republicans even like Bill Clinton; 40 percent of them, Independents 69 percent.


HOOVER: These are key constituencies that will drum up the base and it will soften Independents that President Obama needs.

O'BRIEN: Ok but here is a terrific question can a speech really deliver that? You know, I mean, you list all those statistics.


O'BRIEN: Honestly can it really even a really fabulous speech -- can it really --

LIZZA: Hey look, I pay close attention to this stuff and I remember Bill Clinton's speech at the 2004 convention which -- the two best speeches of that convention were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

HOOVER: That speech made Barack Obama -- that speech made Barack Obama. A speech well delivered on a national platform can make a candidate.

O'BRIEN: Yes can make that individual. But can it make -- can it make another candidate? That is the big question.

CURRY: We're going to make sure that people know that that is not the Democratic Party today, the Bill Clinton era is gone.

LIZZA: I love this -- I love this Clinton nostalgia from Republicans. When did Republicans start loving Bill Clinton so much?


O'BRIEN: All right, we've got to take a short break.

A new op-ed is asking this question. Do we even need algebra? We're going to bring Steve Perry in to talk about that. Should teachers, should math teachers just quit teaching algebra?


O'BRIEN: Every single day high school and college students struggle through algebra questions like this, x + (x+1) + (x+2) = ?. Actually, that is not college, that is not even high school, that is probably, I would say, middle school. I believe I'm working on this right now with my daughter.

It turns out that many American students can't answer that question. In fact two-thirds of eighth graders are below proficiency in math and science that's according to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

But is algebra even necessary? It's a question that was posed in "The New York Times" op-ed written by a political science professor who says we're hurting kids by forcing them to take algebra.

Steve Perry is with us. He's an education contributor. So Steve I have a pretty good idea where you're going to come down on this. I hope I do. Because I don't know anything about you if you don't agree with me on this, the question is, "Should we bother to teach algebra?" And I think your answer is going to be absolutely yes. Am I wrong?

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it's important that we do ask the question if we're teaching the things that are necessary in modern education. The issue is not whether or not we should teach algebra; it's whether or not the people who are teaching algebra have the effectiveness that is necessary for children to learn?

The bigger issue that I find even as I interview for math positions is to find a great math teacher. We interviewed a teacher not long ago who I asked to teach me something, anything and she taught me how to factor a number. She did it wrong in the interview.

The problem, Soledad, is that she was the best person I interviewed up to that point for a math position.


O'BRIEN: Part of the issue --

PERRY: It was not whether or not we should teach algebra.

O'BRIEN: Ok but part of the argument in this op-ed which is written by Andrew Hacker is he says you know "To the nation's shame there is a toll that is taken by studying mathematics"; that he actually seems to argue that it makes kids who are not able -- who struggle -- maybe more likely to drop out.

That there's not the necessarily a correlation between learning algebra and whatever job you're going to do at the end which would require, possibly, some math. So why not do, why bother to do it at all?

PERRY: I don't know that there's a causal relationship between failing algebra and failing out of college but I do know that for many children especially students of color and students from other historically disadvantaged populations it does present a real barrier. And in many cases there are some practical barriers because too few of them end up taking the requisite number of math courses that's typically three years in order to get into a four-year college. They find themselves in a community college where they have to take an 009 course which is a non-credit bearing course that in many cases they fail so that in many cases it is true.

I don't know if it's causal but algebra is a gatekeeper. I don't know that it's necessary for every single child. I really don't. One of the problems that I find that we have is that we spend too much time with a one size fits all academic experience. We need to create more compelling academic experiences that children are more connected to. Not just the rigor -- it's also the relationship and the relevance.

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure he agrees with me.

HOOVER: I am shocked by his answer. Steve, so what some people are saying is, and maybe you are saying this, if there is no direct use in your professional life with algebra, then why bother studying it --


O'BRIEN: How do you know what your professional life is when you're a teenager?

HOOVER: Isn't there a -- isn't there a benefit from the thought process learning algebra whether you're ever going to use it in your professional life to balance your checkbook or if become an artist, isn't there are some benefit to having learned algebra to learn the thought process in critical thinking?

PERRY: Then why stop at algebra. Keep throwing subjects at kids. What I think we do need to ask ourselves the question, is here it is 2012. Why are we teaching the same things the way we've always taught them? There has to be some level of creativity.

My issue is not whether or not we teach algebra. We teach it at Capital Prep because it's required, because we know that the colleges expect it. We know the state examinations measure it. So we do teach it and the S.A.T. also measure it in ACT.

However -- however -- it is important for us as a nation to be more honest with ourselves and ask the question is what we're teaching the best way to ensure that we pull out the best from every child? O'BRIEN: And that is $64,000 question.

All right, Steve Perry a not exactly a green week. I've got to take a short break. Thanks Steve. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: That's it for STARTING POINT. Let's get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. It begins right now.