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Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Republicans Send Mixed Messages on Supreme Court Nominee

Aired May 29, 2009 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: New fears of a potential attack that could reach as far away as Alaska.

And Senator John McCain joins us to make a key campaign endorsement -- why he's getting involved in the race to replace Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger so early.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Those stories in a moment, but, first, for the first time since the 1930s, General Motors' stock closed at under $1 per share today, under $1. So, the company is no doubt relieved that it's getting more help from organized labor. The United Auto Workers ratified a revised deal that will allow GM to cut labor costs.

CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.

We have lost Ali's shot. I'm sorry. Will get to Ali Velshi -- we will get to Ali quite shortly, as soon as we can get that shot up and running.

In the meantime, Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor is posing a dilemma for Republicans. Some in the party are coming down hard on President Obama's pick, others holding their fire, wary about criticizing the woman expected to be the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Let's bring in CNN congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar with the latest from Capitol Hill -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, comments made by Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are getting a lot of attention, but Republicans in Congress are quick to distance themselves from those comments, concerned about the effect they may be having on voters.



KEILAR (voice-over): If Republicans inside Congress are cautiously critical of Sonia Sotomayor... SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: There are some troubling things that are going to going to have to be inquired into for us to do our job.

KEILAR: ... some Republicans outside the Capitol are anything but. Rush Limbaugh slammed the Supreme Court nominee.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So, here you have a racist. You might -- you might want to soften that, though. You might want to say a reverse racist.


KEILAR: Using Twitter, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich blogged: "A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

The comments drew a sharp rebuke from John Cornyn, the man responsible for helping elect more Senate Republicans. He spoke on NPR.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think it's terrible. Neither one of these men are -- are elected Republican officials. I just don't think it's appropriate. I certainly don't endorse it. I -- I think it's wrong.


KEILAR: Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says the inflammatory comments are hurting the party's attempt to rebuild itself.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, this is the last thing that Republican members want right now on Capitol Hill. I mean, they're trying to bring back the party. They're trying to boost their approval ratings.

And the last thing that they want to do is start to tear someone down and use words like racist.


KEILAR: This argument, this public argument, over Sotomayor is part of a larger argument Republicans are having about what direction the party needs to go in if it's going to win elections -- John.

KING: Brianna Keilar for us on Capitol Hill -- Brianna, thank you.

And we will discuss the GOP's mixed message on Judge Sotomayor with the best political team on television in just a few moments.

As we were telling just a moment ago, GM stock today closing under $1 for the first time since the 1930s. But GM also has, as it prepares for bankruptcy, a new deal with the United Auto Workers that will help it, help it cut its labor costs.

Ali Velshi, shot restored out at Auto Hall of Fame in Dearborn Michigan.

Ali Velshi, break down this new deal for us with the UAW and how much it helps GM.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right, well, listen credit to the UAW and General Motors for really going down to the wire on this.

It's almost expected that, by Monday morning, General Motors will be forced into bankruptcy protection. But they are continuing to try. The Auto Workers voted overwhelmingly to provide greater concessions to General Motors to try and keep this company afloat.

Now, it's not for nothing. Even if this deal doesn't go through, the bottom line is, even if General Motors is forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it will continue to have to negotiate with its suppliers, with its automakers and with its autoworkers and with its bondholders.

So, this isn't for nothing. The idea is that things have really, really changed between auto workers and unions and the automakers. This isn't the adversarial relationship that so many of our viewers will be used to. Right now, everybody realizes this is about jobs and these autoworkers have got to do what they can to try and preserve as many jobs as possible.

But the reality is, inside or outside of bankruptcy, General Motors is going to shed tens of thousands of more jobs. These autoworkers are just hoping that they can try to help make the decision a little bit easier and try and sustain this for a little bit longer.

But it looks like General Motors is still headed for bankruptcy -- John.

KING: And the expectation, Ali, is that that will be filed on Monday. And the big question is, how long? They have been working with the administration on this plan. How long does GM expect to be in bankruptcy?

VELSHI: Well, again, this is an organized bankruptcy. This is something that the administration, the Treasury, the White House has been working with General Motors and the United Auto Workers on.

So, they are going to try and get this company out of bankruptcy as soon as possible. Now, that could be two to three months, but really the issue is, when you go into bankruptcy, you have to try and raise money, which is next to impossible for a troubled company like General Motors in this economic environment.

The other thing you have to do is, you try -- try to raise money by getting rid of some your assets. But those assets might be the very ones that help you make money and help you recover, so a tough decision as to what will GM have to shed.

I'm here in Dearborn. This is Ford country, and Ford has had to make those decisions a few years ago without being forced into bankruptcy. And a lot of people are saying that might be a bit of a model for General Motors to look at. What can they do to become more efficient?

But whatever emerges and however long it takes, John, it's going to be a smaller company than General Motors is today.

KING: Well, we will continue to watch it. Ali Velshi in Dearborn for us -- thanks, Ali.

And tonight on CNN, Ali Velshi and Christine Romans explore the rise and fall of the American auto industry and where it might go from here. "How the Wheels Came Off: The Rise and Fall of the American Auto Industry," that's tonight, beginning at 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

Jack Cafferty joins us now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, perhaps, feeling proud of his accomplishments during his first four months in office, President Obama told a star-studded Hollywood crowd last night -- quote -- "You ain't seen nothing yet," a fund-raising dinner where couples paid $30,000 a ticket. What recession?

The president said he would put his first four months in office against any prior administration since FDR. Mr. Obama ticked off a list of some of the successes he's achieved, including passing the largest economic recovery package in the history of the country, removing the ban on funding embryonic stem cell research, taking measures to stabilize the housing market, cracking down on predatory abuses by the credit card companies and expanding children's health insurance.

He also praised Sonia Sotomayor, his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Obama acknowledged, although his administration has made progress, there is much work left to be done. He said we can't rest on our laurels -- quote -- "It won't be easy. There will be setbacks. It will take time" -- unquote.

He added, he's made some mistakes, guarantees he will make some more.

Meantime, when it comes to raising money, Barack Obama has not lost his fastball, oh, no. The celebrity dinner and the concert later in the evening brought in between $3 million and $4 million for the DNC. Not bad for an evening's work.

Here's the question. President Obama says you ain't seen nothing yet when it comes to his presidency. Should he be so confident? Go to and post a comment on my blog -- John.

KING: Thirty thousand bucks?

CAFFERTY: Per couple to sit down and have dinner and hear, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

KING: That's a lot of dimes. All right.

CAFFERTY: That's a heavy ticket.

KING: All right, Jack. We will see you a bit later.

What is North Korea up to? The communist regime is taunting the world amid disturbing signs it may be preparing -- may be -- to fire a long-range missile.

A big defense trade show in the hometown of a powerful congressman known for bringing home the bacon, but is there a scandal developing? We're on the scene.

And Britain's Prince Harry on his first official visit to America. His focus? New York's ground zero.


KING: Leading Republicans are blasting Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, a move some say could cost the party crucial Latino votes.

Joining us to talk about that and more, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Christian Broadcasting Network White House correspondent David Brody.

Let's start with the White House decision today, announced by Robert Gibbs. I talked to David Axelrod about it earlier. And we will wait to hear how Judge Sonia Sotomayor put it, but they say that she agrees that she chose her words poorly when she gave that big speech at Berkeley where said, among other things -- if you read the entire speech, this one sentence is -- can be taken out of context, but she said she hopes her experience as a Latina woman helps her make some judgments, some decisions from the bench maybe in a different context than a white male who didn't have her same experience.

Why walk back?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because the words she used was that she would be better able to make those decisions.

And that's a silly thing to say. And it's also a tad self- serving, if you will. And it's very clear from talking to people at the White House that, while they make the point that you have to take it in the context of what she said, and she did say -- and she did give credit, for example, to the all-male, all-white court for doing Brown vs. Board of Education.

But what she said was silly. And so it's clear that they just decided, well, you know, she ought to just get rid of it and take it off the table.

KING: But does it take off the table when you said it at a major event, at a speech where you were invited to give a speech to a largely Latino audience? Does it take it off the table when you essentially say, never mind; well, I -- the candidate wishes she had said...

DAVID BRODY, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: No, it doesn't take it off the table and obviously it's going to come up at her confirmation hearing. And also with that YouTube video we have seen about the federal appeals court making policy, that is also not off the table, because she also walked it back in the clip as well.


BRODY: She walked it back herself, and so that makes it a little more troublesome.

BORGER: But here's the -- here's the problem you have if you just use the sort of -- the clips, the YouTube videos, the speeches. You have to draw a line between what she said in those clips and her judicial decisions on 17 years on the bench.

And -- and unless you can do that, I think there's a problem in only using those things outside the record.

KING: She will have to go through the entire record.

I want to move on to the Republicans and how they are handling this and the divide among them. But, first, I want to ask, have either of you seen any defections, any wavering, any sweating among the constituency that matters most here, which is conservative Democrats, because Democrats have enough votes, unless they lose six, seven, or eight of their own?




BRODY: There you go.

KING: We like short answers.


BORGER: No, not yet, not yet.

KING: Let's move on. There's been a bit of controversy because of the strong language being used by Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, saying racist or reverse racist in challenging some of the statements she has made and ruling on affirmative action, that statement out at Berkeley. John Cornyn, leading Senate Republican, said, you know, let's go after the record. Let's not use language like that. Let's just look at the issues.

Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, was hosting Bill Bennett's radio show today. And he addressed this. This is what he said.


MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The risk here for the GOP is that, instead of making a cogent, articulate argument against the views or positions or rulings of a Supreme Court nominee, we get painted as a party that is against the first Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court, bottom line.


KING: So, Candy Crowley has joined the conversation.

Candy, Michael Steele there trying essentially to say, we appreciate the advice, Rush and Newt. Can you dial it back?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and that -- that is their problem. How do you say to the American people, well, yes, they're Republicans, except, for the people that are going to vote, there are also John Cornyn and -- and others who have been very, very measured up on the Hill.

So, they have to figure out a way -- I mean, I just don't think that Rush Limbaugh's going to say, oh, Michael Steele told me to be quiet, so now I'm going to be. It's just not going to happen.

BRODY: But it's interesting because it's a political master -- masterstroke by the White House here, because what they have done is they have kind of fractured the base, that -- the Limbaugh audience, if you will, and then the GOP politicians on the Hill, who know politically they're going to pay a price if they are going to come out against a Hispanic woman, early especially.

BORGER: They have to find a right way to lose this nomination. They know that she's likely to get approved. You were just saying they probably have the 60 votes.

So, the question is, do you want to lose on principle, which would be the right way to lose, challenge her court decisions, challenge her on all kinds of things, or do you want to lose the wrong way? And the wrong way would be to attack her personally.

KING: Well, and look at the potential price, Candy.

If you look at the exit polls from 2008, the Latino vote, Barack Obama gets 67 percent. That's two -- that's two-thirds. John McCain gets 31 percent. And just four years earlier, John Kerry got the majority, 53 percent. But George W. Bush held his own. If a Republican can get 44 percent nationally, then the Republican wins. We saw that's what happened in 2004.

CROWLEY: Exactly.


KING: Look, this is about this judge and her qualifications, and the confirmation hearings should be about that. But the political risk for the Republicans?

CROWLEY: It's a huge risk, because we have seen in the Hispanic community what an enormous source of pride this is. It's not as though there aren't some Hispanics that have said, well, I'm not so sure about this or that.

But, by and large, I mean, talk radio for Spanish-speaking community just was ablaze when she was nominated. They have wanted this for so long. And to come out and seem to be challenging her on extraneous or unimportant things is not -- is not helpful politically.

BRODY: You know, and the sad part of all of this is if you look at some of -- if you go deep inside the polling -- and, John, you know this -- is that Hispanic cultural values tend to line up a lot with GOP values, at least on paper. And so that -- that seems to be the irony in all of this.

BORGER: You know, if you look at Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, a state that some think could, you know, be winnable or stay Republican, they want to keep it, very large Hispanic community there, he's probably not going to vote for her. But he said, I'm so proud that she was nominated. It's a great day that she was nominated.

So, he's kind of trying to walk that line.

KING: Caution, I think we call that.

BORGER: Caution.


KING: Gloria Borger, David Brody, Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

A defense contractor is suspended amid allegations of fraud -- ahead, tough questions about the link to a powerful House Democrat with influence over the Pentagon.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: You guys write these stories. You don't have a clue what this is all about.


KING: Also ahead, Senator John McCain's choice for California governor. The former presidential candidate joins us to talk about that, and I will ask him about a red-hot debate in that state right now over same-sex marriage.

And President Obama proves again sometimes a guy just wants to have a hamburger.


OBAMA: Cheeseburger.



KING: He's a powerful congressman known for bringing home the bacon. Now the hometown of Representative John Murtha is hosting a huge defense trade show. But there's a whiff of scandal in the air and Murtha seems to be on the defensive.

Our Brian Todd is on the scene in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we're here at this event called the Showcase for Commerce in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. This event has put John Murtha on the map for a lot of different reasons, mainly because he's brought a lot of the defense contracting work to this district.

There's a lot of firepower on display here. You have got an M- 109 Howitzer behind me, an armored medical evacuation right behind that. Also, some news being made today around this event and Congressman Murtha. We have learned from the U.S. Navy that one of the companies that has a booth here at this event, a company called Kuchera Industries, has been suspended by the U.S. Navy from doing further contract work, a Navy spokesman telling us that the company has been suspended for suspected fraud.

Congressman Murtha has longstanding ties to Kuchera Industries. He was asked about this story earlier today. And here's what he had to say.

MURTHA: What do you think? I'm supposed to oversee these companies? That's the Defense Department's job. That's not my job. You write these stories. You don't have a clue what this is all about.

QUESTION: Just asking the questions. I'm also asking, have you hired a lawyer?

MURTHA: Why -- have I -- what kind of a question is that?


MURTHA: You got all these questions written down, do you?

QUESTION: Yes. TODD: Now, we have made several attempts to get officials from Kuchera Industries to speak to us about this development. I approached one of the top leaders of the company at his booth at this event today. He declined to be interviewed.

We're going to have a lot more on this event, Congress Murtha's ties to it and all the controversy surrounding the congressman next week -- John.


KING: Brian Todd there in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

No one from Kuchera would speak to Brian at the event today. He's since obtained a statement from Kuchera's attorney.

Attorney Dennis McGlynn says -- quote -- "We're in the process of appealing the suspension by the Department of the Navy, and we believe that after we present our reply, the suspension will be lifted." Mr. McGlynn said he could provide no additional details at this time and could not discuss a pending federal investigation of his company.

John McCain is rushing to support a former member of his presidential campaign team. Ahead, the senator joins us with his choice to be the next governor of California, Meg Whitman.

Plus, we will look ahead to President Obama's trip to the Middle East, at a time when even the White House acknowledges relations with the region are bad.

And stand by for our picks for some of the funniest jokes of the week about the new Supreme Court nominee -- the "Friday Funnies" still to come.



Happening now: Just days before a key election in Iran, gunmen open fire at one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's campaign offices. It's not clear if the attacks were connected to yesterday's deadly Shiite mosque bombing. Iranian leaders are blaming the United States and Israel for inciting violence.

A U.S. official who is in France to prepare for President Obama's visit has been diagnosed with the swine flu. French authorities say the 54-year-old woman was hospitalized today.

And those Maryland schoolkids quarantined in China amid swine flu concerns can now finish their trip. A mother of one of the students tells CNN the teenagers were released after their temperatures registered normal.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. President Obama next week heads to the Middle East, and while in Egypt, he will make good on a pledge to address the Muslim world. It's part of his effort to repair the U.S. image abroad.

CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian has been looking in to the stakes for the president -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you know, the president really wanted to make this big speech during the first 100 days of his administration. We're past that, but it's still a top priority for the White House, trying to mend a broken relationship.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama heads to Egypt with a Middle East peace plan on his mind, but the real focus is to first reach out to the Muslim world. Call it relationship-building.

(on camera): How does the White House currently view the relationship? How bad is it?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, I think the president would say it's in need of improvement.

LOTHIAN: If you're looking on a scale of one to 10?

GIBBS: Well, I think -- I think it's in need of substantial improvement. I think it's safe to say that the president wouldn't be traveling this distance and giving as much thought into this...

LOTHIAN (voice-over): After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, the president stressed the importance of finding common ground with Muslims around the world.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will require, I think, a recognition on both the part of the United States, as well as many majority-Muslim countries about each other, a better sense of understanding.

LOTHIAN: Before making his speech in Cairo, the president will first stop in Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Abdullah. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president's speech isn't just -- quote -- "one-stop shopping," that it builds on Mr. Obama's visit to Turkey, where he told a town-hall meeting with local students and met with top leaders.

OBAMA: So, let me say this as clearly as I can. The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.


LOTHIAN: A senior administration official says that this effort is more than something you just feel good about, the White House really believing that, if you improve the relationship with the Muslim world, that you will improve America's security -- John. KING: It will be a fascinating trip, a big test. Dan Lothian at the White House -- Dan, thanks very much.

North Korea once again is taunting the world with its military muscle and nuclear threats. The communist regime today fired yet another short-range missile, the sixth since it conducted a nuclear test Monday. And there are signs the country may be preparing for a new long-range missile launch.

Here's our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, they call North Korea the hermit kingdom. And the Obama administration's trying to figure out what that country is really up to.

(voice-over): U.S. military aircraft continued reconnaissance flights out of Japan, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived for a security conference in Singapore -- topic number one, North Korea.

North Korea is leaving the Obama administration still uncertain about Pyongyang's intentions, after days of missile launches, a nuclear test, and warlike statements from the most isolated country in the world.

SHARON SQUASSONI, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Their tone has been very belligerent over the last week, almost as if they're outraged at the international reaction. But it's still very unclear whether this series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests was primarily for domestic, internal consumption.

STARR: Pentagon officials say new satellite imagery of a missile research facility in Sanum-dong now shows missile trucks moving around, but no siting of missile parts. The vehicles spotted typically carry North Korea's long-range missile, the Taepodong II, which is capable of hitting Alaska if it actually works. Any actual launch could be months away.

For now, in wake of Pyongyang's claims of an underground nuclear test, the Obama administration is focusing on diplomacy.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Our goal in this is to -- is to make sure that North Korea understands that they've -- they've made some wrong choices. And we want to get them to reverse course.


STARR: On the way out to Singapore, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not consider this a military crisis and that he has no intention of sending more U.S. troops to the Korean Peninsula. He wants to see this all resolved in diplomatic channels -- John.

KING: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, thank you.

Senator John McCain is wading in to the race to replace California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, McCain's backing a candidate. They're both standing by to join us live.

Plus, Britain's Prince Harry on his first official visit to the United States. You might say Richard Quest is on the royal trail.


KING: Royal watchers here in the United States are getting an up-close look at Britain's Prince Harry right now. He's in New York on his first official visit to this country.

CNN's Richard Quest stayed back in London, but he's following the hoopla -- Richard, thanks so much for joining us.

Explain the significance of this Prince Harry in New York.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR, CORRESPONDENT: I think the significance of Prince Harry being in New York is really -- this is his first overseas -- official overseas trip on his own, if you like. The only time he's been overseas before has either been with his parents or private visits or, indeed, in serving action, as he was, of course, in the armed forces -- in the service, if you like, of his grandmother's armed forces.

But this trip to New York -- a charity trip, a trip to raise money for one of his African charities, along with paying his respects and paying homage at the site of 9/11, at the World Trade Center. It is an extremely important trip because that link between Britain and the United States -- not only Anglo-American, but two financial centers. This, of course, made the perfect opportunity for Prince Harry to really get to fly his wings.

KING: You say fly his wings. And as the pictures are transmitted back home, how important is it for a young man, third in line for the British crown, who has had some image problems over the years?

QUEST: Yes, you see, a lot of his image problems over the years -- his wild nights out, if you like -- a lot of that was put to rest when he did serve in war zones, in Afghanistan, in the service of the queen. And all that stuff about when he was wearing Nazi uniforms and drinking too much, I think people recognize that was youthful misdemeanors.

But what he's since shown is responsibility, dignity and gravitas.

Now, I'm not an apologist for Prince Harry in any shape or form. But this is a man who knows that his future role in life is always to be three steps behind somebody else and will always be second or third best. So he'd better get used to it. And that's what this is part of the process of learning about.

KING: You said he'd better get used to it. But you also noted this is his first time out on a solo international trip representing his country and stepping out on his own.

What will you look for?

QUEST: I think we've already seen it today, John. We've seen a certain -- we've seen maturity. He entered the World Trade Center site, looked up and said wow! He spoke to people who were there. He left a handwritten note.

And, so, you know, to some extent, that might be an obvious one -- go to the World Trade Center site. But it does bring together all the various aspects of the closest part of recent Anglo-American relationships. And the fact that they chose that site at this time to do it, I think, speaks volumes.

He'll also, of course, go to a polo party. But I assure you, I'll be very surprised if there's any hijinks from the young prince.

KING: We'll keep an eye on him for you, Richard, on this side of the pond.

Richard Quest, thank you very much.

She was a key supporter of Republican Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Now, he's repaying the favor.

Senator McCain tells us he the question is former eBay CEO, Meg Whitman, should be California's next governor.

Stay with us.


KING: Former Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, is weighing in on the California governor's race, backing former eBay boss, Meg Whitman.

They both join us now live from Fresno, California.

Senator McCain, let me begin with you.

And thank you to both of you for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meg Whitman obviously was an important person in your campaign -- helped you win support, helped you raise money.

Is this a simple I owe you one or can you give me a reason why you think Meg Whitman, with no political experience, is uniquely qualified to be the governor of a state that is quite a mess right now?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You just -- quite a mess right now. Quite a mess right now -- a fiscal crisis of almost unprecedented proportions that needs the kind of leadership -- you mentioned that Meg does not have political background. She has leadership background. She's one of the great American success stories. She knows how to run a business. She'll know how to run California, if anybody can. KING: Meg Whitman, please come in on that very point, because it's a different calculation when you're running a business -- a painful decision sometimes, but you have to lay off workers. You have to maybe close a factory, something like that.

When you're the governor of a state, you're deciding whether maybe to cut scholarships, maybe whether to cut funding to a home -- a program for the homeless.

How do you take -- I'm not saying a business leader doesn't have to be compassionate, but I guess I'm saying a governor maybe needs to be more compassionate.

How do you make that jump?

MEG WHITMAN (R), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Well, as a CEO, you have to be compassionate, as well as a governor you have to be compassionate. But we need to run the State of California just a bit more like a business. This is not energetic and efficient government. This is a government that is not spending the taxpayers' money well at all.

And what has happened is people become convinced either you have to cut services or raise taxes. And no one, until very recently, thanks to those propositions last week, is talking about how can we run this government more efficiently.

And I'll give you a couple of examples. We've got to cut the bureaucracy. There's 345,000 people that work for the state. We should eliminate 10 percent of that. We've got to look at deploying technology to deliver the same services at lower cost. And I know this can be done.

So I would argue the experience I have in creating jobs, in building large businesses, in helping to balance budgets and those kinds of things are going to be useful given the economic crisis that we face.

KING: And Meg, let me ask you this, you mentioned the mess out there and the political problems and the decisions you think have been kicked down the road or not handled appropriately.

How much of the blame is Governor Schwarzenegger's, for not cutting the payroll, for not asking for deeper cuts in spending?

He is a Republican governor.

Does he share a sizable amount of blame?

WHITMAN: I think there is, you know, plenty of places that the state has gone wrong. I have a lot of respect for Governor Schwarzenegger. He's done a number of good things -- workman's compensation help, the redirecting initiative that was passed in November.

But the fiscal crisis has occurred on his watch and I think, you know, political leaders have to be accountable. So I think he will share some responsibility for this, along with the legislature.

And my belief is, actually, we can lead our way out of this, but it's going to take a very different approach. And it's going to take leadership and conviction that is going to have to redefine the governor in California.

KING: Senator McCain, you're trying to help a candidate in a state where more than a third of the electorate is Latino. You struggled with Latino voters, even though you had hoped to do better, because of a climate that, frankly, is simply not favorable to your party right now. I don't think it was personal, it was more of a backlash against the Republican Party.

The president has nominated the first Latino nominee for the Supreme Court and you have heard Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh labeling her racist.

Number one, is that out of bounds?

And number two, what does it do to a deeper problem, that a candidate John McCain seeking re-election, a Meg Whitman seeking the nomination and perhaps the governorship of California, how much does it poison the water?

MCCAIN: Well, John, to start with, Judge Sotomayor should be judged on her qualifications and whether she is suited to be a Supreme Court justice and on nothing else. We have had not a hearing. We've not had a meeting. So let's withhold judgment until we have a chance to examine her record. And we should have adequate time to do that.

You're right, the Hispanic -- Latino vote is very important. We've been losing it. We have to recruit and elect Hispanics to public office. We have to make it clear that in our desire to secure the border, it is not an anti-Latino attitude that we have. And we have to welcome them into our party. And there is a recognition now -- a growing recognition, particularly in my part of the country, that without that vote, we will not regain majority status.

KING: And -- and Meg Whitman, there have been some criticism of a speech she gave, actually, out there in Berkeley, California, where she said that she thought her experience as a woman and as a Latina would make her better suited to make certain decisions than a white man.

Have you ever been in a corporate boardroom where you said, you don't understand this, gentlemen, I get this better because I'm a woman?

WHITMAN: I haven't said that. But I agree with John. You know, I actually went to college with Judge Sotomayor. And she is very well qualified, from an academic point of view. She has had 17 years of experience on the bench. And I think we ought to turn our attention to her judicial opinions, what she's written.

And I have a lot of confidence that the Senate Judiciary Committee will put her through her paces and look carefully at what she has written and what she has talked about.

But I am delighted, actually, that she is a Latina. I think that is a step forward. And now what we have to look for is her judicial record.

MCCAIN: And, John, could I just mention, what -- what we sometimes forget, elections have consequences. She would not have been my nominee, most likely. But the fact is that the president won. He has the obligation and duty and privilege to nominate.

We, in the Senate, also have the obligation to advise and consent. I think we need to go through that process and it will start soon.

KING: I want you to listen, Meg Whitman, to something Governor Schwarzenegger has said about Prop 8. As you know, California voters last year decided to ban same-sex marriage. There's an effort now to put it back on the ballot in 2010, when you hope to be on the ballot running for governor. There's also a federal lawsuit challenging that ban on same-sex marriage.

Governor Schwarzenegger, on "The Tonight Show," said he thinks this will ultimately pass.

Let's listen.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: This is not over, this decision, because I think they're going to be back. There will be -- in a year or two, they will be back again with another initiative trying to get it...


SCHWARZENEGGER: You know, and eventually it's going to be overturned. I'm sure of that.


KING: He says eventually, Meg Whitman, it will be overturned.

Would -- I know you supported the will of the people. You have issued statements saying the people voted for this, therefore it is the right thing -- the majority voted for it.

Do you support the ban personally?

And do you think that California policy should be so dictated by these referendums?

WHITMAN: So you're right, I did vote yes on Proposition 8. I am pro-civil union, but against gay marriage. And so I supported Proposition 8. And I think the Supreme Court of California made the right decision recently by supporting the will of the people. I think this will continue to -- I agree with Governor Schwarzenegger. This will continue to be an issue. It will continue to bubble up. But I think the court came down in the right place.

And propositions in California are a double-edged sword. But this was a proposition that was put to the people. It was a fair election. And I think we have to be thoughtful about overturning the will of the people.

KING: Senator McCain, do you think this should be dealt with on a state by state basis like this, or do you think, ultimately, if five states have supported same-sex marriage now, others are pushing for it, does it need a federal answer?

MCCAIN: No. I believe it should be decided within the states. And we should respect that. And the Defense of Marriage Act that the Congress passed some years ago articulated that exact position.

KING: Let me ask you about the political climate out in the State of California.

First, more of the governing climate. The appetite in Washington -- probably the answer is no.

But if you were governor, Meg Whitman, do you foresee any circumstances where you might have to come to Washington and say, we're the most populist state, we're essentially the world's 12th largest economy, we need help from Washington in the short-term?

WHITMAN: No. And I think it's exactly the wrong thing for California. We have to put our fiscal house in order. And in many ways, the vote of last week is a forcing function for the legislature, the governor and the people of California to put in place a government we can afford.

And while it's tempting to think about asking the federal government to bail out California, it's the wrong thing, because we can't kick the can down the road to another year, another generation. We've got to solve our problems now.

And, by the way, I think it's a pretty bad precedent, because if California has their hand out, there's, you know, 30 or 40 other states that, while they are not as big as California, they face similar challenges. And I think there's only so much the government can do.

And my personal point of view is the federal government is overextended by a remarkable amount. And this is the last thing the federal government needs to be involved in.

KING: Senator McCain, what are your thoughts on, in the largest state in the country, you received only 37 percent of the vote -- again, not all personal. It's been very tough for national Republicans out in California for some time.

What does the lady to your right have that you think makes her special in not only helping her win governor, but making your party competitive in the nation's largest state?

If you can't be competitive in California, it certainly leaves you at a big disadvantage.

MCCAIN: It certainly does. I...

KING: What are the issues to deal with that?

MCCAIN: I think among the other issues are a broad-based party, is what we discussed before -- embracing people who may have specific differences, but share the same values.

Look, I think that what Meg Whitman does is what other governor Republicans have done in other states, but especially here -- a successful role model for young people, a person who will give them hope and confidence that they will get the state out of this fiscal mess and restore it to its greatness.

The fact that she has the charismatic and dynamic capabilities, I think, is going to make her a very special candidate. And having said that, I understand very well the difficulties facing any Republican candidate in the State of California.

KING: Let me fast forward.

Meg Whitman, if you were the governor of California and you had what was going on right now along the U.S./Mexican border -- the drug cartels, the violence, the kidnappings -- what would you do through your own executive powers and what would you demand Washington do, because the border is federal?

BORGER: Well, it's a very serious issue. And you're right, immigration is a federal issue. It is not a state issue.

But as the governor of the largest state of California, what should happen, Governor Schwarzenegger today should make sure that his point of view is well-known in Washington.

We absolutely have to secure this border. What is going on in San Diego is just remarkable, the level of violence and what's happening there.

So we have to secure the border. We have to put more people there. And I would be thinking very hard about what can we do to shore up the situation in the border right now.

Longer term, we've got to not only secure the border, but I believe we've got to hold employers accountable for hiring only documented workers. I think you can build a fence 60 feet high, but if the lure of good jobs is here, people will try to come, especially given the state of play in Mexico right now.

So I think there's lots that California can do. But we have got to make our voices much louder -- heard much louder in Washington on this issue, because we are the state that is affected most deeply.

KING: Meg Whitman, candidate for governor, Republican of California.

Senator John McCain endorsing her today out in California.

We thank you both for joining us from Fresno.

MCCAIN: Thanks, John.

WHITMAN: Thanks a lot, John.

KING: We'll check in as all of this unfolds.

Thank you both very much.

And Jack Cafferty joins us again from New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: John, the question this hour -- President Obama says you ain't seen nothing yet when it comes to his presidency.

Should he be so confident?

Maria writes from Maryland: "Confidence and ego are prerequisites for running for president. Obama has been blessed with those characteristics. Add whip smart, forward thinking, charismatic, willingness to play well with others and the realization we cannot operate this country as in the past 10 years and, yes, I'd bet on him."

Robert in San Francisco: "Jack, in order to be a leader of the free world, one has to appear confident to the point of cockiness. Poise on the verge of arrogance, and, of course, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Whether or not he actually can do these things we'll only find out after the fact. Presidential politics is the ultimate card game. And with Bush, we almost lost the house."

George in New Jersey writes: "What we haven't seen yet is all the change Obama promised during the campaign. We're still losing jobs, still fighting two wars, still getting foreclosed on, still bailing out Wall Street, still paying too much for health care. So it's a little early to start pouring the champagne, Mr. President."

Brendan in Phoenix writes: "If a salesman walks up to you in a department store and is nervous and disheartened, are you going to buy what he's selling? I doubt it. Obama's confidence comes from his need to sell his agenda to the American people. Obama is showing that he believes in his product. The question shouldn't be how much he believes in the product, the question should be whether or not he can deliver."

Darren says: "I would say no. Any time in my life I stood up like the cock of the wok and bragged, somebody came along and knocked me off the pedestal. As president, that's a very tall pedestal."

Taj in Chattanooga, Tennessee: "You bet, Jack. Look what he's done in four months -- and he has at least 44 more to go."

And Chryssa in Boise writes: "Yes, we can got us here. You ain't seen nothing yet will keep us moving forward."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there.

I'll be moving on out of here now for the weekend, John.

Nice to be with you.

KING: You have a great weekend, sir.

We'll see you soon.

CAFFERTY: All right.

KING: Vice President Joe Biden has turned out to be a punch line for late night comics this week. We'll show you in our Friday Funnies, just ahead.


KING: Rolling out a presidential pick and a mishap with Mother Nature -- situations late night comics just couldn't resist.


LENO: Actually, the Republicans were a little disappointed when they heard Obama said he might appoint a minority. They went, oh great, a Republican.



KING: Jimmy Fallon also went after some of the biggest political news of the week, taking a swipe at the Supreme Court nominee herself.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST: There's a lot of local pride in Obama's pick because Sonia Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx. Yes, when reached for comment, she said, don't be fooled by the robes that I've got, I'm still -- I'm still Sonia from the block.



KING: And in Jay Leno's final days on "The Tonight Show," a parting shot at the vice president.


LENO: Oh, you see that video online of the wind knocking down Joe Biden's teleprompter at the Air Force graduation?

Yes. He was talking and the wind knocked it down. That's when you know you're talking too much, when Mother Nature goes shut up.


LENO: OK, just shut up.


KING: We want to bring you a development just into CNN about that Supreme Court nominee.

NBC News was at the White House today for a day behind the scenes at the White House. And NBC anchor Brian Williams asked President Obama about one of the controversial quotes from Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Judge Sotomayor is on record saying in a speech in California: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

That has led some Republicans to say she practices what they call identity politics.

Mr. Obama put it this way.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sure she would have restated it. But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what's clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through. That will make her a good judge.


KING: I'm John King.

Thanks for watching THE SITUATION ROOM today.

That's it for us.

Kitty Pilgrim in for Lou Dobbs -- Kitty.