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JOHN KING, USA

Health Care Fight Moves to the Senate; I've got your Back; Mitch McConnell Interview

Aired March 23, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and wow, what a big day here in Washington. Too often in my business we get loose with words like historic and landmark. Not today, the president signing into law a sweeping health care bill that affects everyone, everyone in the United States of America. Deep into it in the hour ahead and of course that's our "Lead" tonight. It is now the law of the land. And we will look at it. We will say what it means to you and also look at a fresh Republican challenge to try to overturn that law in the courts.

And "One on One" with Senator Mitch McConnell, he's the Republican leader, their new campaign theme, repeal it. But we'll also ask the senator about tensions on the right.

In our "Pulse" tonight, your priorities, we'll show you who's flipped their allegiance between this midterm election year and the one a few years ago that brought Democrats roaring back into power.

And "Play by Play" with James Carville and Mary Matalin (ph), they'll help us look closely at the vice president's big day and the president's big hug -- all that and more in a packed hour ahead.

We begin, as always, with a few observations. Last night, Vicki Kennedy told you right here -- last night Vicki Kennedy told you right here of an emotional visit to her husband's grave -- tell the late Senator Edward Kennedy his 40-year push for major health care reform was at the finish line. Today this poignant image from the senator's son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a grave side note that reads simply, "dad, the unfinished business is done" -- done at least for now.

This was, as I said, a huge day here in Washington. The vice president used more colorful language -- more on that a little later. Using 22 pens, President Obama signed into law sweeping legislation that affects everyone, everyone, who lives in this great country. Mr. Obama knew he was speaking for the history books.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today after almost a century of trying, today after over a year of debate, today after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Applause for the president, but Republicans who couldn't defeat it in the Congress now want to overturn it in the courts. Fourteen 14 state attorneys general say the federal government cannot require Americans to buy health insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a wrong law. It's unconstitutional and this lawsuit will prevail ultimately in overturning it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So the law of the land hardly means debate over. The policy is important and the politics are rich. Let's dig deeper with our reporters here to share with you now things certain to be in the morning paper tomorrow. You saw the president signing health care legislation with great fanfare today, but the debate is not over on Capitol Hill. As we speak, the Senate in session debating a bill of fixes since Democrats could pass it with a simple majority of 51 votes though, the Republicans know they can't stop it. But they do have other plans. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has the story -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, GOP sources tell me that they are devising a strategy to make things as politically difficult for Democrats as possible by forcing them to take tough votes. We've already seen one tonight. John McCain offered an amendment to strip out the rest of those special deals for states. And that's been a politically explosive issue that could hurt vulnerable Democrats who vote against it. It would be a made for TV ad against them. The Democrats are in a pickle. They know that any changes would force this back to the House and they don't want to do that. And I'm told that in a meeting with all Democrats their leaders pleaded with them to vote no on everything and do something that we don't see sometimes from Democrats and that's have some discipline.

KING: Discipline, Dana Bash, thank you very much. President Obama has been reassuring Democrats publicly and in private conversations he'll have their backs if they vote yes on health care. They did of course, so today when the president signed that sweeping health care reform legislation into law he took time to point out the obvious. It hasn't always been easy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's also a testament to the historic leadership and uncommon courage of the men and women of the United States Congress who have taken their lumps during this difficult debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we did!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yes, we did, they say. Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry joins us. Ed, the president will hardly be the only strong voice out there in the health care political debate. What have you got?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well that's right, John. CNN has learned that tomorrow several pro-Obama groups are going to be rolling out $5 million in new TV ads. It's a big number, $5 million spread out in 40 House districts all around the country basically thanking Democrats for their tough votes in favor of reform. Three Democratic officials telling me they're going to be helping people like Tom Perriello (ph) in Virginia, Bobby Ethridge (ph) in North Carolina, basically some of those swing districts where Democrats are taking a pounding from business groups and others who are spending big money.

These ads are right now being put together by the DNC, organizing for America, which is sort of the outside Obama grassroots group. The bottom line is that I'm told by these Democratic officials this is only phase one of this counterattack. And they're basically vowing to fight fire with fire between now and November to show these Democrats they've got their back, John.

KING: Ed Henry, proof for us the best thing to do in a midterm election year is to own a local TV station --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Victory lap of sorts for the Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rousing applause for her during the big White House health care signing ceremony -- you see it right there -- and later, she brought in a small group of journalists to reflect on the year-long policy battle. Our CNN political analyst Gloria Borger was among them -- Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: John, as you mentioned earlier, there were more than a dozen states today that filed constitutional challenges against health care reform. And here's what I learned from sitting down with the House speaker today. She is absolutely convinced that these challenges are going to go nowhere. She said to me, this bill was written with care. It will pass the test.

But, John, she also issued a warning to these states of sorts. She said, if these states don't move to set up these health care marketplaces in their states, the federal government's going to step in and make sure they do.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel?

BORGER: Excuse me?

KING: What did she call Rahm, the White House chief of staff?

BORGER: Oh, well she -- the funny thing about Rahm is you know there were stories, John that she had talked about his little bill, his pared down bill that he wanted of health care reform, as kiddy care, so I asked her about that. And she said, you know what, it wasn't really kiddy care that I called it, I called it the eensy (ph), weensy spider. And those of us who have kids, we've read that book to our children and I'm sure she has over the years, too. KING: Can't (INAUDIBLE) to recite it on air right now -- Gloria Borger thanks very much.

BORGER: Sure.

KING: I can't recite it though because next I go "One on One" with the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. Can Republicans really repeal the new health care reform law, even if it might cut the deficit? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The signing ceremony at the White House today hardly ends the health care debate. The Senate is now debating some changes to the law and already Republicans say repealing the plan will be one of their big campaign promises this fall -- perfect time, perfect time, to go "One on One" with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. Welcome.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Hey, John, glad to be with you.

KING: Repeal or repeal and reform? There are some who say conservatives say just repeal it. Others who say repeal it and change it.

MCCONNELL: Repeal and replace will be the slogan for the fall. There are some things in the bill unfortunately a small percentage of things in the bill, that we could have agreed on in a bipartisan basis months ago, but there are other parts -- for example, the half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, the half a trillion dollars in new taxes, the higher insurance premiums that are coming on individual purchasers, that are not a good idea, and we're going to remind the American people of that in the future, and hopefully we'll be able to repeal the most egregious parts of this and replace them with things that we could have done on a bipartisan basis much earlier this year.

KING: Now you have been clear and consistent for 13-plus months now that you don't like much of this bill. You were just very clear again. That bill is now the law of the land, the one that passed the Senate. You have, before you, a bill called the process of reconciliation; it has some fixes that House Democrats insisted on before they would vote on the bill. You will urge your members to vote no, correct?

MCCONNELL: All of our members will vote not and actually, a number of Democrats will vote no as well. The only thing bipartisan about this bill will be the opposition to it.

KING: But if you can't -- let me jump in -- if you can't the other bill is already the law of the land.

MCCONNELL: Yes.

KING: One thing in this reconciliation fix -- I know you don't like the big bill. But if the Republicans want to prove they're the party of fiscal conservativism (ph), why not say repeal and replace in the fall, but for now vote for this because the Congressional Budget Office says at least -- I know you don't like the other parts of the bill, but at least the fixes would give you about $25 billion more, $20 billion more in deficit reduction?

MCCONNELL: Yes, but let me tell you how they do that. There are even bigger Medicare cuts in this bill than there were in the first health care bill and even greater tax increases in this bill than in the first health care bill. So what they've done is actually make the most egregious parts of the first bill even worse. And you'll see, John, at the end that there will be a number of Democrats who vote against this bill and it will be like the House bill. The only thing bipartisan about it will be the opposition to it.

KING: A lot of Democrats are going to the floor today, saying stunt, stunt, stunt, saying that you're going to force them over the next few days, until this is voted -- and you assume the Democrats have the 50 votes, 51 votes they need, to take a lot of votes on amendments, so that you can get those votes recorded and use them in campaign ads. Is this a stunt?

MCCONNELL: Well, they're the ones that needed to have a second bill to clean up presumably the messes they created in the first bill. It was their idea to have a second bill.

KING: So if they need a second bill, you will try to at least take the most political opportunity available to you in it?

MCCONNELL: Well look, under a reconciliation procedure, there are multiple amendments. We'll be able to get more amendments on this bill than we got on the one that passed back in December. The American people expect us to try to change this if we can. And if we can get a simple majority under the procedures that are laid out in this particular measure, we can change it, send it back to the House and continue the debate and the debate by the way will not be over today. This is just the beginning of it.

KING: Want your thoughts about what's happening in the country. Health care is obviously a central issue. And at the moment, Republicans have their wind at their back in this midterm election climate. But it's pretty vulnerable out there, and there are some signs of tensions on the right. Your friend Bob Bennett (ph) has been in the Senate for three terms, he's running for a fourth. Tonight there are caucuses out in the state of Utah. And there are several conservatives challenging him saying that he's not conservative enough, that he has been part of the problem in Washington. I can show you some video, some of the opponents trying to turn out the vote tonight to get ready out there in Utah and among his opponents; you see this is one of the opponents here. One of the opponents, Tim Bridgewater (ph), I want you to listen to how he described Senator Bennett (ph) as part of the problem here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM BRIDGEWATER (R), UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: I think that we have fundamental question for Utah voters. Do we just accept what Washington is ramming down our throats? Or do we send new leaders to go back and fight against the explosive growth of government?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now we'll watch how this plays out tonight and we'll report more on it tomorrow. But I want to show these poll numbers. We asked the American people what do you think of the leadership here in Washington. Among the questions, how are the Republican leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell, right here, how do they rate your job performance?

Among Republicans, among Republicans, 57 percent approve of the job you're doing but 41 percent of Republicans disapprove of their own party's congressional leadership. And among those who describe themselves as consecutives, only 40 percent approve of the job you're doing and 58 percent of conservatives, the base of your party, Senator McConnell, disapprove of how the Republican leaders in Congress are doing their job. Why is that?

MCCONNELL: Well you know it's an interesting question to ask. But it's not relevant to what will happen in November. The most important question is what's called the party generic ballot question. If the election were tomorrow, would you be more likely to vote for the Republican or the Democrat? According to NPR, for example, just a few weeks ago my party had a five-point lead in that question and all the surveys were no worse than dead even.

I don't think anybody in the country is in love with the Congress today, but the question is will they vote for a change? Will they restore some balance after giving one side a very, very heavy majority in the last two elections?

KING: I agree the overriding -- (INAUDIBLE) new poll today has it dead even, 49-49, in that generic ballot question, vote Democrat or Republican, but is that a sign, that dissatisfaction on the right, the Tea Party movement, that you have a volatile climate out there and there is a parole-like anti-establishment mood that could swing against you in such a volatile environment?

MCCONNELL: Well you mention the Utah situation; of course, Bob Bennett (ph) is a solid conservative and is opposed to all of the measures that the people who are opposing him wish he would oppose. But I think what's going to happen is a lot of energy is going to be produced. We'll have primaries in various states across the country, but the real election is in November and I think the energy and the frustration on the right will be harnessed by Republican candidates in November and help produce a good day.

KING: Let me ask quickly in closing, congressional election year, usually by summertime the big business is done, the mood after the health care debate, financial reform, if immigration reform were to come up, any big issues, is there any chance of bipartisanship? Let's just take those two, financial reform, immigration reform, is that done for this year?

MCCONNELL: Well on financial reform, to the extent that we can target it at too big to fail, I think we could potentially get an agreement. I think nobody thinks once again we ought to have a situation where tax dollars are used to rescue a big failing company. We need to fix that and not do it again. The president mentioned it in his speech a number of things that he could get bipartisan support on, nuclear power, off-shore drilling, clean coal technology, trade deals. It's up to the president to decide whether he wants to emphasize those things that could unite us and make progress or whether he wants to continue the far left strategy that he's had all year, running banks, insurance companies, car companies, taking over the student loan business, doubling the national debt in five years, tripling it in 10. As long as that's his agenda, he's not going to have much Republican support, probably none.

KING: I think they have a somewhat different take on what that agenda means but we'll give them a chance to come in and answer -- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell; we thank you for stopping by.

MCCONNELL: Thanks, John.

KING: And we take the polls of America when we come back -- tonight the changing allegiances of voters who are critical in this midterm election year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time now to take "The Pulse" -- with us tonight CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's the editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com, actor and author Hill Harper and Amy Goodman, the host and executive producer of the progressive Web site, DemocrayNow.org.

I want to start with just a simple question of how the conversation has changed in the last 24 hours, the health care bill passes the Congress, the president signs it into law, Amy, some people on the left didn't love this, but most are now saying it's the best deal we could get, time to rally. Is that right?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACYNOW.ORG: Well, I think people are deeply concerned right now that the insurance companies are actually even given more power. Sure, people care about 30 million more people eventually getting health care who didn't have it. Sure people care that kids who have a preexisting condition should definitely be covered by insurance, as well as adults, and that will come in a few years. But the idea that you have these middlemen that are profiting like the big banks have, I think that's a deep concern not only to progressives in the United States, but across the political spectrum while there is a big call, still, for Medicare for all.

KING: And, Hill, in your conversations, do people view this as a good thing and something that will get them involved in an election year, at least maybe close to 2008, or is it a ho-hum?

HILL HARPER, ACTOR/AUTHOR: I -- it's definitely not a ho-hum. I think people definitely see it as a good thing because finally they see the government actually doing something moving the ball forward. You know at the end of the day, a lot of people I talk to believe that we should be on our fourth, fifth, sixth, tenth iteration of some type of health care and it's disappointing to hear talk about repeal. I mean amendments is what we want to see. Obviously we are a country that does great things. We make a big change and then we add amendments to it to make it better, to make it a more perfect union, so to speak, so I hope that this is actually allowing the ball to be kicked. It's certainly not a goal and it's certainly not perfect but at least it's a start.

KING: So Erick is there new energy on the right for the repeal effort or is there a bit of deflation that Obama gets a big policy victory?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think there's a lot of energy today. Already Senator Jim DeMint with his legislation (INAUDIBLE) 3152 (ph) is out, lining up co-sponsors all across the Republican spectrum to repeal this. In the House, you're seeing the same thing. John Cornyn, you know the RNC chairman, walked into it this afternoon and suggested repeal wouldn't happen, and was met by a buzz saw and immediately came back and clarified. There's a lot of energy on the right to get this thing repealed.

KING: I want some observations for you on what I saw today as the awareness of both sides of the current state of the political environment. At the White House, President Obama was saying, don't worry this won't cut your Medicare. You just heard Senator McConnell; he was in here saying that the fixed bill before the Senate would cut Medicare even more. Now why are they all talking about Medicare? I want to show you some polling.

Here's our new CNN polling. We asked everybody which party would you vote for if the congressional elections were today, and it was evenly split 46 percent Democrats, 46 percent Republicans. But elderly voters are the most reliable voters, especially in a midterm election year when it goes down. In the current poll, 53 percent Republicans get voters over the age of 65 would favor Republicans right now by a 10-point margin, 53 to 43. Back in the 2006 midterms when the Democrats came roaring back into power the elderly voters were split. Amy Goodman, if the elderly stay aligned with the Republicans like that by 10 points what happens come November?

GOODMAN: You know, I don't think that will happen because there's been such a discussion about process now that people are just terrified. They don't know what's going to happen. And I think it's the proof that Medicare is the answer for all. Older people know that Medicare is a good deal and they're afraid of losing it. That's why they're concerned. But as the discussion goes on about what people gain, about the fact that they'll be getting drugs, they can continue to get drugs and actually get a break on drugs.

No, I think they will be more supportive. But the bigger issue and I think the older folks are the wisest folks, this issue of Medicare, that it's something that works, that it's popular. I think they have something to teach all of us that that is the solution for everyone.

KING: And Hill, you mentioned how happy you were that Washington finally got something done. Independents, that's one of the things they watch. They don't like gridlock, they don't like partisanship. Here's our poll when you look at Independent voters, which party would you vote for today for Congress? Republicans have a huge edge, 49 percent to 35 percent and this is critically important because in 2006 when the Democrats came roaring back Independents favored the Democrats, 57 percent to 39 percent. What's happening out there in the middle of America?

HARPER: Well look, John, Amy's right in the sense polls reflect present-day fear, not future results and so as people get educated and start to see, you know, there's been a lot of fear mongering around this health care reform issue. Now that we actually have a bill in place, we have a law signed people can start to notice a result. When you're able to -- you have a son that's 21 years old that can stay on your health coverage until he's 26 or -- all these little things that folks will start to notice, their fears will start to go down, and I think you'll see the polls start to move because the polling data today reflects the fear mongering that's been going on for the past umpteen months.

KING: All right, we need to wrap it right there for now -- Erick Erickson, Hill Harper, Amy Goodman, thanks so much for being with us. We'll bring you all back at another time -- interesting conversation.

And when we come back, just over seven years now since the United States launched the year in Iraq. Right now, Iraqis are counting votes in a very close election. Are things really getting better? Next, I go "Wall to Wall" with the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's not getting much attention but it is both a fascinating and delicate moment in Iraq. Preliminary results of the recent election show a tight contest and there are tensions between the rival factions and competing allegations of fraud. All this uncertainty just as the United States plans a major reduction in troop levels -- perfect moment to go "Wall to Wall" with the Commanding General Ray Odierno.

GEN. RAY ODIERNO, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES, IRAQ: Well, I think so far, first, what's important is we're letting the political process solve these problems. They're solving it through discussions. They're not solving it through violence and we have seen no indications of that so far. It's a very tight race. And so we need to let the political process play out. This is a parliamentary system. It's different than what we're used to in the United States. I think we just need to sit back and help and watch this play out.

KING: As we continue the conversation, I want to go over to our magic wall because I want our viewers to see some of the numbers because as you noted, it is a testing moment there and so far this has played out politically. I want to show our viewers the U.S. troop levels. General, you're very familiar with these.

We go back January 2003, the beginning of the war in March, and then you pull this through 2005, 2006, the numbers are coming down, 2007, and then the spike in the surge, January 2008, you see the surge, and then you see this drop. You're just under 100,000 troops in Iraq now with the goal of getting down to 50,000 this summer. Do you have your hand on the pause button in terms of the U.S. withdrawal because of the uncertainty of the elections?

ODIERNO: I still feel that we're on track. What we've seen over the last several months is Iraqi security forces who have continued to perform superbly. And I believe that will continue. It would take some catastrophic event for us to change our current strategy. Because I believe we're on track today to be at 50,000.

KING: When would the United States ultimately be to zero or do you think we're going to have 35 to 50,000 there for five to 10 years?

ODIERNO: No, I don't. First, I would say we have a security agreement that we signed with the government of Iraq back in December of 2008 which says by 31 December we'll be at zero troops here so I believe that's where we're headed right now. Only if the government of Iraq asked would we then consider it. But I do not in anyway think it will be large numbers like you just stated.

KING: You were there at the beginning and you're there now at this remarkable moment. I want to get a sense of the then and now and I do so this way. Crude oil production, for example, it was about 2.5 million barrels a day right before the United States went into Iraq, exports in the 1.7 to 2.5 million barrels per day. Production is now just below where it was prewar. It's almost back to it. Exports are right in the range it was prewar. From a then and now perspective, where is Iraq and this vital industry obviously that's critical to its economic success?

ODIERNO: They have some work to do on their infrastructure. The positive point is they've reached out to private industry, to international oil companies to come in and assist them in developing this wealth. And I think that will help them in the long term to develop Iraq as a sovereign nation.

KING: Turn the page here. I find this one fascinating. Internet subscribers in Iraq. Before the war, Saddam Hussein had a tight grip on the country. About 4,500 people had access to the internet. 1.6 million people now in Iraq. That can be a great bonus in free speech. Is it a problem at all in this political environment where you have the harsh competition?

ODIERNO: I think it's important. Think freedom and free speech put a checks and balances on the process. Iraqis are learning about that. It is difficult. It's a difficult learning curve. But we find it to be extremely positive. They have access to international media. You have access to the internet. You have access to a lot of did rent kinds of information. And I think it helps to shape Iraq for the future and will help to push Iraq to the future.

KING: On our new set, I do hope in the months ahead, you get a chance to come home for a few days and see your world champion New York Yankees. It pains me a bit to say that. But I know you'd like to see a ball game.

ODIERNO: There's nothing like a Red Sox/Yankee game. There's no greater rivalry in all of sports. I wish good luck to both of them. I hope the Yankees finish on top.

KING: Maybe we can go together, the beer's on me if we can. General Ray Odierno in Baghdad for us. Thank you so much, sir.

ODIERNO: Thank you, John, it's great to be with you.

KING: Up next, the most important person you don't know, a one- time punk rocker who's become a thorn in the politician's side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LAURA DAWN, MOVEON.ORG CREATIVE DIRECTOR: I come from a, you know, small farm, you know, town, in Pleasantville, Iowa, population 1,000. You know, you don't feel like you have the power to influence political debate. You know, you can vote, but that's really about all you think you can do.

KING: In the wake of ad wars over health care reform, Laura Dawn is today's most important person you don't know. Since 2003, she's been the creative and cultural director of moveon.org. That means you can blame her or thank her for the commercials that for years have driven the politician, mostly Republican politicians, absolutely nuts. Ads like this one which features a translator for people who don't speak Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need Republican ideas for health care reform.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to use the insurance company's ideas on health care.

KING: Laura Dawn is her stage name by the way. Folks in Iowa knew her as Laura Dawn Galpin, the daughter a butcher. She joined an all girl punk band in New York City, landed a solo contract as a singer and songwriter then moved on to Moveon. In Congress, really, that's a pretty cool career. When Moveon is running ads, it helps do what?

BASH: Well generally it helps give Democrats help. But for a while, they were running ads against Democrats who didn't support the most liberal plan, but it was very interesting to see that at the end just like the liberals in Congress they came around and just said, you know what, we got to approve what we can and this is it.

KING: They call this a pivot. Let's pivot to the misses.

BASH: OK. We wanted to go through today. The president signed the health care bill. Well, there's -- so long, I mean, over 2,000 pages, so there's a lot of things many people don't know that's in it. We wanted to take a couple of examples. One is nutrition labels at restaurants, chain restaurants. From now on, nationally, this is going to be a national law, any restaurant that has more than 20 chains, they will actually give you everything that is nutritionally in what you're eating. So you go to Olive Garden you go to TGIFs, you're going to know exactly what the calorie count is of everything.

KING: Or when my boy goes to Chipotle.

BASH: That too.

KING: What else?

BASH: The other thing that's very interesting is when this law explicitly says that guns are not a health risk. You might say what's that about? It actually has a very specific reason. Probably know that the president has made a big deal out of wellness programs. If people are in wellness programs, they can get a discount on premiums it the guns rights lobby, they were concerned if somebody owned a gun they would not get that premium because that would be considered a health risk. The Senate majority leader Democrat from Nevada who is a guns righted advocate heard from his fellow supporters they were concerned. So he wrote explicitly into this law that gun owners are protected and that would not be seen as a health risk.

KING: So let me make sure I have this right, guns are not a health risk, some fast food is.

BASH: Exact --

KING: It's on the label?

BASH: You will eat it at your own risk, how about that, but you'll know what's in it from now on.

KING: I'll know what time what I'm missing. Thank you very much.

Next, the clash. The new health care law becomes the centerpiece of everyone's election strategy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's clash, healthcare politics. The plan is not only the law of the land but immediately a central debating point in the midterm election year. With us for the clash, top strategists from both parties, James Carville and Mary Matalin. Welcome. It didn't take long. The president is signing the bill. Even before the ink is dry, already it's a huge political issue and the Democrats want to seize on the tangible benefits that people will get right away and we'll show some of those. Immediately, coverage, now, you can't kick people off or refuse to cover them if they have a pre-existing condition. Ban on lifetime caps on insurance. Two of the tangible benefits the Democrats say look, American people, these are good for you. Republicans see something different. They say this costs nearly $1 trillion that the government does not have and they also said, look, down the road, and beginning immediately, much more government regulation in something so personal like your health care. How's this play out? MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, health care has always -- it long ago transcended health care. Yes, the Republicans are going to run on and run well on repealing and replacing.

KING: Debate among -- some conservatives say just --

MATALIN: Well, they -- but in the end you have to replace what you're appealing because we have a market-based solution for pre- existing and for lifetime caps and for really curbing costs, not shifting costs to Medicaid, which makes us even more impossible to fund down the road. But it's -- health care's become a proxy for what is a larger debate in this country and why so many people are engaged, the role of government as you alluded to.

KING: To that point, can the Democrats flip it and say this is a good role of government because you're going to get something you like?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First, it would have been a disaster if it failed. I wouldn't want to be thinking about sitting here if this thing would have gone down. Secondly, the Democrats I think are doing a very smart thing. They're going right to the Wall Street reform. That pushed it right out of committee. They're going to that. They're going to force the Republicans to say, gee, they say everything is all right on Wall Street and the bankers don't do anything. We're taking a different option. I think, look, do I think we're going to gain seats in November? No. But I think as a result of what happened yesterday and what's getting ready to happen, I think there's a chance we can cut our losses short.

KING: Let's focus quickly -- this is in part President Obama but Republicans see what they say is a better villain. At the white house signing ceremony, the president mentioned Speaker Pelosi and she gets huge applause. And yet the speaker's a hero to the Democrats but to Republicans a villain.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: The bottom line is, if you want to try to undue a lot of the damage that's being done or being planned to be done in this bill, Nancy Pelosi's got to get fired.

KING: Fire Nancy Pelosi, is that the right rally?

MATALIN: Leave her where she is. The Democratically controlled Congress is the most unpopular Congress in history. She's making all kinds of history. She's a very polarizing and popular speaker. This is Obama-care. This is Obama's reordering of the country that we know.

KING: You disagree with Michael Steele?

MATALIN: I'm not agreeing or disagreeing. She's part of the whole package. This is about Obama.

KING: You guys ran against Newt. Has she reached that level?

CARVILLE: I don't think -- I got a conflict. I love that woman. I mean, I really do. I think she's one --

KING: Does your wife know this?

CARVILLE: My wife does know.

MATALIN: Thanks for sharing.

CARVILLE: Pelosi knows that too. I think she's admirable. She didn't even run for office -- she was 48 and her last child was out of high school. Sure, but it was before this. It wasn't like they just discovered. You're right, the Democrats -- we ran against Newt Gingrich. I suspect -- she can take it. The one thing about her is she can, you know, it's like Timex, she can take a licking and keep on ticking.

KING: When we come back, a little play by play. We're going to take a close look, closer than some people might like, to the big picture in today's signing ceremony. That's next in play by play.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Play by play now with our favorite political duo James Carville and Mary Matalin. Both of you have been involved in the imagery of politics. The pictures matter sometimes as much as the words. Let's take a look at the president's huge event today at the white house signing ceremony. There he is, pen by pen. Those will be gifts and souvenirs. Wait, stop that. Let's look around. All Democrats. Tom Harkin, senator from Iowa, Dick Durbin, Joe Biden the vice president, Steny Hoyer, the house democratic leadership, the speaker, the senate majority leader, all Democrats in that picture. It tells you crystal clear this is the Democrats going it alone on huge social policy legislation. One of the Republican arguments is, it shouldn't have to be this way and it shouldn't be done this way. Let's go back in time. President Bush here signing major changes to education spending. This is 2002. No child left behind. Stop right there. Ted Kennedy and George Miller, two of the most liberal members of the United States Congress. One a senator, one in the house at this event. Further back in time, Bill Clinton signing the balanced budget act in 1997. The speaker of the house Newt Gingrich. Several other Republicans in that picture. James and Mary, does it matter?

CARVILLE: Go ahead.

MATALIN: It sure does. You can go back to Reagan. You can go back to Bush. Johnson. There is never a scene like that in modern history.

KING: Does it matter to us? Does it matter to voters?

MATALIN: It very much matters to voters if polls are to be believed.

CARVILLE: In the president's defense, they had the summit, was -- when Clinton signed his economic bill in '93, probably the most successful piece, it was all Democrats. This is not like utterly unprecedented. They tried everything they could, the Republicans, philosophically were just against it and that's what happens in politics.

MATALIN: Just for the record, he met with them once in 2009 on March 5 and he didn't meet with them again meet with them again until February 20.

KING: Let's look closely. You script these big events because you want the political balance. The president and the Democrats need one right now. Look at this right here. A lot of people make fun of his friend the teleprompter. Freeze that photo. You think they could get the imagery a little better at the white house. That's not exactly the picture the president wants on the front page of the paper tomorrow. But this event was a big deal. To the vice president perhaps too big of a deal. Let's listen.

He was in the United States Senate for 36 years. He has been the vice president, and gotten in a little hot water sometimes for the things his tongue, the words he speaks. How does that happen?

CARVILLE: You know what? People just say things. And you can't say like gee, that is so unlike the vice president. I mean, it's not like you're shocked by it.

KING: It's consistent is what you're saying. At least he is consistent.

MATALIN: Can you -- I'm just like Obama knows that this is doomed if you do, doomed if you don't. He is trying to make the best out of a bad situation. And his wingman walks up to him right before he is going to speak and says it in his ear in the mic? Oh my god.

CARVILLE: He is not the first guy. I think Mary's boss dropped an f-bomb before too. So it happens sometimes.

MATALIN: Oh, please! Not remotely comparable.

CARVILLE: I'm just saying. You ask me --

MATALIN: I'm not --

KING: She is referring to Dick Cheney talking to Pat Leahy saying no cameras on the Senate floor. Let's take a look at another remarkable image that reminds us of the now and then. This is the white house situation room. Very rarely do we get to look inside that room. Look at that. Hillary Clinton who was the poster lady for the failure of the 1994 Clinton health care plan that she helped write giving the president a big congratulations hug after -- before a situation room meeting to talk about health care. James, what does that picture say to you?

CARVILLE: It says to me that they're pretty happy. I see General Jones the Marine Corps.

KING: Looks like he has eyes in the back of his head. He is smiling as he looks forward.

CARVILLE: That's a nice photo. And, you know, it's a nice photo. And there was an article about how well the president and the secretary of state are getting along. And it shows. The pictures speak for themselves.

KING: Let me walk over there is something else in this photo. Most Americans will never get to go into this room. You need security clearance to get into this room. Both of you have worked in white houses or been around the white house. Mary had the clearance. Look at this right here. You go to an airport; it might say New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. This is how it works in the military security room here. Local time where the president is, it's always on their clock. What is the time where the president is. In this case, he is in Washington, D.C. and Zulu time. The military operates on Zulu time.

CARVILLE: That's Greenwich Time. Zulu is --

MATALIN: Semper fi.

KING: What are your memories?

MATALIN: I distinctly remember never letting cameras in there. So that's something new. But that's new technology, that web cam, isn't it?

KING: New technology, they have upgraded so they can talk to the generals in Iraq and Afghanistan. High-tech in "THE SITUATION ROOM." pretty low-tech camera. But that is a unique look there. I tried to get in there once. I'm not allowed.

MATALIN: You're not allowed, baby.

CARVILLE: Maybe our enemies will find out what time it is.

KING: James and Mary, thanks for coming in. Coming up next, Pete on the street looking for this, guess what, lobbyists in Washington. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's check in with Campbell Brown for a sense of what is coming up at the top of the hour. Hi, Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, John. We are going to have a lot more to talk about on the health care front. But tonight we've also got some very provocative questions about the war on drugs. Is it a war that we just can't win? Is it a waste of time to target the Mexican drug cartels, and are American drug users really the problem here? Also tonight, John, we have a special investigation. One small California town has unsafe drinking water, poor air quality, it's polluted with pesticides. It's also got one of the largest hazardous waste dumps in the country. And now some residents believe that dump may play a role in serious health problems there. We're going to look at that tonight as well. John?

KING: It sounds interesting. Campbell Brown, we'll be with you in just a few minutes. Thank you. And now, though, Pete on the street. Comedian Pete Dominick has been looking for lobbyists right here on K Street here we call that in Washington, Pete. Any luck?

PETE DOMINICK, COMEDIAN: Well, John, apparently for every lawmaker in Congress during the health care debate, there was six or more lobbyists pushing their health care priorities. And that, John King, is a big f-ing deal as my friend the Vice President Joe Biden says.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: I'm here on K Street, the legendary land of the lobbyists, Lobbyists Avenue, if you will. I'm going to try to find some actual lobbyists while I'm out here running around. Anybody could be one. I think we know what they look like. They're in really good suits. Are you a lobbyist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not.

DOMINICK: Who are you lobbying for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not lobbying for anybody.

DOMINICK: Whose dreams are in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The taxpayers.

DOMINICK: The taxpayers' dreams are in that box?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.

DOMINICK: Good luck to you guys. Are you guys lobbyist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not.

DOMINICK: You're the sharpest looking guy I've seen on the street all day. Sir, are you a lobbyist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Lobbyist? Sir, are you a lobbyist? Nope. Damn. Can't find any lobbyist -- wait a second. Bam! Lobbyist. Sir, who are you with? Who is your name?

JEFF ANDERSON, UNITED FOOD & COMMERCIAL WORKERS LOCAL 555: Jeff Anderson with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 from Oregon.

DOMINICK: And you're here lobbying who?

ANDERSON: I'm lobbying the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives on health care.

DOMINICK: That guy looked pretty good in his suit. If I want to look like a lobbyist, I think I have to get a snazzy suit like that one. Let's see if I can find that. Do you have anything in here that can make me look like a lobbyist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can make you look like a lobbyist for sure.

DOMINICK: All right. Let's give it a shot.

And I need one more touch, one final touch.

Hi! My name is Pete Dominick, Dominick, Pete Dominick. What time is my 5:00?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any time.

DOMINICK: I'm a lobbyist. Let's do this!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: How did you enjoy your temporary life as a lobbyist? And I'm betting it pays more than stand-up?

DOMINICK: Well, it depends what the gig, John King. I liked it. I just need to find an issue to lobby on. I'm not sure what I want to do.

KING: I'm afraid you might be doubling as the president's speech writer. Was that your words today?

DOMINICK: That is the kind of language I use all day, every day. I think it's a big f-ing deal, John King, that I'm on this show. At least that's what my parents are telling me.

KING: A semi serious question. People at all talking in the health care signing? You bumping in to people, they are thinking it's a big deal?

DOMINICK: It's like and not to be flip at all, but after 9/11, all everybody talked about is where they were, what happened. And it's the same thing here. It's all everybody is talking about. How do you feel about it? Are you happy? Are you upset? And obviously there is a lot of diversity of opinion in New York. Everybody is talking about it everywhere, all the time. People who aren't normally political care.

KING: Keep listening. We'll have you back tomorrow. Be safe with that ambulance there behind you. They coming to get you?

DOMINICK: That's my escort because I'm such a big f-ing deal now that I'm on your show.

KING: All right. Pete, have a great night and that's all from us tonight. We hope you enjoyed your time with us. Please come back tomorrow. Campbell Brown starts right now.